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Rio's police 'pacification' program on the defensive

Por frombrazil
02/04/14 18:14

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Drug crime has returned to some of the favelas taken over by Rio’s police in recent years, putting the ‘pacification’ program under further scrutiny. Escalating violence and accusations of human rights abuses indicate police forces may be losing control. One resident group questions the wisdom of trying to resolve the problem with more military force.

By Anna Jean Kaiser

Complexo do Alemão and Complexo da Penha, favelas in northern Rio, have recently seen a wave of shootings, four police fatalities in 30 days, and accusations of human rights abuses commited by police. Rocinha and Manguinhos, two other favelas supposedly conquered and pacified’ by Rio security forces since the push started in 2009, have seen armed attacks on police stations.

In the wake of what seems to be a loss of control, Rio Governor Sergio Cabral has called upon the federal armed forces to intervene and act alongside UPP and state military police.

For five years now, foreign and domestic observers have largely praised the pacification program. But recently, it’s become clear how difficult the long-term situation will be.

The state and the residents seem to agree: combating crime in the community is arduous and the current solution is not working. But the state’s solution, that of sending in more armed forces, seems problematic for some residents, who are asking for dialogue, more participation in society, and above all, positive steps toward social justice.

In light of the escalating conflicts in Complexo do Alemão, an activist group known as “Ocupa Alemão” (Occupy Alemão) released a manifesto. Its opening line reads:

“For decades the State has not recognized the favela as an integral part of the city, denying favela residents their basic rights. Today, after three years of public security occupation in Complexo do Alemão, we see that the path to the guarantee of our civil rights is still long, as the branch of the state that most enters the favela is the armed branch.”

As the Manifesto made its way around the social networks, the state sent in the Battalion of Special Operations (BOPE) and then announced the anticipated arrival of the military.

“The current strategy of the government is centered around military force being the solution for the favela,” Thainã de Medeiros from the Ocupa Alemão movement told ‘From Brazil,’ “We do not believe that this is a good solution for either side, neither for the residents nor for the military forces… The current strategy costs lives on all sides.”

Alemão residents are caught in the middle. The very large majority of residents are working class families with no links to crime, and the effects of human rights abuses and high levels of violence are traumatizing.

After UPP officer Rodrigo de Souza Paes Leme was fatally shot in Alemão, police arrested two minors, Kleyton da Rocha Afonso and Hallam Marcilio Gonçalves, for their alleged involvement with drug trafficking and the officer’s death. Family and friends of the teenagers claimed the allegations were unjust – they had no criminal records and no proven links to drug trafficking. A peaceful protest against their incarceration turned violent, police throwing tear gas and shooting.

Some favela residents go so far as to say that life has deteriorated.

“The residents are living worse than they were before,” said Roberto Borges, the president of the Alemão Resident’s Association to Agência Brasil, “The UPP alone will not solve a public problem that has existed for decades.”

But the state continues to turn to more troops and Secretary Beltrame insists that the program is not at risk, though he does admit that there are serious problems in both Alemão and Rocinha  – noting that the situation is “very far from ideal.”

“Rio de Janeiro lived with this for 30 years and never did anything. There is no guarantee to remove all weapons from everywhere, because for 30 years the state has not done its job and society tolerated it,” he said in defense of the program.

Anna Jean Kaiser is editorial assistant in Brazil for The Guardian and freelance correspondent for outlets such as USA Today.

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