Batman Favela: Brazil protester becomes caped crusader


AFP photographer Yasuyoshi Chiba, based in Rio de Janeiro, recently visited a favela near the legendary Maracana stadium. Residents there are being evicted as authorities clear the area and rebuild ahead of the World Cup.

Many are protesting the evictions, including this 32-year-old dental technician who brings attention to the issue by dressing up as Batman.

(AFP Photo/Yasuyoshi Chiba)

Children play around a man disguised as Batman at the Favela do Metro slum, near to the Maracana stadium, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on January 9, 2014. (AFP Photo / Yasuyoshi Chiba)


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By Yasuyoshi Chiba


Batman has been making regular appearances at demonstrations since mass protests broke out around the time of the Confederations Cup last year in Rio de Janeiro. The man behind the mask is actually Eron Morais de Melo, a 32-year-old dental technician who made the costume himself.

De Melo has been getting lots of media attention and demonstrators seem to like him. I think he looks just like the character in the movies, especially when he appeared on Rio’s famous Carioca Aqueduct, or when he shook hands with an indigenous people’s leader.

Indigenous leader Korobo (L) speaks with activist Eron Morais de Melo, a.k.a. "Batman

Indigenous leader Korobo speaks with activist Eron Morais de Melo, a.k.a. Batman, during a protest in the frame of the National Indigenous Mobilization Week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on October 4, 2013. (AFP Photo/Yasuyoshi Chiba)

On January 8 and 9, I went to the shantytown to cover the eviction of squatters who’d moved in after 637 families had been forcibly relocated since 2010. Around 15 families are still in some 40 houses left standing -- but city authorities say the buildings would be torn down by the end of the month.

Many of these people were angry and afraid – some of their houses were demolished with just half an hour’s notice.

Residents barricade an entrance to the Favela do Metro slum. (AFP Photo/Yasuyoshi Chiba)

Residents barricade an entrance to the Favela do Metro slum. (AFP Photo/Yasuyoshi Chiba)

When I visited the Favela do Metro shantytown this month, I heard people clapping and cheering as Batman arrived. I ran over and started to take these photographs.

De Melo says he dresses up as Batman because the character is a symbol of the struggle against oppression. He said he thought Brazil is a dictatorship merely posing as a democracy. The Brazilian constitution says housing, education and health are the obligation of the state and the right of the people, and that he will continue to be Batman until people get what they need.

Children play around a man disguised as Batman at the Favela do Metro slum, near to the Maracana stadium, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on January 9, 2014.

(AFP Photo/Yasuyoshi Chiba)

16-year-old Leandro Souza takes a shower in front of a demolished area at Metro favela. (AFP Photo/Yasuyoshi Chiba)

Sixteen-year-old Leandro Souza takes a shower in front of a demolished area at Metro favela. (AFP Photo/Yasuyoshi Chiba)

He’s popular among demonstrators and many people have even tried to persuade him to become a politician, but he says he doesn’t want to be a part of the system he’s fighting against.

De Melo was once arrested for contravening a new law barring people wearing masks at protests. This is because many demonstrators – including those belonging to a group called the Black Bloc – were turning to violence. Local media said de Melo had been trying to get around the law by holding up an ID card with all his details – thereby making him not anonymous – but then he stopped showing up to protests.

Behind the mask: Eron Morais de Melo. (AFP Photo/Yasuyoshi Chiba)

Behind the mask: Eron Morais de Melo. (AFP Photo/Yasuyoshi Chiba)

Batman pets a dog duing a Zombie Walk for the Day of the Dead along Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on November 2, 2013. (AFP Photo/Yasuyoshi Chiba)

De Melo pets a dog duing a Zombie Walk for the Day of the Dead along Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on November 2, 2013. (AFP Photo/Yasuyoshi Chiba)

Demonstrators started holding up signs saying, “Where is Batman?” Now he’s back, and is even appearing at non-political demonstrations such as a “zombie walk”, where people dress up as the undead. He appeared with his fake golden shotgun and acted killing zombies. Now everyone loves his presence.

People in this favela are angry about the enormous budget for the World Cup and Olympics. They aren't optimistic for the future.


A girl is hugged by her mother at the Metro favela.  (AFP Photo/Yasuyoshi Chiba)

A girl is hugged by her mother at the Metro favela. (AFP Photo/Yasuyoshi Chiba)

Batman on the arches of the former Lapa aqueduct during a silent demonstration against police violence against protesters, political corruption and demanding better public services, October 31, 2013. (AFP Photo/Yasuyoshi Chiba)

On the arches of the former Lapa aqueduct during a silent demonstration against police violence against protesters, political corruption and demanding better public services, October 31, 2013. (AFP Photo/Yasuyoshi Chiba)