So simple, so difficult
It took an hour and a half for 846 men, 17 armored vehicles and an armored helicopter to occupy the nine hills of the Complexo São Carlos grouping of favelas this morning, without a shot fired. Home to 26,000 residents, the area will house three new UPPs, or police pacification units, by June.
That will put the total number of UPPs in Rio up to 17. By 2016, 40 UPPs are scheduled to be in place. The state’s occupation and pacification policy for territories controlled by drug traffickers, begun in late 2008, has energized the surprising turnaround Rio is experiencing, which is also fueled by Brazil’s ongoing economic boom.
The UPPs are so popular that the Salgueiro samba school is dressing some of its participants in elite squad BOPE costumes for the early March carnival parade— and U.S. President Barack Obama, set to visit Rio March 20, will visit one, according to today’s Ancelmo Gois column in O Globo. RioRealblog wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the UPP on the Morro da Providência, a hill close to downtown. This is the oldest favela in Rio and probably Brazil, dating back to a makeshift settlement created in the late 1890s by soldiers returning from the Canudos War in northeastern Brazil.
While the BOPE and the pacification police do their work and Rio also prepares for what might be the most civilized carnival celebration in many years (City hall is organizing public bathrooms and regulating street parades like never before), Veja magazine’s cover story this week (not online) reminds us of a truth it would be more convenient to forget: carioca drug trafficker Fernandinho Beira Mar is reportedly still running the show in Rio, from a federal jail cell in the southern state of Paraná.
Yesterday, he was transferred to a federal prison in Rio Grande do Norte but it wasn’t clear if this was related to publication of the cover story.
According to Veja, Beira Mar sends his orders home by way of conversations with other inmates during the daily common sunbath hours, and with visitors. He may have been responsible for the vehicle torchings that set off the police invasion and occupations last November. Sources for the story appear to be prison workers. Since 2002 Beira Mar has been serving a 120-year jail sentence for international arms and drug trafficking, homicide, money laundering and other crimes. But Brazilian law protects his right to the sunbath and the visitors.
If Veja is correct, Beira Mar is also responsible for the crack epidemic in Rio; his men reportedly introduced the drug here, once prison companions from São Paulo convinced him of its marketability.
Sounds like some time and money spent on changing the law could be as beneficial as the multimillion-dollar new Bell Huey Two armored helicopter used in today’s campaign.