Bringing an army into Rio is more damaging than scattered, bloody bodies

2014-03-29 16.44.31

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?



37 thoughts on “Bringing an army into Rio is more damaging than scattered, bloody bodies”

  1. I went to Rio recently and there is definitely big problems there. Even with the tanks in Rio for now I feel the violence and crime will still exist. Please be safe anyone that goes to this region for the World Cup. I don’t think there is a simple answer for the region at this time.

      1. Nicole, the solutions exist. First, we can help those who are already suffering in the favelas. The most powerful program can be seen at Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is most effectively eliminated by the Transcendental Meditation program. Second, the stress in society must be reduced. Extensive research published in leading scientific journals demonstrates that the powerful, stress-reducing effect of the Transcendental Meditation technique has a calming, “spill-over” effect in the surrounding population. When individuals practice the Transcendental Meditation and the advanced TM-Sidhi program together in groups, the research has shown a dramatic and immediate reduction in societal stress, crime, violence, and conflict—and an increase in coherence, positivity, and peace in society as a whole. Read more: Enliven the field of peace within the minds of the people and peace will prevail in society. Just a few lampposts lit are enough to dispel the darkness of the entire city…..

  2. Thanks for your post, Nicole, and for calling attention to such an important issue. My husband is Brazilian and we lived there a total of 4 years. I saw a lot during my time there–wonderful things and horrible things–so, I can tell you how outraged I am with all of this.

    I wish I had a solution too.

  3. Great post. There’s also the issue of corruption among the police. Recently several were apprehended for working with drug traffickers. I think there’s no simple solution, and it’s a problem that is going to take time. I just hope that the government continues to carry out measures to improve the city and the favelas even after the World Cup and the Olympics.

  4. Drug gangs are now in every country and doing havoc to the world. I do not know how to stop the reign of craziness. Even the army has limits for some of those in it are the enemy.

  5. As a Brazilian teacher, I can tell that living in this country isn’t easy. I lived two years in the States, have been to many countries in Europe and here I feel locked up. I used to live in São Paulo, but I have recently movied to a smaller city in search of a more peaceful life. Guess what? I don’t feel safe here as well. In one week three robberies took place in my neighborhood. Three minors were caught by the police who a few hours later released them because they are only 17.

    I had my car taken by two teenagers who didn’t even know how to drive, but already knew how to point their gun at me. I’m so tired of being scared all the time. I love cycling… I can’t go on a bike ride and enjoy the sunny Brazilian days, or take my DSL camera and take pictures of the nice places I visit here. I’m afraid of opening the garage gate to go to work. What if there’s someone outside?

    So people who can, live in houses that look more like jails… and hope nothing happens to our families. I don’t encourage any foreigner to come to Brazil during World Cup.

    Everything is going to go up. The average Brazilian can’t afford going to stadiums because everything now is even more overpriced. My boyfriend is Dutch and he paid less on his KLM international ticket from Amsterdam to São Paulo, than he would have paid if we went to Bahia from São Paulo. Long story short, Rio is not the only problem. The whole country needs help. Our governors simply can’t do it. I’m disgusted by our politicians who every day still our money. It is hard to be patriot in a country like Brazil.

    1. Hi Carol, it’s really refreshing to see a Brazilian who accepts that this country is incredibly dangerous. Whenever I point this out I usually get attacked by many ‘patriots’ who insist Brazil is not that bad. Well, I am here to say that it is and I won’t stop writing until it is better. Yesterday I was covering something that happened here in Rio and I also opted to not take my DSLR camera to take photos. What if someone attacked me to snatch it away? Sometimes I walk around with mace in my pocket, just to feel safer.

      I refuse to stay silent during the World Cup as well. The whole country has a massive violence problem and it is disappointing to see so much support for the current government when we see misery and violence and feel unsafe everyday.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

      1. The bad thing is when you start freaking out at home as well. Here in my house we have enough security so robbers won’t climb the walls… What if they approach us when we are leaving or arriving the house? They did with a neighbor of mine last week. My mom keeps telling me to hide my passport, my money, the golden ring my grandma gave me … Just in case someone enters the house. Sorry, that’s not life! My boyfriend is making a simple documentary about public opinion on World Cup. I’ll let you know when it is ready. You might like it.

      2. Yes I have relatives who suffer with that kind of unsafety in São Paulo, so I totally understand. Life in Brazil sometimes is not life. I also struggle with living here, and I plan on moving out some day (my boyfriend is English so we plan on going somewhere together). Let me know when the documentary is coming out I would love to see it.

  6. Hi Nicole. I recently moved to Rio in order to find ways to help teenagers here. A pressing concern of mine, in regards to pacification efforts, is what will happen in the favelas once this temporary fix runs out when the WC has left? Will it continue up until the Summer Games? If so, what will happen after that? I’ll be here for quite some time and I’m so glad I ran into your blog and I’m definitely looking forward to to hearing some of your thoughts!

    1. Hi thanks so much for reading! I am also worried about the aftermath – will Rio be better off? Will these temporary fixes continue after the tourists are gone? I don’t know, it remains to be seen. Please stay tuned to my blog, a lot more to come.

  7. So wrong. It’s like covering a really ugly sore and not realising it’s rot will spread and ALL will feel it’s pain and smell the stench of rot. No country can afford to ignore its citizens for the make the country.

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