I was visiting my friend Sergeant Roberto of the Policia Militair (PMERJ) at their HQ in Central Rio de Janeiro. He is in the SQUADRA CHOQUE - SHOCK SQUAD that has been taming some of the most violent drug gang controlled Favelas in the Marvelous City by Guanabara Bay. They wear khaki uniforms, while the regulars wear blue. Each of the 27 states have similar forces, founded in 1836.
There are about 300 such favelas surrounding the city and the 2 dozen most violent have been taken over by the police, with most of the bad guys moving to other ones. Roberto showed me some bullet wounds on his hands as a result of the operations. The HQ dates from 1890 and I had my photo taken with some of the vehicles, such as the bullet proof 'tanks' which actually had cracked windows from gunfire. On one wall is a memorial with the photos of policia killed in the line of duty.
Many think they are too violent. In the first six months of 2012, 76 people were killed by the Policia Militar in Sao Paulo. On October 23, 1993 eight street kids were murdered by PMERJ outside the Candeleria Church in Rio. Four members were tried and convicted. The favelas were named after a tree native to Bahia in the North East from where many Brazilians came looking for work in the last 60 years or so. They built what they could on any spare land and many such slums, nicknamed favelas, were built in recent decades.
Most people think that slaves from West and Central Africa just went to the Southern United States but many more were shipped to the Caribbean and to many ports in Brazil. Two more friends, Ronnie and Pedro, took me to the foundations of the old slave port in Rio where over 500,000 unfortunate men, women and children arrived, after being captured by other Africans and taken to ports and sold to the slavers. Over 3 million arrived in Brazil from 1555 to 1888 when slavery was finally outlawed in Brazil..
This old port and the Cais do Valongo-Valongo Wharf and the Empressa Wharf were only excavated last year, two metres below street level, and the area is being given a spring clean in time for the FIFA World Cup 2014 and IOC Summer Olympics 2016, which will actually be in the southern hemisphere's winter. Most slaves that landed here came from The Congo or Angola. The first was commisioned in 1811 under Marquis de Lavradio, Viceroy of Rio.
It was not good business to mix selling slaves and food so the Empressa Wharf was built a short distance away and named after Princess of The Two Sicilies, Teresa Cristina Maria de Bourbon, fiancee of Dom Pedro ll, who would later become Emperor. Slaves were fattened up on carbo hidrates on arrival so they could fetch more at the auction.
Its on the old Rua Valongo. On the other side of the street up some steep steps is the renovated Jardim Suspenso Valongo and the next block is the very first warehouse designed by a freed slave who became the country's first black architect. The slaves lay naked day and night and were treated no better than dogs or mules and then taken off to work in sugar and cotton plantations.
"It's like finding our own Roman Empire", exclaimed Rio mayor Eduardo Paes. An interpretive museum is being completed next door, and trendy restaurants, shops and bars are sure to follow. soon.