Rio’s South Zone celebrates and worries

Monday morning. Rio de alma lavada, “Rio’s soul washed clean”, touted a newspaper hanging off a corner newstand. In only four days, civil and military police, with the help of the Brazilian army and navy, took possession of Vila Cruzeiro and Complexo do Alemão, two of Rio’s largest and most crime-infested favelas, arresting dozens of criminals, and aprehending tons of weapons and drugs.

State public safety secretary José Mariano Beltrame had said that the Complexo do Alemão would be occupied and pacified much later in his strategic timeline; he knew that criminals from the 13 favelas his men had pacified so far were moving in there and he was waiting for the right moment, presumably when the pacification program, begun two years ago, was consolidated and he had enough manpower.

But about ten days ago the process accelerated, when young men obeyed the orders of imprisoned drug traffickers displeased with pacification, fanning out into the city to set cars, trucks, buses and vans on fire. The federal government then sent in 800 army personnel plus the necessary military equipment and tanks. TV Globo showed footage of an army massing in the alleyways of Vila Cruzeiro. The imprisoned drug traffickers were transferred to other penitentiaries and some of their family members and lawyers were arrested, accused of passing on the orders for the torching. Police and soldiers invaded. Bandits fled. And early yesterday afternoon, the flags of Brazil and the state of Rio were raised high over the Complexo do Alemão, where the federal government has just built a cable car system under its PAC program.

Souls were indeed washed clean as television newscasts yesterday showed, among much compelling news, a convicted murderer under arrest, his clothing wet with his own urine.

This morning, the legion of maids who live in or have relatives in the favela of Rocinha arrived for another day of cooking, cleaning and child care. This is how the people they work for are learning about the suppposed preparations of Nem, the drug trafficking chief there and in the neighboring favela, Vidigal, both straddling hills in the south zone area of Rio, the one most open to foreign scrutiny. Vila Cruzeiro and Complexo do Alemão are on the other side of the Rebouças Tunnel, in the north zone, sans ocean views.

According to the rumors spread by this workforce, Nem has a weapon capable of bringing down a helicopter, is supposedly installing land mines in the brush surrounding the favelas, and has built a bomb out of a stove , to be set up on the “S curve” road where the UPA, or city health clinic is located. “It has nails, pieces of metal, pieces of everything that’s bad stuff,” says a maid whose cousin says he saw this medieval weapon at the top of Rocinha’s hill. None of this has been substantiated; Rio is full of rumormongering.

One gives thanks for the Disque-Denúncia police hotline, which has received a growing number of calls in the last week from favela residents who want to help the police.

Everyone in the south zone is wondering when and how the police invasion of these favelas, home to about 100,000, will take place. Will it be as peaceful as it’s been so far in Vila Cruzeiro and the Complexo do Alemão?

Removing Nem and his gang is just one of many tasks awaiting cariocas. Today, RioRealblog learned that some kind of rapidly-implemented social effort is about to be set up in Vila Cruzeiro and the Complexo do Alemão.

To read about all the remaining priorities, outlined by an observer who’s been advocating for Rio for many years, economist and IETS think-tank president André Urani, here is his original article in Portuguese, published in today’s O Dia newspaper. Below, a translation:

The (almost) total joy over the reconquest of the Complexo do Alemão is more than justified; this moment may symbolize an important step in the turnaround we have so long dreamed of.

It’s early, however, for jumping up and down; we have a lot of work, hard work, ahead. This is a short and by no means complete list of our homework:

  1. This time, the forces of order should remain permanently– in contrast to what occurred in Vila Cruzeiro in 2008 and in the Complexo do Alemão in 2007;
  2. Other communities ruled by narcotraffic need to be liberated, starting with  Rocinha and Vidigal;
  3. We must move with greater decision to face down militias (in the 13 communities  pacified so far, only Batam was ruled by them);
  4. The strategy whereby the three levels of government have been working together must be consolidated. On the one hand, the reconquest of new territories cannot solely be the responsibility of the [state] Safety Secretariat; the events of this past weekend prove that this depends in large measure on the systematic participation of the Armed Forces and Federal Police. On the other, we should have already learnt that urbanization programs such as the [federal government’s] PAC or or [the municipal] Morar Carioca [see the Cariocapédia tab, above] can only be effective in communities that have previously been pacified;
  5. Pacififcation and urban integration are necessary but insufficient for true integration – which is, above all, economic and social. Initial work in this area is already occurring, under the aegis of the State Secretariat of Social Assistance and Human Rights. But it’s a complex agenda, which involves a vast collection of public and private actors, the results of which will appear only in the long term;
  6. Last, the causes that led these communities to fall into the hands of a parallel power system must be wiped out. Basically, these lie in the generalized informality that we allowed to exist there, in the real estate and labor markets, in small businesses, energy consumption, transportation,  etc. This is an agenda that is quite similar to the previous one– and will also produce tangible results only in the long term.

At any rate, thank you [State Public Safety Secretary José Mariano] Beltrame, for allowing us to dream ahead!

About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Zaida Knight says:

    Ninguem estah falando sobre o modo pelo qual as drogas e as armas chegaram aos traficantes. Quem sao os responsaveis por isso? Andre estah correto, obrigada Beltrame pela acao necessaria. Mas se precisa adicionar ao final da lista o topico dos donos das drogas e do trafego, a meu ver.

  2. Michael says:

    It has to be good that Dilma was the victor recently…….she has to make a real effort to establish true equality in Brasilian society and she has the toughness and character to be seen as a credible figure by all parties………..

  3. Pingback: Complexo de Alemão: Remembering Contemporary Brazil | Brazil

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