Rio police surround, then occupy the dangerous North Zone favelas of Manguinhos, Mandela, Varginha, and Jacarezinho, midway between the Maracanã soccer stadium and the international airport.
Rio’s transformation sometimes seems like an effort to divert a river as large as the Nile into hundreds of small irrigation channels, using only sand. The system is fragile and wont to revert to its original path. One often hears cariocas giving personal or corporatist rationales for decisions that affect us all. Some reports of today’s occupation say it’s simply a response to the cinematographic liberation last July of a Manguinhos drug trafficker from a police cell.
In the same vein, mayor Eduardo Paes announced this week that he’ll shut down militia-run passenger vans not for reasons of urban transportation efficacy, but because an August van demonstration created a huge traffic knot. “I have a horror of threats,” he told O Globo newspaper. “[…] We’re going to clean up this mess.”
But increasingly, it seems as though many Brazilians are working to shore up the irrigation channels and keep fresh waters running; there’s a new carioca afoot, according to a book to be launched on Tuesday. People with vision, ideas about how the city should be.
As Veja Rio magazine pointed out this week, those cariocas voted a little more carefully than usual for their city councilmen, on October 7, to some extent avoiding neophytes, milicianos and oldtime political chieftains.
And TV Globo’s hugely popular Avenida Brasil novela, which took the North Zone’s new middle class into the popular consciousness, will give way next week to Salve Jorge, which will bring none other than the Complexo do Alemão into living rooms.
Only two years ago, few of us knew or cared where that particular part of the city was.
In November 2010, Rio police and the Brazilian army carried out the invasion and occupation of the Complexo do Alemão and Vila Cruzeiro favelas, after drug traffickers created havoc on city streets by torching buses and other vehicles. That successful impromptu operation marked a turning point for Rio’s public safety policy. “Rio’s soul washed clean,” said one newspaper headline, as cariocas came to understand that pacification, with its focus on territorial dominance, was the correct strategy for Rio.
At that time the policy was only two years old and Rio had only 13 police pacification units.
Today’s occupation constitutes another turning point, with its focus on advance planning and intelligence; coordinated efforts among civil, federal, military and federal highway police, as well as firemen and the Brazilian Navy; and the first such use of Rio’s new central monitoring command post, inaugurated in June for the Rio +20 United Nations sustainability conference.
“Every occupation has its high point,” Secretary Beltrame told reporters at a morning press conference. “The high point of this one is the capacity to integrate our police forces, and [the use of] police intelligence”.
In the last several days, police surrounded neighboring areas, making 51 arrests and killing five suspects. This morning, they found weapons, drugs and stolen vehicles. Favela residents are urged to call the disque-denúncia hotline to report the whereabouts of drugs, weapons and criminals.
But the big drug chiefs are most likely long gone, since it was no secret that pacification was on its way to Jacarezinho and Manguinhos. Weeks ago, a local source told RioRealblog that narcotraffickers had already departed, leaving multiple wives and their children behind with cash that will soon be used up.
Still, it was news this morning that 2,000 police officers, 24 tanks and seven aircraft were bringing peace to the so-called Gaza Strip, the ironic nickname given to the region surrounding Avenida Leopoldo Bulhões. Shooting has gone on there for many years, among rival drug gangs and between them and police.
Officials said that four pacification units will be installed by January, adding to the existing 28. That will leave only eight more to reach the target of forty by 2014. At a press conference today, state Public Safety Secretary José Mariano Beltrame declined to say where Rio police will focus next, but mentioned that the shape of the UPP map resembles a parabola. That makes the neighboring Complexo da Maré a likely short-term objective.
The newly occupied area exemplifies Rio’s sad tale of decadence, with many factories forced to close over the last ten years or so, contributing to a spiral of poverty and violence. These include Gillette, General Electric, and the CCPL milk factory. According to the O Dia newspaper, over a million people live in 28 contiguous neighborhoods. About 70,000 people live in the favelas per se.
Rio’s largest crack-using territory, or cracolândia, is also part of the landscape. City social service agents today took more than a hundred crack users to a shelter, although experts say most will soon be back on the streets, somewhere else.
According to Governor Sérgio Cabral, city officials will carry out their own invasion starting tomorrow, to provide residents with needed services. Nine thousand housing units will also be built there, he said, under the federal PAC (Accelerated Growth Program). He expects local crime to drop; the area is notorious for car theft and related activities. Pacification, he predicted, should revive the area’s industrial vocation, given its proximity to major arteries and the international airport.
All we need is to keep that vision going.