Few want the government to reap benefits a successful tournament would bring

In a favela bar, two women echo many Brazilians in having little good to say about the World Cup

A boy looks out from the Mangueira community, or favela, which overlooks  Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

A boy looks out from the Mangueira community, or favela, which overlooks Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images


We are standing at the bottom of a vertiginous hill – Renata, Carol and I – making weird concave swaying movements to ensure that only displaced air, and not a motorbike taxi itself, brushes against our legs. This must be the place. Renata and Carol are cariocas – Rio natives – but they have never been to Chapéu Mangueira favela in Leme before.

The district is an extension of Copacabana, meaning this favela is mere minutes’ walk from the seedy allure of Copa’s main hotel strip. Can a man ever forget his first favela?

A taxi stops and Jason and Sasha, a Brazilian-Uruguayan couple, hop out. Jason is wearing a Club Nacional de Football jersey foisted on him first thing in the relationship by Sasha’s parents. It’s a group outing.

We amble up the hill, pressed near the wall like mules on a cliff path. The sight of a bank machine brings wistful recognition from Renata, a journalist: the first ATM in a Rio favela was the subject of her first ever story.

On we walk. There are little stores and normal people. Through gaps in the buildings glimpses of Copacabana’s golden sands tantalise like the flash of an expensive undergarment. A proud and friendly woman gives us directions. We turn right and there it is, around the bend, awaiting us: the restaurant Renata read about.

World Cup cocktail

We like to think of this as a dress rehearsal for those who live here. Over the next few weeks “pacified” favelas like Chapéu Mangueira will attract an Amazonian stream of western journalists seeking a feelgood story – and, if it can be arranged, a high-quality meal. Is that bunting there for amateur anthropologist month? You would fear that deeper truths about these places will get buried in the stampede.

At Bar do David, charismatic owner David Bispo lists off, like specials on a menu, the names of media organisations to have sought stories with him: “La Figaro, Al-Jazeera, the New York Times . . . ”

Many come here for the seafood feijoada, a delicious take on the traditional feijoada stew of pig parts and black beans.

A Brazilian-coloured World Cup cocktail is now available: apple syrup and passion fruit juice, with cachaça, or vodka, and a slice of lime. Friendly waitresses wear aprons with pictures of rising favelas snaking romantically from front to back.

Now and then small groups of heavily armed and unsmiling police officers walk by. In the other direction several people carry elaborate birthday cakes to a nearby party.

Chapéu Mangueira and the neighbouring favela of Babilônia, once violent hillside communities that separate the beaches of Copacabana from those of Botafogo in this infinitely wealthier part of the city called Zona Sul, were among the first to be occupied by Police Protection Units (UPP) in 2008, a propitious consequence of their position so close to the tourist areas.

Their undeniable success requires context: less than 50 of an estimated 1,000 Rio favelas have been pacified. In some of those pacified – and the pacification programme itself brought many brutal deaths – drug gangs have been fighting back.

You can’t help but wonder what billions in further investment might do for the poorest communities so far left to their own nightmares.

Renata and Carol, like any Brazilian you speak to, have little good to say about the World Cup. Bread and circuses have not worked. In election year few want the government to reap the benefits that a successful tournament would bring. Last week Carol’s mother – the family lives near the Maracanã – was mugged by a child. Carol, a black human-rights lawyer, says kids like this (aged six to eight) are crack addicts. Why are some of those billions not being spent on helping them?

At a bar around the corner from Bar do David people are painting the outside walls and the steps green, yellow and blue. A man balancing on a ladder holds a big ball of streamers.

A young Canadian woman, who studied at Trinity College and is temporarily living here, speaks about the warmth of the people.

Chapéu Mangueira is one of the poor communities with hope, and the residents will welcome visitors with big hearts and with pride.

On Rio’s newsstands every magazine has a World Cup story on the cover. It is one of the rare instances when you do not have to understand Portuguese to get the message: the tournament has divided the country. Everyone knows there will be protests; the only speculation is how big they will be.

Passionate fans

We make vague promises to watch a game together in Alzirão (pronounced Alzzzzzziiirraaaaaaaaaaoooooooooooo) in the Tijuca district near the Maracanã where the most passionate Brazilian fans traditionally gather. Fifa, depressingly, has been trying to wrestle control of events there.

Before then we will go to Bip Bip bar in Copacabana, known for its live samba music and its eccentric left-wing owner. You are not allowed to applaud performers due to noise restrictions in the neighbourhood. You show appreciation by clicking your fingers like this: C-L-I-C-K.

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