09/20/2012 03:38 pm ET

Rio Olympics 2016: National Geographic Magazine Looks At Favela Makeovers (PHOTOS)

As Rio de Janeiro prepares to host two of the world's biggest international events -- the World Cup in 2014 and Olympic Games in 2016 -- the city is working to "clean up" its image.

Authorities have conducted huge operations to bring police control over the previously drug-lord run slums, known as favelas. Antonio Regalado reports for National Geographic on the transformation taking place, and how local communities feel about the process.


The following excerpt is from the October edition of National Geographic magazine:

“We are guinea pigs,” declares Fabio do Amaral, a drug-gang killer turned evangelical minister. Brother Fabio preaches at a church in Santa Marta, one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. What he means is that the citizenry of Santa Marta is part of a plan to clean up the hillside slums for the 2016 Olympics.

The experiment was set in motion in November 2008, when special operations police invaded the slum, a collection of brick and cinder block houses rising like a rickety skyscraper threaded with footpaths ascending 788 steps along a steep incline below the famed Christ the Redeemer statue. Unlike your usual Rio police assault on favela drug dealers—a bloody hit-and-run using armored trucks known as “big skulls”—a contingent of 112 “pacification officers” arrived in Santa Marta that December and stayed to restore order and evict the gang. Then the government built brightly colored apartment blocks and installed new electrical service along with 700 free refrigerators. These days, the place is overrun by film crews and such red carpet visitors as Madonna and John McCain. (Many Brazilian tourists visit too, often entering a favela for the first time.)

Check out stunning photos by David Alan Harvey below and view the full gallery here.