2:08am

Fri August 9, 2013
Parallels

Unease In Sprawling Rio Slum Ahead Of Police 'Pacification'

Originally published on Fri August 9, 2013 11:06 am

Brazilian police are preparing to occupy one of the deadliest shantytown complexes in Rio de Janeiro, hoping to drive out drug gangs ahead of next year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

It's the latest "pacification" effort in a Rio slum, and the city's new chief of police says he'll need some 1,500 cops to secure this one, called Mare.

Police in the past would typically stage raids, but then withdraw from the dangerous shantytowns, known here as favelas. But under the pacification program, they now set up shop inside the favelas.

But Mare is a vast, poor and dangerous complex of 15 such shantytowns, home to some 75,000 people.

Traffickers openly deal drugs on the streets. Men on motorcycles speed around with weapons slung over their backs. A few months ago, an engineer took a wrong turn into Mare and was shot in the head and died.

Most people here don't want their names used when they speak to reporters. But in a lingerie shop, a young woman says people are afraid here. Mare is run by the drug gangs, she says, noting that her shop pays them protection money.

Even children, she says, get involved in trafficking and, some carry guns and use drugs.

The woman says she welcomes a police presence, but notes that most people prefer the drug gangs to the Brazilian police.

The pacification program has had mixed success. Some favelas have flourished and the numbers of killings in Rio has dropped. But in other favelas there is an uneasy coexistence with the Police Pacification Units (UPP).

Across town, in the favela called Caju, police wear flak jackets and carry assault rifles as they patrol the narrow alleyways between cinderblock buildings and jerry-rigged electrical lines.

UPP officer Carlos Guimaraes says residents of Caju will eventually get used to the police presence. But for now, people avert their gaze as the police walk past. It feels a lot more like Iraq than Rio.

The mistrust has cause. According to Amnesty International the police in Brazil are responsible for some 2,000 deaths a year. And last month in the pacified favela of Rocihna, a bricklayer named Amarildo de Souza went missing after being questioned by his local UPP unit.

In mare, nine people were killed in a June raid launched by the feared Special Operations police battalion.

Bira Carvalho, a former drug addict and now community leader in Mare, says a few months ago he was targeted in a police raid, and his house was ransacked.

The police have subsequently apologized, but Bira says he doesn't think Mare should be pacified. He says the community needs jobs and schools, not more armed men.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

In Rio de Janeiro police are preparing to occupy one of the deadliest shanty town complexes in the city. The new chief of police in Rio says some 1,500 police officers will be needed to secure the area. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports on the challenges of the initiative called pacification.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: It's called Mare - 75,000 people live here. It's actually not just one favela, as the shanty towns of Brazil are known, but a complex of 15. It's vast and poor and dangerous. A few months ago an engineer took a wrong turn into Mare and was shot in the head and died. Traffickers openly deal drugs on the streets. Men on motorcycles speed around with weapons slung over their backs. And almost needless to say, most people don't want their names used when they speak to reporters.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Portuguese spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In a lingerie shop in Mare a young woman tells us that people are afraid here.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Portuguese spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This place is run by the drug gangs she says. At this shop we pay them protection money, for example.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Portuguese spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Our children, she says, get involved in trafficking, they have guns in their hands, they hurt people.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Portuguese spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want the police to come here, she says, because I think things will get better. But most people prefer the drug gangs, she says. People are really worried about the police and their abuses. Mare is slated to be the next group of favelas to undergo what's called pacification.

Instead of police coming in to do raids and withdrawing like they used to, they now set up shop inside the favelas with the object of chasing out the drug gangs for good in advance of next year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Pacification has had mixed success so far. Some favelas have flourished and the number of killings in Rio has dropped. But in other favelas there is an uneasy co-existence with the UPP or Police Pacification Units.

(SOUNDBITE OF STREET NOISE)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So we're on patrol with the UPP in Caju. This is a complex of about 10 favelas. And we are walking through these narrow alleyways with these makeshift cinderblock buildings crowded in on top of us, criss-crossed with jerry-rigged electricity wires.

OFFICER CARLOS GUIMARAES: (Portuguese spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They don't agree with our presence here. We annoy them, but they'll get used to us eventually says UPP officer Carlos Guimaraes after he whistles, signaling to another officer nearby. He's wearing a flak jacket and carrying an assault rifle through Caju. Caju is across town from Mare and was only pacified this year. It's an example of the tensions that still linger even after the UPP settle in. People avert their gaze as the police walk past. It feels a lot more like Iraq than Rio.

This mistrust has cause. Last month in the pacified favela of Rocihna a bricklayer named Amarildo de Souza went missing after being questioned by his local UPP unit. According to Amnesty International, the police in Brazil are responsible for some 2,000 deaths a year. In Mare, nine people were killed in a raid launched by the police's feared Special Operations battalion a few months ago.

Bira Carvalho is a resident of Mare. A former drug addict, he's now a community leader. A few months ago he was targeted in a police raid. His house was ransacked. The police have subsequently apologized, but Bira says he doesn't think Mare should be pacified. He says what the community needs are jobs and schools, not more armed men.

BIRA CARVALHO: (Portuguese spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says there can be no peace without social justice. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR NEWS.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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