While Rio police juggle priorities, violence and fear are still present
According to O Globo newspaper, yesterday TV Band cameraman Gelson Domingos da Silva, 46, was the first journalist to die in Rio de Janeiro covering during a shootout between police and criminals. Silva was wearing a protective vest, but it didn’t stop a rifle bullet.
In 2002 Globo TV reporter Tim Lopes was executed by drug traffickers, in the Complexo do Alemão.
Yesterday’s shootout, which took place in the West Zone of Rio, brings home the more negative implications of Rio’s new public safety policy, implemented starting in 2008. Elite squad occupation, followed by police pacification units and increased municipal services and social programs, has up to now taken place in eighteen favelas or groups of favelas, mostly in the South and North Zones of the city. Policymakers initially said that pacification would focus on these areas.
The poorer West Zone has only one police pacification unit, in Batam. Before the unit was installed, a paramilitary gang tortured three undercover O Dia journalists in Batam, in May, 2008.
As pacification makes inroads, drug traffickers have moved to other favelas and, as in the case of the area where Silva was killed, Antares favela, they try to wrest control from ensconced paramilitary gangs. Militia groups dominate in the West Zone, more than in other areas of the city.
On Friday, a battle between police and alleged criminals in West Zone Vila Kennedy brought panic and school closures, as fleeing targets invaded a school. State Public Safety Secretary José Mariano Beltrame said that additional pacification units will be installed in the West Zone, but he didn’t say when. Rio’s police are reportedly about to occupy and pacify the one remaining South Zone favela, Rocinha, Nov. 13. Beltrame has also said,in the wake of a judge’s assassination and the arrest of alleged police perpetrators, that paramilitary groups are top priority. So is police corruption.
According to O Globo, a battle has raged in the Vila Kennedy area for five months, with homicide statistics there skyrocketing, in contrast to the numbers in the rest of the city, which have been declining. Vila Kennedy has seen thirty deaths since May.
The occupation and pacification policy’s overall success may have also created an exaggerated sense of safety, for some. Globo reports that Silva, with long experience in reporting on favela violence, went ahead with two police– praying all the way– while other reporters stayed behind. According to a Globo photographer, a communications gap between shock troops and the elite squad resulted in yesterday’s shootout.
Silva’s last footage is embedded in O Dia newspaper’s report on his death, here.
The violence remains unabated since November 2010 when it spread across Zona Zul. Now it appears that the battle lines are now more blurred than before between police corruption, militia, rival gangs and, of course, the traffikers vie for territory in Rio. As it has been pointed out the armed forces of western countries do not face the level of intensity that the police face each day battling an array of enemies, well armed and willing to fight. Up to his tragic death Gelson Domingos captures a confrontation that should scare the hell out of people in Rio. Who is the enemy and why are the traffikers not afraid to fight?
Actually the overall level of violence is down in Rio, according to official numbers, which are all we have. There have been a growing number of arrests of drug traffickers, milicianos and police.The lines have always been blurred. Yesterday arrested Rocinha druglord Nem said he spent half his proceeds on police payoffs, regularly. They were in fact his partners in crime…
People are scared, in certain neighborhoods. There’s been an exodus from Rocinha, in anticipation of Sunday’s invasion and occupation.The confrontations take place mostly in the West Zone, plus parts of Santa Teresa and parts of the North Zone, like Complexo do Alemão. Today a woman who worked for an NGO was murdered, in Vigário Geral, which is North Zone. Not all traffickers fight; Rocinha’s Nem tried to sneak out in a car trunk. But those who do fight most probably feel they have no option. The novel City of God, on which the movie was based, portrays this revolving-door reality very well.
I appreciate your concise and thoughtful coverage of this crises. It would appear that events have overtaken the combatants, as the distribution of wealth has been perpetually ignored to the point there are few options except for direct violent action.
Yet, for the first time the coverage of these events is now showing the complex threads that were once hidden. That in itself an achievement.
I will look forward to your coverage of Rocinha.