The following is a report of Connection Rio’s exclusive tour of the BOPE HQ in Rio de Janeiro, as well as visits to the favelas Tavares Bastos and Complexo do Alemao.
Report written by Hywel Teague / BJJHacks.com
When you think of Rio de Janeiro, what do you think of? Beaches? Chicks in bikinis? Brazilian jiu-jitsu?
The answer is probably all of the above, but there is a defining image that everyone thinks of when picturing Rio – the infamous hillside favelas.
Until recently, these favelas were among the most dangerous places in the world and considered off-limits to outsiders. But over the last few years, control was taken back by the authorities.
The leading force in claiming back control of the favelas was BOPE.
Who are BOPE?
The name BOPE has become famous across the world thanks to the Tropa de Elite (‘Elite Troop’) series of movies, Brazil’s highest ever grossing films.
BOPE is the acronym for Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais, meaning Special Policial Operations Battalion. They are like a SWAT team, but much more than this; BOPE are a special forces unit of soldiers from the Brazilian Military Police, renowned as specialists in urban combat.
BOPE engage in crime suppression, support the civil police in combats of any kind, extract police officers or civilians injured in confrontations and combats, and exterminate drug trafficking criminal factions and all of its members. They will shoot to kill at any criminal threatening civilian or police life.
Known as one of the toughest police units in the world, BOPE are technically soldiers. They use more powerful weapons and vehicles than other Brazilian police forces, and even some military units. The guns are bigger and the tanks tougher.
Connection Rio tour of BOPE HQ
Dennis Asche, founder of Connection Rio, arranged a very special excursion for Connection Rio guests. It is rare for outsiders to enter into the BOPE HQ, or ‘quartel’, let alone foreigners. But a group of 12 had a guided tour of the facility from serving members of the unit.
The visit encompassed a tour of the garage and vehicles (which including specialised motorbikes, speedboats, and even an armoured personnel carrier), the briefing room, and even a fully equipped gym where many of the BOPE members train martial arts, including jiu-jitsu and MMA.
“It was an amazing opportunity, once in a lifetime I’m sure,” said John Mac, from Canada.
Favela Tavares Bastos
Situated at the top of a hill, the BOPE facility is located next to Favela Tavares Bastos, a hillside community that was under the control of drug gangs before BOPE’s arrival. After completing the tour of the BOPE HQ, the group were led through the labyrinthine alleys and walkways and had an intimate look at the inside of one of Rio’s favelas.
The favelas of Rio are infamous and often misunderstood. The common public perception is that of a lawless, highly dangerous place that is a no-go area for outsiders. In truth, the favelas are communities full of humble, hard working individuals. Mostly comprised of people on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, favelas suffered for many years under the control of drug traffickers but much has changed since the inception of the UPP, or pacification program.
The UPP, a wide ranging initiative that saw the police take back control of the favelas has enabled the government to enter and improve the quality of life for the residents. It has also opened the door for visitors, with many foreigners now visiting the communities.
Complexo do Alemao
One of most difficult and troublesome favelas in Rio de Janeiro was Complexo do Alemao. The sprawling community in the North Zone of Rio comprises over a dozen smaller favelas, and as such was among the most difficult to pacify due to the size and nature of the area.
Sprawling over a number of hills and valleys, Complexo do Alemao was home to Comando Vermelho, a huge and powerful drug trafficking gang that controlled an area home to around half a million people.
Police stations have now been installed in the favelas and life is changing. One huge improvement was the construction of a cable car system that linked together different parts of the favela that were until recently extremely difficult to travel between.
The Connection Rio crew used the cable cars to visit various parts of the area, and the stunning aerial view was the high point of the afternoon for many of the members of the group.
“I found it really interesting,” said Anders Nath, from Sweden. “Before I came to Rio I thought I couldn’t even go near the favela, now I’ve been walking through one.”
“I was impressed, it lived up to everything,” said Dave Young, from Detroit, Michigan.
“We got to see a completely different side to the city that not many people who come to Rio get to see. Everybody had a great time and it was a wonderful experience,” said Dennis Asche.