Thousands race for peace in Rio slum

Gaby Leslie

From celebrities to former drug mules, thousands of people took part in a race through the hilltop slums of the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro to celebrate peace.

Nearly 1,500 runners competed in the “Challenge for Peace” in the Alemao Complex – a vast area of interconnected slums that was controlled by notorious drug gangs before Brazilian special forces reclaimed it 18 months ago.

Shanty town residents, soldiers, celebrities, Rio’s security secretary Jose Beltrame and even former gang members were among those taking part in the five kilometre slum run held on Sunday.

The race, up the narrow streets of Villa Cruzeiro to Morro do Alemao, retraced the escape route used by drug dealers during an army operation in November 2010.

The assault by 2,700 troops ended a decade-long battle with drug barons.

Participants who ran either barefoot or wearing trainers on wet muddy soil in hot weather were cheered on by residents.

Valerio de Souza won the prize money and said he would use the £2,700 to help his family.

AfroReggae – a non governmental group that has mediated conflicts between the police, the drug gangs and shanty town residents – held Rio’s third ever race for peace.

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Founder Luiz Fernando told AFP: “This race lifts the self-esteem of a community that used to live amid a great deal of violence.

"It shows that we are capable of organising such an event in favelas, not just in the southern district [Rio's well-off and tourist area].”

Sergeant Sergio Dantas added: “This route marked the history of the military police's Special Operations Battalion. Here there were many firefights with the narcotraffickers. To run today along this path without a weapon is very significant.

“Before, Vila Cruzeiro was lawless land.”

Many of the largest slums in Rio, home to more than 1.5 million people, are now controlled by police.

Ahead of the 2014 football World Cup and 2016 Olympics, security is a massive priority for the city.

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