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Vivian DiBuono

Vivian DiBuono is a junior in Georgetown College majoring in Portuguese. She is originally from Larchmont, New York, but went to boarding school in New Hampshire. She is spending the fall 2011 semester in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil studying at Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (PUC). Vivian is taking 4 courses this semester: Portuguese, Brazilian Culture, Brazilian Literature and Communications, and Administrative Accounting. These courses have shown her the varying aspects of the culture here in Brazil, as well as city specific characteristics. Her time in her home stay has given her a plethora of new perspectives that she is excited to share.

Brazil Lacks Long-Term Efforts to Solve Drug Trafficking

November 14, 2011 | 1 COMMENT

When some people think of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, they think of the beaches. Some think of Carnival, the world famous celebration filled with samba and colors. Some think of just samba, or maybe Christ the Redeemer looking over the city. Others think of violence, crime, and drugs. Sadly, there is an overwhelming presence of the latter that consumes thousands of lives.

The slums of Rio, known as favelas, are poor neighborhoods that scatter throughout the city to amount to over 1,000. Originally a home for former slaves with no ownership nor opportunities for work, favelas have turned into a home for Brazilians from all over the country looking for an opportunity and change in their lives. The cost of living is cheap, the people are welcoming and friendly, and there is hardly any government officials there to bother you. Here’s the catch.

Because of the lack of governance and control, the favelas are home to some of the largest drug cartels in the world. Some are successful enough to reel in over $50 million dollars a year in drug sales. The drug lords control the business of cocaine and marijuana, and often host baile funk parties where the drugs can be sold. Now, baile funk is a genre of music from Brazil that is associated with the favelas. While the drug lords have a zero tolerance policy for crime within the favelas they control, the punishments are violent, and often lead to death. Instead, some favela inhabitants leave to steal and assault citizens in other areas of the city.

Through speaking with a few inhabitants of favelas, I’ve gathered that their reasoning for such crime is often for income. Similarly, the drug trafficking trade offers benefits and security that they cannot receive elsewhere because of the lack of government influence in these communities.

I know a story of a particular drug gang member who chose his path because he needed funding for a medical operation on his stomach. The drug lord offered to help, if he joined them once healed. His only other choice was to die from the disease, so he sold his soul. It is sad to think he is probably not the only one in this position.

Due to the upcoming World Cup and Olympics that will take place here, Brazil has started to clean up its cities. BOPE, a specially trained military force, has been training and entering several favelas to pacify them. They are clearing out the drug cartels and crime, and enforcing a stronger presence of military police in the area, all of which is necessary to maintain a safe atmosphere for these events.

A monumental milestone has occurred during my time here in Rio that illuminates the light at the end of the tunnel. Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio, holds over 100,000 inhabitants and is strategically located in between the two wealthiest neighborhoods of the city. The head drug lord was captured during one night close to my university, and a couple days later 3,000 police were able to occupy and control Rocinha in about 90 minutes. Drug gang members were arrested or forced to flee, and now police are successfully controlling the community.

I’ve been able to see how this milestone has produced two major reactions. Of course, the international students were filled with fear and excitement in lieu of these events to see what would unfold. Natives, however, hardly reacted which really surprised me. I spoke with several people and they all gave me the same response. “It doesn’t matter because they’ll all be back after the World Cup and Olympics.”
Unfortunately, this seems very plausible to me. The pacification is a short term resolution for a very big problem. Why isn’t the government more involved? Why don’t they put all the kids in school, and create jobs for the inhabitants? These people need to survive, so the crime will just continue, and overtime, the drug lords will come back and continue their business unless the government makes efforts to help these communities. What motivation will the authorities then have, in the corrupt environment where they are employed, to repacify these communities?

Yes, the light is at the end of the tunnel, but it’s a dim light that will soon go out if well-intentioned, long-term resolutions aren’t planned.


I think that the difference between Rio and Washington, DC is that poverty in Rio is unavoidable.

The originally organic and less planned communities established themselves on the mountains that are an important part of the cityscape in Rio (and in Caracas, Venezuela). Therefore, in one's first experience living in Rio, it is normal to question poverty and be outright upset with the government's role or lack of role, but after living there myself I realized that many parts of Washington, Philadelphia and even New Orleans are similar to Rio, except that the severe differences between the poor and wealthy can be quickly ignored in the above US cities. In Washington there are no looming mountains, the city is divided, and many do not venture beyond NW or the first eight blocks of SE. Right now Rio is under what is called a Choque de Ordem, which is a project to quickly organize and 'clean up' the city before it is in the world's limelight. While this is extreme to witness (I saw it myself when I went back in August 2011), it also is reminiscent of NYC and the extreme change that the city has gone through. I am not saying that it is right or that I even agree with these measures to "clean up the streets," but before judging Rio, I immediately thought of how I personally have witnessed NYC change.

