RIO DE JANEIRO – Regular gunfights and other shootings, violent deaths and firebomb attacks on buses in Rio de Janeiro’s shantytowns are putting the government’s “pacification” policy there in jeopardy.
In recent months, the statistics of violence in Rio’s “favelas,” or sprawling slums, have returned to the levels prior to the 2008 launching of the pacification program to wrest control of the neighborhoods from drug traffickers before the Olympic Games last August.
“What’s happening now is simply the most visible face of a process that’s been under way since 2013, when the progressive deterioration of security in Rio began. The situation began to worsen some time ago,” sociologist Ignacio Cano, the coordinator of the Violence Analysis Laboratory at Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ), told EFE.
The greatest security crisis in 10 years in Brazil’s most emblematic city was highlighted this past week when a drug trafficking gang invaded a favela controlled by rivals and literally turned Rio into a city in flames.
Last Tuesday morning, after receiving orders from the head of the Comando Vermelho drug gang, who is serving time in a high security prison, some 130 gunmen poured into Cidade Alta, a favela where the illegal drug trade is controlled by a rival gang.
To complicate the police response and facilitate the escape of their “troops,” Comando Vermelho also ordered vehicles torched on Avenida Brasilia, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, a move that was quickly copied by dozens of residents of nearby favelas, who looted and burned nine buses and two trucks.
The invasion ended with three deaths, 45 gunmen under arrest and 32 rifles confiscated by police, who did not expect to encounter that amount of firepower.
One day later, five people died in a shootout in the Complexo do Alemao district, Comando Vermelho’s main bastion until November 2010, which had become a symbol of the pacification policy because it was recovered by the authorities after having been controlled for decades by criminals.
“Despite the deterioration, in general we’re better off than we were 10 years ago ... (but) several factors contributed to the deterioration: the absence of a new security policy, the country’s economic crisis, which increased the crimes against property, the fiscal crisis that prevents the government from paying police salaries, and Rio’s own political crisis which weakened the (local) government,” Cano added.
According to official figures, Rio’s murder rate fell from 49.7 per 1,000 residents in 2007 to 28.7 per 1,000 in 2012, a year before the pacification program, but since 2013 it has once again moved up and in 2016 it stood at 37.6 killings per 1,000 inhabitants.
Regional Security Secretary Roberto Sa admitted that a review of the policy is being conducted, adding that the model copied from Colombia lacked the social resources in Rio to be truly effective.