War and Peace in Rio

Vila Cruzeiro identified as one of the main havens of traffickers from the Commando Vermelho (CV). 25/11/2010. Photo: Tasso Marcelo/AE

Today I want to talk about the recent military operation in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and at the same I have a series of photos about this significant event. So the article continues in between the photos. Enjoy, it is one of the best things to end the year. It is worth to scroll down to the end.

Although not dealt with in detail by the global main stream media, I am sure my readers have read or heard something about the war against drug traffickers in Rio de Janeiro. After years of “laissez faire, laissez aller”, during which the drug barons were able to found their fiefdoms and eliminate all governmental influence, the prospects of a World Football Cup and the Olympic Games did the Brazilian government finally decide to restore ‘law and order’ in the favelas (slum towns) of Rio de Janeiro. Finally the local government accepted the assistance of the Brazilian Armed Forces and the Federal Police. And the first results are impressive.

Complexo do Alemão, in the northern zone of Rio de Janeiro. 29/11/2010. Photo: Robson Fernandjes/AE

Of the roughly 1,000 favelas in and around Rio, the main and most infamous ones, (Vila Cruzeiro, part of Complexo da Penha, in the north of Rio and one of the main communities dominated by drug traffickers, and Complexo do Alemão, Rio’s largest favela), are reconquered and under control and the population is able to restore their normal life after years of being terrorised by the drugs gangs.
I sincerely hope that the Brazilian Armed Forces, which will stay in the favelas for another 10 months, are able to stabilize the ‘conquered areas’.
Questions stay! Where are all the addicts supposed to get their daily fix, now that the drugs barons are imprisoned? No one is talking about this topic. And is the government of Rio able to maintain the peaceful situation, as corruption in the police force is rampant.

Before the war started the Comando Vermelho warned the people via graffiti to stay in their houses during the days of war. 25 November 2010. Photo: Marcelo Carnaval/O Globo

The government is planning to maintain the peaceful and drugs-free situation by installing UPPs (Unidades de Polícia Pacificadoras = Peacemaking Police Units). The implementation of the UPPs in 15 of the slums across the city is considered to be the biggest advancement in public safety in recent years.

Special police forces enter Vila Cruzeiro. 25 November 2010. Photo: Pablo Jacob/O Globo

Complexo do Alemão, 26/11/2010. Photo: Felipe Dana/AP

But what is a favela? In the world press stereotypically a favela is characterised as a slum-town or even slum city. But is it all slum? A slum, is defined as a district of a city marked by poverty and inferior living conditions. Well, I don’t deny the difficult circumstances under which people are living in a slum. But it is not all poverty and misery. A favela is an upcoming town, an emerging neighbourhood of a city established out of nowhere, an invasão (invasion), spontaneously created by people in need of a home. I have seen many of them in amazing stages of development.

Federal police leave the Gloria Marina in downtown Rio, into the direction of Complexo Favelas da Maré, where they will patrol the Cunha Canal. 26/11/2010. Photo: Paulo Vitor/AE

Special police forces enter Vila Cruzeiro looking for drug traffickers of the Comando Vermelho. 26/11/2010. Photo: Felipe Dana/AP

The public opinion is to blame for this erroneous characterisation as Jailson de Souza e Silva, Professor at the UFF/RJ and founder of the Observatory of Favelas of Rio de Janeiro, argues:

Police forces during the invasion of the Favela da Grota, part of Complexo do Alemão. 28/11/2010. Photo: Wilton Júnior/AE

Civilian police take the Favela da Grota, one of the communities of Complexo do Alamão. 28/11/2010. Photo: Wilton Júnior/AE

“Historically favelas have captured the imagination of the population who didn’t live there. This imagery is multiple and varied, having started in the early twentieth century. In general the assumptions characterize the slums and its residents as what can be defined as “paradigm of failure”. In this sense, the favelas, in general, have been viewed as areas with no standards, rules, civility, dominated by complete anarchy, the target of moralistic judgments.
Worlds of incivility, “no city”, par excellence, these territories are the dominion of armed criminal groups, increasing the perception of separation between the favela and the entire city. In this framework, instead of the residents being recognized as victims of violence and the state government as responsible for the criminal privatisation of the regular power over social life, the criminalisation of the favelas and its inhabitants expanded.”

