How I almost got shot in Rio de Janeiro

Santa Teresa – Rio de Janeiro

Obtaining a CPF number brought me to Bangu, one of the “hot”  neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro.

The CPF is like the SS number in the USand serves as a form of identification in Brazil. You will need it to get a cell phone number, rent a house, open a bank account or buy furniture, a car, motorcycle or other non edible stuff…

So what is that stuff about almost getting shot? Ok, here goes…

My consultant in Rio de Janeiro (Robson) knew a person of the Receita federal in Bangu, one of the neighborhoods in the western area of Rio de Janeiro. We would go there and do the application again, and this time, the procedure would go correctly.

View over Favela Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro

It was a 50 km drive from Copacabana to Bangu and we decided to take my car.

Since neither of us had been to Bangu before, I was using my GPS to guide us. you might have heard stories about people (tourists) getting in a heap of trouble after their GPS guided them in a very wrong part of Rio de Janeiro, and we were about to find out first hand things can go from bad to worse in a hurry…

Getting closer to Bangu, I noticed that Robson was getting a little nervous. He grew up in Rio, and even lived part of his life in a favela, and had already told me a few scary stories. When we entered a clearly poor part of Bangu, he got even more tense.

At one point – according to my GPS – we had to cross the street and enter in the street on the other side, so I checked my left and right for traffic and crossed. The second we entered the other street, Robson shouted: “STOP THE CAR! STOP, NOW!”

I stopped the car and looked at Robson, not knowing what was the problem and then he said: “THERE, THAT GUY OVER THERE” pointing at a guy sitting on a porch some 50m away. It was the type of guy you see in movies like “Cidade do Deus” or “Tropa de Elite”… a tall skinny black guy, dressed only in Bermuda and chinelo’s (beach slippers) and a baseball cap backwards on his head. Robson continued: “OMG, HE HAS A GUN. DON’T MOVE THE CAR, DON’T DO ANYTHING…

Ok, at that point I knew something pretty bad was happening. Looking through the windshield, I saw the guy getting up on his feet, holding a gun in his right hand. He started to walk in our direction, pointing the gun at us, meanwhile shouting like a madman. Robson was still saying to not move or he’ll kill us, but the only thing I wanted was OUT OF THERE. I put the car in reverse and took off.

Driving backwards, I had to pay attention not to run anybody over because the street was full of people. I managed to pull out of the street in reverse and take off in another direction. Knowing that the guy couldn’t follow us on foot, but thinking he could call other people, we kept going until we were out of reach…

The whole thing only took a few seconds, but during our escape I heard 6 or 7 shots. None of the shots hit the car – or us.

We will never know what would have happened if we would have stayed put, but it seems to me that this guy’s policy was: “shoot first and ask questions later”.

The important thing was that we got out in one piece and hopefully nobody else got hurt in the process.

Christ the Redeemer – seen from Rocinha – Rio de Janeiro

I am convinced that 99% of the people living in a favela are good, honest and hardworking people who happen to end up there because they are poor, undereducated and have nowhere else to go, but on the other hand, there is this tiny minority of ruthless gangsters, each reigning over their own little favela kingdom with an iron fist and an arsenal of weapons large enough to make any army general jealous.We were able to reach the receita federal office, where we had to wait in line for a while, which gave us some time to recover from the emotions, but this was a huge lesson in reality.

Yes, Brasil é Sensacional, but like any other country, it has its problems and some of them will need a lot more than Olympic games and a world cup to get resolved…

The process on how to get a CPF in Brazil is explained in more detail on this website.

UPDATE 17/10/2011

Today I saw on the news that a man got killed in Rio after taking a wrong exit and accidentally ending up in a favela. The only difference with my situation was that in my case there was only one guy with a pistol, while this man was surrounded by several criminals, armed with machine guns. I realize more and more how lucky I was that day in Bangu.