RIO DE JANEIRO – Amid a wave of violence that takes an average of seven lives a day in Rio de Janeiro, neighbors, civic organizations and public agencies have joined forces to establish peace in the Mare shantytown complex, one of the largest and most dangerous in Brazil.
An effort to bring peace to this historic stronghold of drug traffickers in Rio, near the city’s port and international airport, has been undertaken by non-governmental organizations and other activist groups with the founding of the “Enough of Violence! Another Mare is Possible! Forum.”
“We’ve been working on this project since late last February,” said forum member Taisa de Jesus Custodio, 27.
“What we want is access to public security forces in Mare, access that we don’t have now,” Custodio said.
In 2016, at least 33 people died in Mare, a complex of 16 shantytowns on the north side of Rio de Janeiro, during clashes between police and the drug traffickers who rule the area, and which to date this year have left 15 people dead.
Mare, estimated to have a population of 130,000 people, was occupied by the Brazilian army between 2014-2016 to shield the World Cup and the Olympic Games from danger – although afterwards, as soon as the soldiers left, the violence shot up immediately.
The Rio state government planned to station Police Pacifying Units (UPP) in Mare as it had done in other shantytowns in the city, but unfortunately the project had to be postponed due to the state’s economic crisis.
“The state doesn’t have a smart strategy to combat the violence... they just come smashing into the neighborhood as violently as they can,” Custodio said.
Another forum member, Joelma Souza, agreed: “The areas on the outskirts of the city are the most violent because they’re the most poverty-stricken. Violence is constant. Combating drugs here has turned into a war, because of an ideology that calls for fighting violence with violence.”
Custodio recalled how police operations disrupted the daily lives of shantytown inhabitants.
“With all the shootouts, we can’t go t work, the kids can’t go to school, medical centers don’t open and if you’ve had a doctor’s appointment for months, you lose it,” she said.
According to the latest available statistics, some 38,000 people were killed in Rio de Janeiro between 2002 and to date in 2017, which means an average of seven homicides a day.
And of those murders, 90 percent have gone unpunished.