Sending the military to intervene and occupy poor areas of Brazil is a tactic that has already been tried without success, for example in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
Moisés Pérez Mok
That is the firmly held stance of Orlando Zaccone, a doctor of political sciences and civil police representative, who believes that the escalation of violence in Rio is rooted in the political and economic crises that have struck the state and the subsequent dismantling of the Unidades de Policía Pacificadora (peacekeeping police forces, UPP) established in 2008.
Statistics compiled by the civil police and published by the magazine Carta Capital reveal that 630 people were injured, of whom at least 67 died, in crossfire during clashes between the security forces and presumed criminals in Rio de Janeiro in the first six months of the year.
Meanwhile, the number of fatalities arising during opposition to police intervention (in what were previously termed “acts of resistance”) between January and May of this year reached the record high of 480, a 48% increase compared to the same period in 2016.
In Brazil, “peacekeeping” is always synonymous with the use of force against anyone who rebels against the country’s political and legal structure, Zaccone explains, stressing that this model is governed by the oligarchy. He argues that the right has always framed its political discourse around security.
“What we call a security policy is, for anyone living in a favela, a policy of panic, extermination and destruction; these operations are not really focused on effective action against drug trafficking,” he says.
On the other hand, he believes that what could be defined as “a criminal policy of bloodshed” is also a way to divert attention to other issues and cover up the negligence of the public authorities that have failed to apply policies that could contribute to an improvement in the social environment.
Investment never came
In an interview with BBC Brazil about the military occupation of La Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro, the British journalist Misha Glenny, an organized crime specialist, asserted that the state “is ceding the monopoly on favela violence to the drug traffickers”.
This was Glenny’s response to a question about images shown on television in which members of the UPP were hiding to avoid confrontation with the criminals.
The UPP no longer exists except in name, asserted the author of the book entitled Nemesis: one man and the battle for Rio, referring to the drug trafficker Antonio Francisco Bonfim Lopes, a.k.a. Nem, who has been blamed for the recent outbreak of violence in La Rocinha despite currently being behind bars.
Glenny was alluding to the increase in police UPP numbers during the government of Sergio Cabral (currently serving a 45-year custodial sentence for multiple acts of corruption), but he lamented the fact that the second part of the project, the creation of the so-called social UPP, was never completed. The UPP would have served as the government’s police force in the favelas and enabled greater social investment in the communities. But this investment never arrived and this meant that the state lost even more credibility in the favelas, he said.
After 12 days of occupation, nearly 1,000 Brazilian army servicemen started to leave La Rocinha on 29 September. La Rocinha is the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro and even in Latin America as a whole, and it was where rivalry between two factions for control of the drugs trade sparked an outbreak of violence and spread panic among local residents.
According to the assessment of defence minister Raúl Jungmann, the situation is already stable and the confrontations are over, since “the criminals who were there have been able to move into other nearby communities”.
However, he added that should it become necessary for the military to return to La Rocinha to prevent the situation from worsening, there is an agreement in place in the government to fast-track the request.
He did not respond to claims by the La Rocinha neighbours’ association, whose president, Carlos Eduardo Barbosa, criticised the alleged misconduct by security forces during their intervention in the district.
The community leader called for the truth to be told, arguing that La Rocinha was not in a state of war and that the presence of the military did not justify the cost of 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 reals per day. That figure, he stressed, “could easily have been invested in the community itself, and promoting health and education.” (PL)
(Translated by Roz Harvey) – Photos: Pixabay