Police up the ante
[UPDATE Nov. 24]
Traffic was astonishingly heavy in the afternoon and light last night in Rio, as cariocas either stayed home or left work early, fearful about their safety. Rumors flew: a large company had sent its employees home early; there would be an attack downtown; there would be an attack on the Fashion Mall in São Conrado; police were searching for a truck loaded with stolen dynamite. None appeared to be true.
One report is particularly worrisome– that two of the city’s largest gangs, longtime rivals, are uniting forces in the face of a common enemy, the state. These are the Comando Vermelho (Red Command) and Amigos dos Amigos (Friends of the Friends). They are said to have met and planned the ongoing attacks, which began in September and spread throughout the city in the last week.
Last night state public safety secretary José Mariano Beltrame announced the names of eight imprisoned drug traffickers for whom he’s requested transfers to other prisons, to deter communication with the outside. They too are reported to have been involved in orchestrating the attacks.
The incendiary attacks continued overnight on cars and buses, and shots were fired at bulletproof police posts. No one was hurt. In his Globo column today, Merval Pereira notes that the attackers appear to be well-trained and that it’ s likely that they include former army soldiers. The Brazilian press reported on foreign press coverage, reflecting concern about Rio’s image in view of the upcoming World Cup games in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.
Public safety experts commented on the situation in O Dia, which also published a map of the incendiary attacks. They agreed that the intent is to frighten cariocas and intimidate state officials as they crack down on crime in Rio with the pacification program. They also said that increased police presence is the correct response. Merval Pereira’s column notes that a recent change in Brazil’s national defense system may allow the army to come to the aid of the state military police in Rio. Brazil’s army has gained experience in this area, in Haiti.
In a series of stories published in the last 24 hours, O Globo reported on what it calls the “hour of truth” for state’s pacification policy, in effect for almost two years. Up to September, implementation was going smoothly. But in the last two months Rio has seen 21 arrastões, or group attacks on motorists, and 14 vehicles have been set on fire, these mostly in the last week. Despite the violence and the fear all of this has caused, overall crime statistics continue to drop over the last 13 months.
According to O Globo, the wave of attacks was orchestrated by displeased carioca drug traffickers imprisoned in the southern state of Paraná. “The criminals who commit these barbaric attacks have fewer places to hide,” said governor Sérgio Cabral. “Today, a person who commits a robbery in Copacabana can no longer run to Tabajaras, Cabritos, Babilônia or Pavão-Pavãozinho.”
All these favelas have been occupied and are host to UPPs, police pacifying units; Cabral yesterday reiterated his government’s commitment to pacification.
Motorists who have been attacked or been pulled out of their cars only to watch them being set on fire say the perpetrators are armed with pistols, rifles and grenades, and wear bulletproof vests. Almost no one has been robbed. One witness said it was clear they intended to create panic: “I think war has been declared,” he noted.
Mayor Eduardo Paes referred to the attacks as terrorism.
Off-duty police have been called back to the job, civil, and highway police are lending a hand to the military police, and 140 new motorcycles have been deployed to increase patrols. Today, police went into favelas in search of suspects in the attacks, and so far arrested seven. Police on vacation may also be called back to the job, but officials say that it may not be possible to stop the car- and bus-firebombings, which continued Wednesday, even if the entire police force is on duty. The causes behind the violence — corruption, weak prison and judiciary systems, ineffective border policy to stop the flow of drugs and weapons– must also be dealt with, they state.
According to O Globo, police intelligence reveals that additional attacks are planned if and when pacification starts in the Complexo do Alemão, a set of favelas where reportedly many drug traffickers driven out of other areas have taken refuge. Intercepted communication with prisoners referred to attacks on monuments and in public places. State public safety secretary José Mariano Beltrame says he’s about to transfer a number of prisoners, to make communication between them and their men on the outside more difficult. Wednesday, the harried-looking secretary, interviewed on TV Globo’s midday news, called for Brazilians to pressure Congress to change laws allowing communication between drug bosses and their lawyers, relatives and friends. They’re allowed conjugal visits, too; one of these provided handwritten evidence. “How can it be that people inside prisons have the capability to be giving these orders?” he asked.
“Public safety isn’t a good you can buy off the shelf,” the secretary said. “It’s an attitude. We [the police] have the attitude, but society must join with us.” He said that arrested attackers often have police records and shouldn’t be on the streets.
Meanwhile, many cariocas, both in and outside favelas, are asking themselves where the fragile and spotty peace they’ve been enjoying for the last 24 months has gone.