I also would like to underscore that not all favelas have trafficking and not all drug dealers run the favelas. The favelas are also the sites of some of the most amazing non-government organizations in art, theater, film and music. While we think of these spaces as homogeneous places of control, they are also spaces that have historically produced the music we associate with Brazil (samba and funk). In addition, if we were to ask some of the favelados (people that live in favelas) whether they would rather have a government presence versus the organization that now exists, I would assume that the answers would be varied. The police do not have a strong history of justice and human rights when working with any issues in the favelas, and there are members of the police force that directly benefit from the trafficking. I think that the chains of NGOs and community organizations is where the future of many of these places are--in the people living there, deciding for themselves the future of these places.

I am truly glad that Vivian is adding a letter on a topic that is so pertinent to her world in Rio and also in our world in Washington, DC and now my world in Philadelphia.

Diverse Religious History Informs Much of Brazil's Catholicism

October 18, 2011

An abroad experience can be overwhelming in the first few weeks, even in the first few days. For me, I was faced with my first obstacle of culture shock in my first hour in Brazil.

My host mother was concerned she wouldn’t be in the house to greet us when me and my roommate arrived because she was running errands. Being the responsible woman we’ve learned she is, our host mom had a trustworthy friend of hers greet us and help us move into our new home.

Amal is a small, brown man from Rio de Janeiro with heritage from India. He was very welcoming and took us under his wing right away. After showing us the bus stops and supermarkets in the neighborhood, we began to relax at the house listening to Amal play the guitar.

Before we knew it, he had handed us booklets with an unknown beautiful Indian woman on the cover. He quickly flipped us to the same page where there was a four line poem he began to sing. Being our first day, we weren’t quite sure if it was in Portuguese our Hindi. If that doesn’t give you an indication of how lost we were, I don’t know what will! Amal paused briefly to praise Krishna, and tell us how he is the one we need to love with our whole heart. Then, he had us sing.

Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Hare Rama Hare Rama. We read off the paper uncertain of what exactly we were reciting. However, after several repetitions, we had the four easy lines memorized and the pace picked up. My roommate, after five more minutes of repetitious singing, stood up to dance. Naturally, I joined.

Although I am a devout Roman Catholic, and as I previously believed Brazil to be as well, I willingly praised to the Hindi god, Krishna by singing the same four lines about this god for 45 minutes with our new friend Amal. Secretly, I was hoping this wasn’t going to become a daily activity.

Once the confusion defused and everyday life in Brazil became ritual, I looked back on that first day to explore my first unanswered question (other than, “what am I doing here?”). Isn’t Brazil a Catholic country? Yes, officially Brazil adapts Catholic traditions into the culture and government as approximately 75% of its people are Roman Catholic. Saints’ days are recognized by national holidays. Everyone blesses each other to part with God in one’s travels. Many people make the sign of the cross when passing in front of a church. Of course, there is the world renown Christ the Redeemer overlooking the city in its entirety. Still, I never realized that this country is so rich with other religions.

Brazil also has a significant presence of Afro-Brazilian religions from the African and Indigenous influence in the country’s history. I say significant not because of it’s number (hardly half a percent of the country practices), but because of the strength of the religion even in such a small number. Candomblé, for instance, is a religion that was brought to Brazil by the black slaves that were shipped from Africa to Brazil. The religion is most prevalent in Bahia, a coastal state of Brazil closest to Africa. Those who practice worship the gods, or orixás, many of which are fused with Roman Catholic saints.

Candomblé in Rio de Janiero, where I am currently studying, is also called Macumba, but differs slightly as it resembles witchcraft. The holidays vary in traditions and rituals, but often they wear white because it is respectful to all orixás. All Brazilians wear white on New Year’s to represent peace, but very few realize this ritual comes from African traditions.

In all honesty, my daily reality does not encounter much of the Afro-Brazilian culture. However, I study at a Catholic university, translated to be called the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. Similar to Georgetown, there is a cross in every single classroom, and I often see nuns on campus. Even more prominent in my daily life is Christ the Redeemer, whom I can see from every point in the entire city.

I can’t help but feel His presence wherever I am because He is always there. Visiting this monument was the most wonderful view I have ever seen, and it is apparent to me how easily tourists are flushed with overwhelming emotions of gratitude and appreciation of their lives and of this beautiful world we live in when in His presence. Brazilians, and myself, are fortunate enough to be reminded of this everyday with Christ constantly in their horizon.


October 4, 2011
Vivian DiBuono on Starting JYAN in Brazil