Last week President Dilma Rousseff called on the Brazilian army to contain the most recent favela wars. The plans to pacify the favelas seemed to be going well up until now but since the beginning of 2014 Rio has seen 19 murdered police officers. The number is larger than that of 2013, when the number stood at 11.
With less than three months until the World Cup the drug gangs that were expelled from the favelas by the pacifying units are now fighting back to re-conquer their territory. Recent incidents in the favelas of Complexo do Alemão, Rocinha (the largest favela in the world, home to around 70,000 people), Parque Proletário (in Complexo da Penha) and Vila Cruzeiro have brought back the feeling of unsafety in Rio.
The pacification of the slums had been relatively smooth until now. The first favela to receive a Pacifying Police Unit (UPP), Favela Santa Marta, has grown economically in incredible ways in the last six years. The urbanization of the area has benefitted 8,000 residents who can come and go as they please without being afraid of extreme violence.
But it seems that, while Santa Marta is often used as a model for the UPPs program, the reality in other slums is much more violent. President Rousseff’s decision to send 4,000 army men to occupy Complexo da Maré is most likely necessary as a temporary measure. Known as one of the most dangerous and poor parts of the city, the complex of favelas is home to two drug factions that are in constant war with each other. Promises to pacify the area are years old and until recently it seemed that Complexo da Maré would only receive some real attention if it magically moved next to the Maracanã since the 34 (of thousands) already pacified communities in Rio are mostly located in areas that will be used for the event.
The occupation of Maré took place this Sunday without resistance from the community. Most residents stayed home, as they had been previously warned about the occupation. Images show war tanks roaming the favela’s mud streets and policemen looking for weaponry and drugs.
When I visited Complexo da Maré I was greeted with men who were guarding the slum at its entrance. They observed my taxi when it passed by them and decided I was not a menace or a drug buyer. Unscathed, I proceeded to visit a school that educates children of the community who live with daily violence in that community. Speaking to the teachers I learned that the children who are exposed to extreme and constant violence suffer from anxiety, depression, PTSD and other mental illnesses that critically impair their learning skills. The children in the favela are witness to shootings, heavy weaponry, violent deaths, drug addicts, unpunished crimes and desperation.
It might be that sending 4,000 men to Complexo da Maré is needed, but in doing so President Rousseff is once again ignoring how deep the violence in the favelas is. It is not only those who get shot, murdered and dragged by a police car who are damaged by it –entire generations have been suffering for the last two decades because of it. This measure is one made out of an emergency, and it might contain the violence for a few months – but then what?
If Rocinha, Complexo do Alemão and other favelas who have been pacified are any indication, the drug factions will attempt to take their territory back as soon as they can.
And despite the uninterrupted, non-violent pacification a 15 year old boy was shot dead on Sunday when two drug factions were fighting. Relatives of the boy complained that the community was supposed to be safe now – where were the authorities when this young teenager died?
I have to ask – which people is the government protecting? Is it the people in the favelas? Is it the families of the 19 policemen who were killed this year? Is it the football fans? Is it the Brazilians who don’t live in the favelas?
The study Map of Violence: Homicides and Youth in Brazil, published in 2013, reveals that in the last three decades the number of homicides of people between the age of 14 and 25 in Brazil has risen by 326,1%. The Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y Justicia Penal, a study group from Mexico, listed the 50 most violent cities in the world (that are not at war) and of those, 16 are Brazilian. Fortaleza, João Pessoa and Maceió are in the top ten. And the young people who don’t become statistics don’t have many chances to get out of that environment.
Bringing in an army that carries heavy weaponry is psychologically disturbing and damaging to those who live in the favela. All of these slums have been abandoned for generations; they are only given attention when a global event is put at risk. While the army will contain the violence, the question has to be asked: what’s next?
Brazil is relying on a temporary solution that has more to do with the World Cup than actually ensuring the people are safe throughout their lifetime. The violence and crime might be contained for now, but what will contain it after the army and the tanks are gone?