Rio protests, Pope, politics, police…. and pacification?

P words

Recently a community leader critical of the UPP in his favela told me he’d been to a debate at PUC and was impressed by the students’ opposition to the UPPs. “They’re right,” he said, “but I saw that none of them remembers that it’s been three years since anyone was killed in Borel.” 

–Silvia Ramos, social science researcher at CESeC.

Pilgrims in the metro

Pilgrims in the metro, here for the Pope

Many observers say the protests and the Pope have served to remove the makeup that Rio politicians have been applying to the city over the last five years. Now, they claim, we’re seeing the true face of the police, the governor, the mayor, city agencies, real estate speculators, bus company owners, FIFA et al. A favela resident made sure to comment on part of this angle to Pope Francis when he visited Varginha.

With protests occurring in many locations and for a gamut of reasons, everything is up for grabs. No candidate can count on a sure future, and no policy goes unquestioned.

Not even pacification, which is what got Governor Sérgio Cabral easily reelected in 2010 (and now covers 33 territories affecting about 500,000 favela residents) and has helped Rio de Janeiro in so many ways. Rio’s saintly State Public Safety Secretary José Mariano Beltrame lost his infallibility, as his lack of control over the police — divided between civil and military forces, and then again, some social scientists believe, between milicianos and non-milicianos — became apparent during the demonstrations and the police invasion of the Maré complex of favelas, in June.

Now it’s possible to imagine moldering UPP posts in the not-too-distant future, as some populist politician is elected to replace Cabral in 2014, with voters forgetting what it was like to live with twice our current homicide rate, counting on Rio doctors who were pros at treating stray bullet wounds, and putting up with schools whose students spent more time under their desks than at them. Our next governor could well trade pacification for some new cure-all of his own, something in the realm of education, health or public transportation.

Sociologist Luiz Eduardo Soares, who held Beltrame’s post during the administration of Anthony Garotinho, has long preached the unification of Brazil’s myriad police forces. Until now, Beltrame has held out on this issue, preferring to encourage unity by offering salary bonuses for crime reduction in common geographical areas.

Soares, who’s kept quiet for most of Beltrame’s stint, spoke out last week in an interview circulating on the internet. “The corps must be radically transformed,” he said. “Without the police corps as legal instruments, rigorously submitted to constitutional requirements and external control, we won’t progress and we risk the future of good projects such as the UPPs. A statesman  would look at the demonstrations and build an agenda close to the spirit and intensity of the streets. A governor with the approach of a statesman would dare to transform these issues into a daring agenda for national reform – which he would take to Brasília — initiating, here and now, in the state of Rio, what’s already legally viable. And much can be done within the current legal framework, before Congress makes significant changes.”

The Brazilian National Security Forum, which held its seventh national meeting two weeks ago in Cuiabá (with few Rio police in attendance) also called for police reform.

Foodstuff distribution to pilgrims on Rio Branco, walking to Copacabana for the final mass

Foodstuff distribution to pilgrims on Rio Branco, walking to Copacabana for the final mass Sunday morning

O Dia newspaper reported over the weekend that police behavior since the demonstrations erupted in early June is more than likely to lead to the substitution of the current military police commander, who in one recent interview called demonstrators “the enemy”.

But perhaps the most worrisome aspect of the public safety situation in Rio, aside from the future of pacification, is the theory of some local social scientists that the “enemy” is within the police. According to them, the P2, or plainclothes policeman who infiltrated the demonstration outside the governor’s palace a week ago (after a reception for Pope Francis), and is said to have thrown a Molotov cocktail at a uniformed policeman, is a member of a paramilitary group seeking to destabilize not the demonstrators, but his co-workers. The cocktail thrower in question has yet to be identified and there’s been no news of an internal investigation.

This scenario sounds horribly Machiavellian, but it could be a reaction to the fact that Beltrame and others have indeed been working to eliminate, arrest and prosecute members of the police who belong to such groups, the milicias, which dominate much of the commerce in Rio’s West Zone and are said to partner with drug traffickers, as well. And last May, the leak of a Civil Police helicopter video indicated divisions within that corps and a lack of overall coordination.

