in the wake of a massacre in the Nova Holanda favela in Rio de
Janeiro in February 2000, police repeated a rumor that the perpetrators
were Angolan refugees adapting guerrilla tactics into the drug trade. In
a city besieged by spiraling violence, the image of veteran African com-
batants, armed with ak-47 assault rifles, bringing tactics with names
like “suicide trolley” and “Soviet attack” to the predominantly black drug
gangs resonated with racialized foreboding in Rio’s newspapers.1 The
state military police launched an investigation into Angolan participa-
tion in gang warfare; 850 police entered the favela complex to question
and create records of the Angolans living there, but the police admitted
finding no evidence that Angolans had been involved in the violence. The
Angolan refugees gathered in protest outside the police station where the
investigation was being coordinated. They complained that the rumors
and the investigation increased the prejudice they experienced. One ex-
plained: “[I’m a] refugee, Angolan, black, I live in a favela. Does anybody
think that makes it easy for me to get a job? And on top of that I am now
a mercenary? Because of this story, two of my colleagues have lost their
While Brazil’s leaders held hope in 1975 that newly independent An-
gola would become its commercial and political gateway into Africa,
the Angolan civil war that lasted until 2003 eroded much of that poten-
tial. Instead Brazilian relations with Angola were shaped by the war. In
the 1990s a company of Brazilian army engineers took part in a United
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