Fri, Dec 30, 2011 - Page 7 News List

FEATURE: Mail arrives in Rio favela for the first time


Tomazia Ferreira Martins has been living for 40 years at the same house in the hillside Rio shanty town of Rocinha — but as long as drug gangs ruled the neighborhood, she never got mail delivered at home.

Now that the government has flooded the area with police and soldiers and “pacified” her slum, letter carriers are delivering the mail in vans, and will soon deliver to her home.

Soldiers and police, backed by armored vehicles and helicopters, stormed Rocinha and two other shanty towns — known here as favelas — in mid-November. The operation widened the security perimeter around Rio’s residential and tourist area as Brazil prepares to host soccer’s 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Ferreira Martins, 72, showed great mistrust when she opened her door to Alejandro Furlanatto, an engineer with the Rio city government. Furlanatto was with a team mapping Rocinha, which overlooks Rio’s wealthiest neighborhoods.

“The goal is to map out the place, give the streets names, and number the homes. Then it will be up to the post office to give residents a postal code,” Furlanatto said.

Once that is complete, then they can get home mail delivery.

More than 1.5 million people, a third of Rio’s population, live in 1,000 slums perched on steep hillsides across the city. The areas have not been properly surveyed and appear as blank spaces on city maps.

Ferreira Martins answered -questions from Furlanatto and his team and was more relaxed by the end of the visit. Her three-floor brick home has finally been legalized. She has to meet municipal health and safety standards and eventually she will get something millions take for granted: mail at home.

The challenge for authorities after the massive security operation is to provide basic services like water, sanitation and lighting — and mail — in this labyrinth-like mini-city built on a hillside.

“Rocinha is a city that grew in an unplanned manner, on a steep slope and with few access roads for trucks and equipment,” Carlos Roberto Osorio, the city secretary for public utilities, told the daily O Globo last month.

Pickup driver Jose Maria, 30, says that only the favela’s lower streets have names and numbers — only 20 percent of Rocinha, according to the mayor’s office.

“Beyond the open sewer, where access is difficult, there is nothing,” he said. “The postal workers drop the mail in boxes set up in bars or shops below the favela. It’s up to area residents to pick them up.”

Sure enough, a bar owner named Valdir shows off a wooden box.

“Most of the people here give my address, and then come to pick up their mail here,” he said.

Between now and April, each street in Rocinha should have a name and each building should have a number, according to the city plans, though it will take longer to inspect the favela’s 25,000 homes.

The job of incorporating favela residents into the legal Brazilian society “involves a lot of education,” said Lesli Figueiredo, who manages several positions in the newly “pacified” favelas.

“People must understand that there is a law — which is no longer that of the drug traffickers — and that they have rights, but also obligations,” Figueiredo said.

Two yellow post office trucks now drive around the favela so residents can get their mail delivered closer to their home.

Drug dealing and traffickers may steadily be swept aside, but even the legal, more peaceful Rocinha has downsides: Last week, for the first time ever, a neighborhood store selling household appliances was held up by a gang of gunmen, unthinkable when druglords, and fear of them, ruled the streets.

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