Thursday, February 21, 2008


A very real war between drug lords and police (and military) rages on in Brazil. Police incursions into poor shantytowns or favelas terrorize the residents of those places and result in the deaths of many innocent people.

One of the latest is an eleven year old girl - Ágatha Marquez dos Santos (pictured here).

The Guardian in a recent article on how dangerous the situation has become in slums around Rio even for journalist reports in the past 12 months Rio's police killed more than 1,200 people in confrontations, according to official figures, a record even by the violent city's standards.

The toll from stray bullets that rain down on Rio from the city's steep hillside slums as police and drug gangs battle with automatic weapons has grown sharply, with innocent bystanders killed or wounded every day.

The AP reported last month businesses and schools in the line of fire have been shuttered. Thousands of children are staying home. Even air travel is affected — domestic jet routes were diverted from Rio's downtown airport when shooting flared up in a slum near Copacabana beach that the planes had to fly over. And travelers avoid driving the Red Line highway to the international airport at night because it passes near one of the worst live-fire zones.

Not surprisingly this drug war (like that in the US, but more so) is focused on the poor. There are no big drug raids in better neighborhoods, no big crack downs on ectasy use in clubs favored by the elite.

It been two years since Marcelo Freixo from the Rio-based Justiça Global, said a 'culture of war' was becoming more and more prevalent in Brazil's police force and its population.

"In cities like Rio de Janeiro there exists a culture that there is a war going on and that therefore the enemy has to be destroyed," he said.

"Often this serves to legitimize illegal police action."

It's only gotten worse.

Blogger Ben Miller writes from Rio:

The levels of violence seem to have been exacerbated by the current governor of Rio – elected on a “get tough on crime” platform, the police have acted in line with his rhetoric. This, combined with poor training of police officers, a culture of brutality and excessive force, police impunity, and other reasons, leads to the following (compiled by the ISP [Institute of Public Security] for 2006 and 2007).

- 1265 people were killed in the city of Rio in 2007 by the police. (This is a record. The previous “best” was in 2003, when 1195 people were killed.)

- The police in Rio kill one person for every 16.6 they arrest. In comparison, police in SP kill one person for every 151.2 people they arrest.

- In 2006, police in the entire United States (population 300,000,000 +) killed 375 people. Police in Rio (population of approx. 10,000,000) killed 1,063 people.
That same year, police in Portugal (population similar to the city of Rio) killed 1 person.

- In 2006, the police perpetrated 14% of all violent deaths. Police used lethal force more often when they were off duty and out of uniform.

I'm not here to defend drug lords and drug gangs, but we expect them to be bad guys. The police are supposed to be the good guys. In Brazil it has become impossible at times to tell the bad guys from the good guys.

The following is from France 24.

Eleven year old killed by a “stray bullet

Eleven year old Ágatha Marquez dos Santos is the most recent victim of a police crackdown in South America’s biggest shanty-town, Rocinha. Agatha was watching TV at her father’s house when a rifle bullet flew straight into her chest. Almost 2000 residents from the slum filed into the streets of southern Rio on Saturday, calling for justice to be made. The protesters blame the police outright for the death of the child. For Carlos Costa, a leader of the NGO ‘Viva Rio’ who has lived in Rocinha all his life, the “stray bullet” was triggered by the police force.

The aim of the operation was to capture a drugs-trafficker. These police raids in the slums have increased under the cover of an accelerated growth programme; a federal government plan to undertake huge urbanisation works in the area.

Comment from our Observer in the shanty-town of Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro. Carlos Costa works for Viva Rio, one of the biggest NGOs working in the ‘favelas' (Brazilian slums).

"I know that it's best not to jump to conclusions when it comes to such a polemic situation, but I can't see how the bullet that killed Agatha could have come from anyone but the police. There are no drugs-traffickers in this area [one explanation is that the police fired into the air, the bullet heading upstream from the intervention zone, in Agatha's quarter], and it's proved that the police were here when it happened because you see them on the TV, no matter what the head of the operation says. It was, after all, a police vehicle that rescued Agatha and her father and got them to hospital a few minutes after it happened."

The government strategy is completely insane. We're a community that's had not a penny of investment or a brick of infrastructure, and now they want to improve our lives with war-like incursions? The police can't stride into the favelas at their pleasing; they're either here all the time or not at all. It's a strategic error not to be where traffickers work. It should be remembered that guns and drugs do not grow on trees in the favelas. They're brought there from outside."

The accelerated growth programme will create jobs. But do they really think it's best to start the work with rifles? As always, the people who will lose out in this ridiculous war are not the traffickers or the police, but the workers; the ordinary people; the innocent ones who simply want to work and study in peace. This programme for the slums is a huge sham."

1 comment:

Rio de Paz Crime said...

The crime is Rio is crazily high and the police don't seem to be able to do anything. Lets hope initiatives such as Rio de Paz succeed.