Dozens of cars were burned by drug traffickers. 26/11/2010. Photo: Robson Fernandjes/AE

Autobus burning in the Favela do Rio Comprido. 25/11/2010. Photo: Silvia Izquierdo/AP

Car torched by criminals on Avenida Ayrton Senna, Barra da Tijuca in western Rio 24/11/2010. Photo: Wilton Junior/AE

It is obvious that the inhabitants of favelas always have been classified as ‘second rate’ human beings, inferior to the ones not living in these despicable areas. During my many years living in a favela in Belém do Pará, many times I faced shocked, incomprehensible and even disgusting gazes when I told (business) relations where I lived. I had a beautiful and socially rich time in that favela, till the moment the criminals took over completely.

Drug dealers torch lorries to form barricades against the policial raid in Favela Vila Cruzeiro. 25 November 2010. Photo: Ivo Gonzalez/O Globo

800 members of the Armed Forces arrive in Complexo do Alemão. 26/11/2010. Photo: Fábio Motta/AE

A caveirão, armoured police vehicle in Favela Jacarezinho. 23 Nov 2010. Photo: Antonio Scorza/AFP

Nowadays with the new security strategy adopted by the Rio government, new insights emerge about these disputed territories. Residents’ rights on safety and the governmental authority are being recognized. For the first time, residents in the slums are thought about beyond their more objective needs and are seen as citizens far removed from their fundamental rights, in particular the right to life, to come and go, to have a safe haven.
What we had (and still have in many municipalities) was and is nothing more than the government’s inability to guarantee basic rights to all Brazilians, including the inhabitants of Brazil’s many, many favelas.

250 persons wre arrested and imprisoned by the police. 27/11/2010. Foto: Robson Fernandjes/AE

A policeman checks a man in Vila Cruzeiro. November 25, 2010. Photo: Sergio Moraes/Reuters

Tons of marijuana and other drugs were seized in Complexo do Alemão. 24/11/2010. Photo: Wilton Junior/AE

But anyway, in Rio the government intervention worked and was lauded as being such a success that even Papa Noel (Santa Claus) visited the favelas, distributing thousands of presents to the children.

From the Journal O Globo: ‘Operação Papa Noel’

Special police forces with armoured vehicles occupied Vila Cruzeiro in Complexo da Penha. 25/11/2010. Photo: Tasso Marcelo/AE

Motorcycles used by traffickers are abandoned after the invasion of the special forces Bope in Vila Cruzeiro. 25/11/2010. Photo: Tasso Marcelo/AE

Complexo do Alemão, Sunday night. 29/11/2010. Photo: Marcos Arcoverde/AE

Fear: streets in Vila Cruzeiro are empty after the clash between police and traffickers. 29/11/2010. Photo: Mark Arcoverde/AE

In the past the stage for funk parties promoted by drug traffickers, Vila Cruzeiro, was “invaded” again by the police, accompanied by an armoured vehicle and a helicopter. Only this time it was a ‘show of peace’, after the pacification of the region. There was no gunfire and there were no fights. When the caveirão – the dreaded armoured police vehicle – was opened, instead of armed police, a huge red box was revealed. The box held some of the 12,500 toys that were distributed to children in this favela. The party of peace was baptised ‘Operação Papa Noel’ (Operation Santa Claus).

The Head of the Civilian Police, Allan Turnowski, described his feeling of being “Santa Claus” in Vila Cruzeiro for a few hours:
“It was the first time I came here without being in a police operation. The streets were full of children, it was pure bliss. Even elusive. We can not retreat anymore, at whatever cost. I felt that good police work has been done. I saw the smile of my son in these children. It is very good.”

The Secretary for Security and head of the operation which pacified the favelas, Jose Mariano Beltrame, said the idea of using a caveirão to deliver gifts was to dispel the idea that armoured vehicles only bring terror:
“We wanted to bring the police and their armoured vehicles closer to the community. The image of the caveirão as an evil vehicle must become a thing of the past.”

A cavarão, armoured police vehicle. Photo: Sergio Moraes/Reuters

The special police forces used armoured vehicles of the Brazilian Marine. 25/11/2010. Photo: Tasso Marcelo/AE

Soldiers of the Brazilian Armed Forces in Pedra do Sapo, Complexo do Alemão. 26/11/2010. Photo: Marcos Arcoverde/AE

Happy New Year