Is pacification going off the rails?

Six teens killed over the weekend, in Chatuba

“You’ll see, [the generalized violence] is just dormant,” said a taxi driver today, on the way from Rio’s international airport into the city. “It’ll be back. Just a couple of weeks ago I ended up with a broken car window, here in front of the [as yet unpacified] Maré favela, on the Linha Vermelha.” He pointed to gaps in the acrylic panels installed two years ago along the Linha Vermelha highway. Just then a woman jumped through a gap to a spot where snacks and drinks are sold to drivers stuck in traffic, as we were. “They take out the panels, you see?”

He turned back to the road ahead. “They broke my window. The drug trafficker ordered favela residents to invade the highway and ‘protest’. It was because the police had killed two traffickers– the residents said the men  weren’t involved in drugs. They do these protests, and then all the human rights folks get on the bandwagon.”

Alliances constantly shift in Rio de Janeiro, as different groups jockey for power and territory. Meanwhile, cariocas– often with biases and assumptions unquestioned — strain to make sense of the news.

Yesterday, six teens from a blue-collar suburb missing since Saturday were found alongside the Dutra highway linking Rio to São Paulo, their nude bodies indicating horrific  deaths.

Versions of what went wrong abound, but all agree that the boys, aged 16-19, were innocents, killed brutally while on a hike to a waterfall. Two other people were killed in this area in the last few days, and an additional youth has gone missing. Also, four people were found Sunday shot dead in a house reputed to be a drug point of sale in neighboring Japeri, the poorest city in the state of Rio.

Everybody’s got a theory

“Chatuba, like other communities dominated by armed gangs in this state,” said Governor Sérgio Cabral this morning, “has drug traffickers who fled Rio after pacification. This is quite clear, we have no illusions. Violent actions such as this one are a reaction to the weakening, the reduction of their power.” Earlier today, in preparation for the arrival of a long-term police detachment assigned to the area, military police occupied Chatuba, arrested some suspects and found evidence of five campsites, including an electric generator.

Today’s police action is meant to “consolidate the end of drug traffickers’ rule in Chatuba”, according to a statement from the Public Safety Secretariat.

Outside of Rio proper, similar military police detachments have been assigned this year, in response to extraordinary crime situations, in Macaé and Niterói, among other cities.

Cariocas who believe the violence is dormant, that pacification is merely makeup, and/or that it targets only the South Zone and Olympic Games installations will often, like the governor, say that traffickers are on the move, merely changing the geography of crime.

Rio’s security chief José Mariano Beltrame disagrees.

“People overestimate migration,” sociologist Ignacio Cano told the O Estado de São Paulo newspaper. It could be that the migration of drug trafficking from the state capital to some of its thirteen bedroom suburbs (many of them abysmally poor) is more anecdotal than statistically quantified.

“Driven out of a favela because of a peace pacification unit, one trafficker sold some weapons in one of these cities,” says a security analyst. “To pay for the weapons, the buyers ended up carrying out crimes in the formal part of the city.” Possibly, such phenomena pop up in different parts of Rio but don’t constitute a trend.

The analyst adds that Remilton Moura da Silva Junior, aka “Juninho Cagão”– the teens’ alleged executor– didn’t come from a pacified favela to Chatuba, having run the drug traffic there for some time. And many of Rio’s top traffickers, such as FB, Nem and Coelho, have been arrested.

There’s painfully little information available regarding the impact of pacification on drug trafficking and drug traffickers, at any level of their organizations.

Pacification doesn’t aim to reduce drug traffic, only to reduce its territorial dominance and levels of violence.

The analyst, who preferred not to be identified, says that while some traffickers do migrate to other parts of greater Rio, they end up with leftover bits and pieces of a market that is already structured, in terms of territory and responsibility. Rocinha’s Nem, for example, gave exiled drug bosses Peixe and Coelho subordinate managerial positions.

“Most traffickers stay in the favela,” says the analyst. “Some stay in the business, minus the ease, volume and quality of clients they previously enjoyed, discreetly selling smaller quantities to local addicts.” Others turn to auto theft and petty crime. Many look for different work, with or without the help of the NGO Afroreggae, which specializes in this. A chef at the Japanese restaurant Manekineko recently turned out to be one of Nem’s top executives.

The panels separating the Maré favela from the Linha Vermelha highway were installed in March 2010, ostensibly to reduce highway noise heard by favela residents. But there were clearly security and aesthetic motives involved as well. Nevertheless, those who arrive at the international airport and make their way into the city cannot fail to note– whether through gaps in the barriers or otherwise– the sprawling raw brick and cement housing along much of the route.

And with these tragic deaths of six or more youths, cariocas should not fail to note that much more than devices such as sound barriers is needed to make Rio safe for families in Chatuba, Rocinha and Maré, as well as for those who ride home from the airport in taxis, on the Linha Vermelha.

Click here to watch state Public Safety Secretary José Mariano Beltrame speak about the Chatuba tragedy, what the police are doing about it and the general crime context in Rio.

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About Rio real

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

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