A steep climb leads to the top of the Santa Marta favela in Rio de Janeiro, where the statue of Christ the Redeemer is visible to the right and the ocean can be seen over the roofs of hundreds of homes below. The residents of the cluster of houses on the summit, O Pico, surely have one of the best views in Rio. But they are fighting efforts to evict them and demolish homes that the city says are in an area of risk.
“For years, the authorities did nothing when it was so dangerous to live here. Now that the area is finally safe, they want us to move out,” says resident Veronica Mora, gesturing at the view from steps that wind down a narrow alley outside a two-storey brick house that took her family 20 years to build. Many of the houses are draped with banners reading: “No to removals” and “Santa Marta is not for sale”.
Rio officials claim O Pico is vulnerable to landslides, but residents point out that the landslides that did occur and caused deaths in 1966-67 and 1988 affected no one at the summit.
Juliana Barbassa – Associated Press/Huffington Post, 10/17/2012
Days after police stormed one of Rio de Janeiro’s most dangerous shantytowns to seize back territory long held by a powerful drug dealing organization, city health and welfare workers are working to ease the despair and devastation left behind among hundreds of crack cocaine addicts suddenly without drugs.
Since Sunday, when more than 2,000 heavily armed officers stormed into the Manguinhos and Jacarezinho complexes, crews working with police support by Wednesday had rounded up 231 crack users, and another 67 who had migrated elsewhere looking for the drug.
The area had been Rio’s biggest open-air crack market, known as “cracolandia,” or “crackland,” where hundreds of users bought the drug, consumed it and lingered in shacks and on blankets, picking through trash for recyclables to sell so they could buy more.
While the UPP (Police Pacification Unit) program in Rio has had many successes in the past few years confronting drug trafficking in the favelas, the surrounding metropolitan region has seen crime rates rise as criminals flee the city. The number of arrests in outlying areas like Niterói, São Gonçalo and Duque de Caxias has increased significantly, bringing residents to protest.
According to a February 2012 Public Security Institute study, home robberies in Niterói have gone up 285.7 percent compared to the past year. Car break-ins are up 71 percent and muggings are up 13.5 percent, according to the report.
This past Sunday (April 15th) Niterói residents staged several demonstrations demanding more security. Protesters gathered on São Francisco beach, singing the national anthem and holding signs with slogans like “Niterói will not be taken hostage by violence!”, “UPP in Niterói now!” and “We want police on the streets!”
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, Corporal Rodrigo Alves Cavalcante, a Military Police (PM) officer with the Batalhão de Choque (Shock Batalion), was shot and killed in Rocinha. He becomes the first police officer, and the ninth person in total, to be killed in a growing spree of violence that has swept through the favela community since February.
Rodrigo was one of eight police officers on foot patrol at the top of the community when he was shot in the back and killed.
State Secretary for Security, Jose Mario Beltrame, said on Wednesday that the UPP (Police Pacification Program) in Rocinha would continue regardless of the recent death: “[We] will not remove even a millimeter of the UPP program,” he said.
Federal Police arrested eleven people last Thursday, February 16th including an ex-commander of the Police Pacification Unit (UPP), accused of involvement in drug trafficking in Morro de São Carlos, a favela in Estácio, Zona Norte (North Zone). According to the Federal Police (PF), ex-commander captain Adjaldo Luiz Piedade, is accused of receiving approximately R$15,000 each week for a period of about six months.
The money is reported to have come from the drug lord known in the community as Peixe (Fish), with whom Piedade negotiated directly.
The arrests are part of an investigation known as Operation Boca Aberta (Open Mouth), which began last year. According to PF, the captain moved police activity around within the slum to facilitate the sale of drugs.
More than a month after “pacifying police units” seized control of Rio’s biggest slum or favela with the help of tanks and helicopters, life seems to be improving for residents of Rocinha. On a sunny afternoon in December, children dart through narrow hillside alleys, butchers hawk chicken meat from side-walk stalls and graffiti artists paint murals around the densely populated urban ghetto.
The crackdown in Rocinha, which saw 3,000 heavily armed police storm into the neighbourhood in November, is part of an ongoing campaign in Brazil to assert state authority in largely lawless favelas as the country prepares to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics two years later.
“Sometimes the bad rap our community gets is fair, it has been violent,” says Rogerio Roque, a former drug dealer who has become a youth worker and anti-violence activist. “Before the crackdown, lots of gunfire could be heard but it is getting better.”