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Criminalizing poverty: war-style operations in the ‘favelas’ of Rio de Janeiro
Brazilë, Favelas -

Criminalizing poverty: war-style operations in the ‘favelas’ of Rio de Janeiro

woensdag 1 december 2010 13:04
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‘The Haiti is here, the Haiti is not here’. The famous song written by Caetano Veloso in 1993 fits perfectly with the reality of violence and fear faced in Rio de Janeiro, specially in the last week, when a mega war-style operation took place in the communities of Complexo do Alemão and Vila Cruzeiro. From Friday 26 November, The BOPE (Special Police Operations Battalion) started a occupation in the favelas to ‘re-take their control from the organized crime’. The chaos was generalized: vehicles burned in the streets, shooting between police and criminals, schools and commerce closed, residents of favelas made hostages in their own houses.

The fact is that for many years an intense conflict involves the military police, paramilitary groups and drug traffickers. This conflict has become a routine in the city, especially in the poorest communities where violence is a reality. In a country that has a huge gap between rich and poor, the social inequality is worsened by the criminalization of poverty.

In this moment the military forces are reproducing the same tactics used in the poor areas in Haiti, where Brazil is in charge of the United Nations Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH). Armored vehicles, helicopters and heavy armed soldiers are responsible for the ‘security’ of civilian. It is ironic to realize that the country that held the first revolution leaded by black slayers is now the training base to the the repression forces used in the low-income areas of Rio de Janeiro, inhabited mostly by afro-descendants.

Public security is an urgent matter and extreme measures were taken by the government, besides, the city will be hosting the the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016. This is the government’s priority and as it happened on 2007’s Pan American games, police forces are ‘occupying’ and ‘dominating’ the most problematic favelas. The methods are still questionable, the victims invisible.

The police force in Rio have the reputation of being corrupted and having the highest kill rate in the world. The state’s government is currently introducing the so called Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora (Pacifying Police Units), sustaining the police presence in the favelas to promote security in the long run. The plan is to have 3,500 police in 15 UPPs by the end of 2010, then extending UPPs to 100 favelas. The problem is that this kind of policies keep on criminalizing favela residents who will be living under de facto militarized police control. Is this the right path to the pacification or we will witness again the reconfiguration of the organized crime’s geography? Once more the wealthiest social classes will be satisfied with the massacre of the ‘criminals’, the tourists will feel safe during their ‘favela tours’ (the government is also constructing modern lifts to facilitate the access to the communities) but no major structural changes will happen. Short term solution are the order of the day.

In this scenario of terror, impressive images where broadcasted by the mainstream media supporting the introduction of armed forces to ‘prevent the escalation of the conflict’ while NGO’s and alternative media keep on denouncing the abuses committed by the police. The  general impression is that the population agrees that this is the only way to pacify the areas. Slogans like ‘a good criminal is a dead criminal’ are common to be heard on the streets as well as in the internet forums.

Civil society lacks mobilization in the direction of policies that could change the reality in an sustainable way. Maybe, people just gave up believing in social changes and are more interested in heroes like Capitão Nascimento, main character of the movie ‘Elite Squad’, a BOPE police officer that never hesitates when it comes from shooting ‘criminals’ in the favelas. In this televised war that is currently the fetich of the middle class, the principal victims are the poor, but also those who suffer with the routine of violence in a metropole like Rio de Janeiro.

As a final remark: in the favelas no guns or drugs are produced.


Media coverage of the ‘Occupation’ by TV Globo:

Pictures published on brazilian media:,galeria,3738,126099,,,0.htm

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