Tourism in Brazil's dangerous favelas raises safety concerns for foreigners

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Associated Press

As authorities in Brazil tackled crime earlier this decade, opening Rio de Janeiro's hillside favelas to tourists seemed like a winning idea.

Most famously depicted in the Oscar-nominated movie City of God, Rio's favelas have long been known for drugs and crime.
Source: Associated Press

The views are breathtaking, the favela residents could cash in, and foreign visitors would see another part of the city - not just Copacabana beach.

But soaring violence in the hillside communities has rekindled a concern: Are favelas safe to visit?

Most famously depicted in the Oscar-nominated movie "City of God," Rio's favelas have long been known for drugs and crime.

But the clusters of makeshift housing that run up Rio's hillsides are also the birthplace of the city's Carnival parade, samba music and street art.

As part of preparations that began in 2008 for hosting the Olympic Games, authorities pushed to make these once no-go areas safer by targeting ruling drug gangs.

Amid a national economic crisis that has exacerbated deep inequality and resulted in funding cuts for security forces, however, authorities admit they have again lost control of most favelas they once said had been "pacified."

"The question is very complex to simply say if it is safe or not," said Marcelo Armstrong, who has been taking tourists to favelas for 25 years.

"Depends where, depends what day, depends what circumstance. That's the reality of Rio now."

This year, Rio has seen an estimated average of 15 shootings a day involving police and heavily armed gangs.

Hundreds of civilians, many of whom are residents of the favelas, have been killed or wounded in the crossfire.

Tour guides do not currently have access to official police bulletins and instead rely on news reports and local favela guides to evaluate if a favela is safe.

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