Rene Silva, the voice of Rio's favelas

Rene Silva in the Complexo de Alemão, in the north of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, in August 2019.
Rene Silva in the Complexo de Alemão, in the north of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, in August 2019. RENE SILVA


He cannot walk 100 meters in the streets of his favela until he is stopped already. " Rene!, calls out this woman in a blue t-shirt, returning from shopping with her son. There's this hole full of water and garbage in the street over there … A neighbor caught dengue. Could you take a look at it? " Rene nods, the woman smiles, thanks and leaves. " People here trust me, they think I can help them ”, apologizes the young man, a little embarrassed.

Because in the Complexo de Alemão, a sprawling set of bricks and sheets bringing together thirteen slums and 70,000 inhabitants, in the north of Rio, Rene Silva is not just anyone. At 26, the founder of the newspaper Voz das Comunidades ("Voices of the communities") is one of the most famous figures in this district, but also of the other numerous favelas of the city, of which he has become over the years one of the most important spokesmen.

Judge: with only five full-time journalists with an annual budget of 30,000 euros, the Voz is visited each month by 2 million Internet users and prints 15,000 copies. The free newspaper deals exclusively with problems in the working-class neighborhoods of Rio, where the newspaper has an unrivaled network of dozens of volunteers, hundreds of sources and informants.

"Something other than violence"

" We want to show something other than violence and death, which are the obsessions of the mainstream media ”insists Rene Silva, who receives on a scorching morning in March in the premises of his newspaper, a small semi-empty house, built at the foot of the morro (the "hill") do Alemão. Education, cleanliness, drugs, but also climate change, gender-based violence and today coronavirus: no subject escapes the Voz.

Pink T-shirt, blue jeans, short cut dreadlocks and a finely trimmed beard: the "red-chef" is a young black man, urban and trendy, even a little flirtatious. Despite the success, he never left his shy voice and his rough neighborhood. " I was born in Alemão, and I still live two blocks from the newspaper "says Rene Silva straight away.

Because this is where it all started – pretty bad. Rene grew up in the Adeus ("goodbye") sub-district, disputed by several gangs of drug traffickers: bullets regularly pass through the family living room and damage furniture. His father, street sweeper and alcoholic, dies when he is 6 years old. Her mother, a seamstress, finds a new spouse, who beats her and bangs hard on the children; Rene has a brother, today report to the Voz.


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