Brazil vs Chile World Cup 2014: Favela is gripped to the very end

Feared for their crime and violence, the slums also have a welcome, homely side, as our reporter found when Pau Comeu watched Brazil play

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The Independent Football

The screams of “Brazil” and “Chupa Chile,” (Chile sucks) that greet the final whistle can barely be heard amid the ear splitting fireworks echoing around the Pau Comeu favela.

Locals who are gathered around television sets placed along its narrow lanes hug each other and break into song, waving Brazil flags. Outside the Bar Ze O Mais Amigo, the Bar of the Best Friend, bottles of beer are cracked open as the clientele  exchange high fives.

Everywhere is a sea of yellow and green and for the residents of this favela, located on a hilltop overlooking Belo Horizonte, the party is  only just beginning as the televisions are turned off and sound systems turned on, pumping out samba  and funk.

“Favela parties are very famous and happen all the time,” admitted Robert Cecilio, a lifelong resident of Pau Comeu. “We love to sing and dance but obviously this is extra special because of the World Cup.”

One of the largest and most boisterious crowds has gathered for a barbecue outside the home of Robert’s cousin Goya. Three different kinds of meats are cooking as she barks orders for more beer to be served while passing around a cap, asking for financial contributions for the food and drink.

Thrusting a plate filled with beans, rice and chicken into my hand, Goya introduces me to the guests, most of them her relatives who all greet me with warm embraces and smiles. “Now you see what favela people are really like, gringo,” she jokes.

Pau Comeu is a place that few Brazilians or those visiting the country for the World Cup will get to see. Like many other favelas located around Brazil’s major cities, it is considered a no-go area.

Fortunately I have Robert with me, a third-generation-born favelado (favela resident) who is my guide and virtually knows every single one of its 10,000 residents.

Pau Comeu, literally translated, means “wood eaters”, a Brazilian term used to describe fighting.

“There was a time when this was the most dangerous favela in Belo Horizonte,” said Robert. “They said that we killed two people with one bullet. That’s how this favela got its name. People are still scared of us but things are not as bad as they were.”

As I am led in and out of the one-room brick houses that make up most of the favela, receiving hugs and constantly being asked why England played so badly at the World Cup, it is hard to believe Pau Comeu’s reputation and that of Belo Horizonte as a whole. With a population of five million and a murder rate of 29 per 100,000 residents, it is officially the 48th most dangerous city in the world.

Robert works as a woodwork teacher in a school located “fora”, as he calls it, meaning beyond the favela. This is a term commonly used in Pau Comeu to refer to mainstream Brazilian society, something residents claim that they do not feel part of.

“I never tell people on the outside that I live in a favela, not even the people I work with,” admitted Robert. “The rest of Brazilian society has a very bad impression of us. They think we are all criminals and drug dealers. but we are just like ordinary people who want to work hard and have good lives.”

Behind the World Cup decorations and camaraderie, however, the darker side of Pau Comeu is not far away. Robert leads me past a group of young men standing soldier-like along a lane overlooking the favela and whispers that I should not speak to or photograph them. He tells me  that they are “Joninha’s boys”,  Joninha being the local drug lord who is currently in prison but still in control.

“They are crack dealers and  addicts” he adds. “The biggest problem that we have in this favela is with crack. It is ruining our community and killing our youngsters. But they never commit any crime in the favela, just outside.”

As we speak, a dishevelled woman who steals clothes from Belo Horizonte’s shopping malls to fund her crack habit offers us some Brazil football shirts for sale, which have proved popular with locals over the past few weeks.

While some favelas in cities like Rio de Janiero have undergone what Brazilian authorities call “pacification” in the run-up to the World Cup, with criminals and drug dealers forced out as the police move in, such measures have not been enforced in Pau Comeu, much to the relief of residents.

Robert’s friend Frankie said: “The police are more dangerous than the drug dealers or the bandits. When they do come into the favela they break down our doors and beat us. They are the ones we need protection from.”

The one thing that Pau Comeu’s residents have in common with the rest of Brazilian society is their  attitude toward the World Cup. When their country is playing, they passionately get behind it but few believe that the tournament has been money well spent.

“Health, education, sanitation, drug-rehabilitation programmes, these are the things that the government should be funding not football,” said Robert. “But when Brazil play we back them 100 per cent because we love football and our country.”

For now, the favela’s problems and the arguments surrounding the World Cup are put to one side. Brazil are a step closer to winning the World Cup and Pau Comeu is celebrating, even if their nerves are feeling somewhat shredded after a after that dramatic penalty shoot-out.