Playing on divisions within the police and criticism of pacification would also benefit a gubernatorial candidate who aims to return Rio to its old ways and power structures, reversing the urban integration that has taken place over the last five years. Such a candidate could appeal to the traditional middle class and other voters whose assumptions, attitudes and beliefs have been challenged by the rapid social and economic change that has taken place in Brazil in the last decade– even those who have benefitted from it.

Army troops kept Rio safe for the Pope and the pilgrims

Army troops kept Rio safe for the Pope and the pilgrims

The Molotov cocktail, which initiated last Monday night’s violence, was at first ascribed to a young frontline protester,  tasered and carried off to jail. But, with the aid of his wits and video proof of his innocence, he managed to be freed the following day.

This was not the luck of a Rocinha construction worker, taken into custody by pacification police July 14, now the subject of “Where is Amarildo?” campaigns here and in São Paulo. The campaign includes this video, which also demonstrates a lack of faith in the pacification program among protesters.

Last night during a rally in Leblon in front of Governor Cabral’s building, police implemented a new tactic, which seems to have helped keep the peace: searches of bags and backpacks. This does give the cops something productive to do.

It is to be hoped that a change in command and more sensible police behavior will contribute to a thoughtful phase of debate and reform. But the erratic nature of life in Rio lately leaves the door wide open for just about anything. “My fear is that we’ll have a present-day version of Edson Luís, the student shot by police during a university protest in 1968, which led to a popular outpouring against the military dictatorship,” says Maria Celina d’Araujo, a political scientist at PUC in Rio.

Amarildo’s unexplained disappearance and the deaths of nine Complexo da Maré residents have already fueled protests, but the death or disappearance of a young member of the middle class, she adds, could ignite Rio beyond anything we’ve seen to date.

None of this analysis should be oversimplified. Rio’s protests are mild events compared with those in Cairo. And a reversal of recent socio-economic change might be even more difficult to achieve than pushing forward– with thousands of Rio de Janeiro state residents now having experienced more education, more information, more technology and more dreams, as well as more bank credit and consumption.

José Marcelo Zacchi, a public safety researcher at the IETS thinktank and executive director of the Casa Fluminense, points out that pacification consists of much that cannot simply disappear from one day to the next: police presence, equipment, troops. “I hope and believe,” he adds, “that the concrete agenda that emerges from this moment won’t be ‘no more UPPs’, with the lack of support slipping away so far as to wipe out the advances achieved, but ‘more than UPPs’, ending the illusion that all our public safety tasks could be taken care of by simply staying on track, thus bringing on a wider, more institutional and universal police and public safety agenda, which is absolutely necessary.”

The most hopeful element in the picture is, of course, the Pope himself– who urged young people to protest, and spoke about pacification, of all things. “No pacification effort will last, there will be no harmony and happiness for a society that ignores part of itself, leaving it at the margin, on the periphery,” he said in his Varginhas speech. “Such a society simply makes itself poorer, loses something essential to itself.”

Emailed questions on the issues covered here, sent to the Rio police, have so far received no answer.


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.

7 Responses to Rio protests, Pope, politics, police…. and pacification?

  1. ARvWD says:

    To an outsider, it’s the first question that comes to mind – why DO Brazilians need so many different police forces? Doesn’t it lead inevitably to conflict between them over who controls what? It’s a recipe for confusion at the least, and perhaps corruption. What is the rationale for separate forces? Is it simply ‘historical’?

  2. Rio real says:

    Yes, it’s historical, and useless.

  3. Om Brasil says:

    obrigado Date: Tue, 30 Jul 2013 01:16:06 +0000 To:

  4. Om Brasil says:

    Date: Mon, 29 Jul 2013 14:54:29 -0400

  5. Om Brasil says:

    From: Subject: Alerta do Google – beneficios da meditao

  6. Barbara Harrington says:

    Excellent post Julia!

  7. Rio real says:

    Thanks, Barbara!

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