The new radio station's premises have not yet been fully furnished.


The favela in Rio De Janeiro are often lawless areas.


The violence, and the grief, are always present.


The women's group cheerfully show the way to the radio station.
The Radio Station
We have come to Complexo Do Alemão to meet the women’s group which is about to open its own radio station - Rádio Mulher um Ambiente Comunitário. They have not started broadcasting yet, but when they have finished refurbishing the premises and received the necessary certificate from the government, the local radio station will be on air 24 hours a day.

We’re going to start a discussion about women’s rights in our area.

Rádio Mulher um Ambiente Comunitário
Broadcast local radio for women in the favela, about women’s problems. 

The actual name of the place is based on a misunderstanding. The area covering three square kilometers, inside which 65,000 people crowd into 13 favelas, was bought after the First World War by a European who was known as ‘the German’.  The area as a whole was christened ‘the German’s hill’. When people began to build on the slopes, more or less illegally, and the hills became favelas, the area was officially renamed ‘Complexo Do Alemão’.
The misunderstanding lies in the fact that the landowner was, in fact, not German, but Polish.
Perhaps it does not really matter, but it is yet another example that things have not turned out as originally planned in Complexo Do Alemão.

One major problem is that the much vaunted ‘pacifying’ has not been particularly successful. We are talking about two weeks at the end of November 2010, when the police went in to the favelas to drive out the drugs gangs and establish law and order. So now there are no drug cartel guards sitting outside the entrances deciding who can go in and out. It is possible to move from one part of the area to another without being shot for having overstepped an invisible boundary. People can go to work without risking their lives.  It is the big jeeps and heavily armed men of the pacifying police who patrol the streets. Better? Yes, in the sense that it is calmer. But have the drug barons disappeared? Not really.

“They are like ghosts,” says Anatalia Dos Santos, president of the women’s group Mulheres Complexo do Alemão. “The drug barons have gone into hiding for the moment, but they can come out again any time. And you don’t stir up things unnecessarily …   Whatever the police say, it is still the drug barons who have the power.”

 The women’s group will broadcast programmes which are aimed specifically at women, and other groups will broadcast other programmes. The idea is a government initiative. The transmitter will reach an audience within 4 square kilometers, which is slightly larger than Complexo Do Alemão. 

Everyone has problems with violence, rubbish and the lack of healthcare.

The group are relaxed, everyone is proud:
“We’re going to start a discussion about women’s rights in our area. Everyone has problems with violence, rubbish and the lack of healthcare.”

And they start talking. About those terrible days last year when the ‘black’ policemen went into the favelas.  The police used tanks which crushed everything in their path – buildings, mopeds, cars. Helicopters roared over the rooftops and the main road became a battle field. Many people were killed, some who were actually guilty of a crime, others by mistake. Anatalia Dos Santos points out the building where she has her hair salon. The façade is still full of holes from the automatic gunfire.
“The phones didn’t work, and there was no electricity. The nursery school was closed.  We didn’t dare go out. People who lived closest to the woods, where the drug dealers used to hide were too frightened to be at home. They had to move to friends in other areas.”

If you say you live here when you apply for a job, you probably won’t get it.

It was not the first time. Different drug cartels have often battled it out on the streets of Complexo Do Alemão, a fact which has given the area a terrible reputation.
“If you say you live here when you apply for a job, you probably won’t get it,” say the women. “The employer might think you’ve got some connection with the drug dealers, or they might think you won’t be able to get to work. The trouble can flare up again at any time.”
“My daughter was shot in the leg in a fight between police and the drug dealers,” says one woman. “We don’t know who fired the shot. It was put down to a stray bullet.”

The lawlessness affects everyone, both women and men. What is special about women? What are you going to talk about on the radio?
”Healthcare, for one thing. There are no maternity clinics in this area, and many women have given birth at home. One of my friends was sent all the way to Ipanema when she went into labour. It takes an hour to get there if you’re lucky enough to find a direct bus. It took her even longer. Her baby was born in the hospital entrance. It died.

And then, of course, there’s the question of violence in the home. The police here only care about the drug gangs. In the past, before the pacifying, there were no police at all. A friend of mine went to the police station outside the area to report her husband for violence. The police just shrugged. They said they couldn’t come in here. They advised her to go to one of the drug barons instead. But the drug gangs don’t issue fines or put people in prison for six months. No, if you’ve broken their rules, and the worst crime is to attract the police to the area, the punishment is a bullet in the head. My friend didn’t say anything.”
“My neighbour shot his wife in the head,” says another woman. He persuaded the police it was a stray bullet in a gang fight, but then he suddenly disappeared. The drug gang knew what had happened and they are the only people with the right to kill.”

My neighbour shot his wife in the head.

The future radio presenters laugh off the somewhat romantic idea that the gangster world does not tolerate violence against women. They have heard about the drug baron’s wife who was forced to stay at home until the arm her husband had broken had healed itself, instead of going to the hospital.
“I’ll kill you if you go to the police,” he had said, and she knew he meant it.
There is certainly no shortage of things to talk about on the new radio channel. But a little caution may be advisable, so as not to provoke anyone …