RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Not far from Rio's posh Ipanema and Copacabana districts, narrow pathways lead to grim slums where poverty, drug gangs and young men with assault rifles dominate life for hundreds of thousands of residents.
Bullet-riddled bodies lie in pools of blood, and gun-toting teens in flip-flops navigate the maze of alleys working as guards, lookouts and distributors for drug lords operating just a few miles (kilometers) from where hundreds of thousands and tourists and athletes will be for the Aug. 5-21 Olympic Games.
"In these communities you can see what real life is like. This is our reality," said a drug trafficker who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition that his identity and location not be revealed.
Holding an AK-47, the masked drug boss said dealers win the hearts and minds of locals by paying for food and medicine, providing a lifeline for many living in crushing poverty.
Gruesome scenes of death and impunity play out daily in Rio's hundreds of shantytowns, known as favelas.
On the roof of a cable car station, a half dozen policers officers with assault weapons hunkered down behind low concrete walls to shoot it out with suspected drug traffickers in broad daylight in a sprawling cluster of slums known as Complexo do Alemao. When the gunfire stopped, schoolchildren casually walked by as officers frisked drivers.
Elsewhere, a man was dragged from his house and shot dead, his bloody body left at the front door. A teenage boy was executed with his hands bound on a street that divides the territories of two rival gangs. A woman who was a candidate for a local council seat was shot to death at a bar near her house.
Some residents do what they can to show a different way. Pastor Nilton, a preacher who was once a former drug trafficker, holds prayer services in gang-ruled slums.
Nilton tries to persuade teenage boys to give up the gang life. Youths sometimes put their weapons down — but usually it's only long enough to receive his blessing.