After almost ten years of highs and lows, José Mariano Beltrame has at last reached the end of his rope. His right-hand man, Roberto Sá (interviewed by RioRealblog in this video), will replace him as of Monday, it was announced today.
Much admired in the early years of pacification — 2010-2012 — the former Federal Police official was the last remaining member of a team that ultimately, failed to keep the heady promise of a reborn Rio de Janeiro.
While many supposedly pacified favelas have fallen into old patterns this and last year, this week’s news, in particular, brought back memories of a pre-Beltrame, surreal Rio.
Today, a group of young men, said to be armed and bearing drugs, invaded the São Conrado Gávea Golf Club — “between the 17th and 18th holes” as O Globo reported, interrupting play. They were later arrested; one appeared to be a minor.
The last time golf made the news here was during the Olympics. The world’s top players gave the Games a miss (apparently fearing the Zika virus); a new Olympic course drew criticism of outgoing Mayor Eduardo Paes, said to have favored real estate developers with it.
With violence popping up all over the city, such concerns now seem banal. Public safety is at the heart of any city’s vitality.
Yesterday, a police operation in Cidade de Deus reportedly kept 8,000 students home from school. Friday, a military police officer was killed in shooting there (and two others were shot dead over the weekend). Military Police forces usually seek out perpetrators of such homicides.
Earlier this month, Rio Comprido and Santa Teresa favelas experienced days of violence, as gangs reportedly battled over territory.
The month of September saw 29 shootouts in 18 UPP favelas, killing at least eight people and wounding 22, including four police officers, according to the Fogo Cruzado (crossfire) collaborative app.
On Monday, residents of favelas and formal areas in Ipanema and Copacabana found themselves in the midst of a daylong battle, touched off when gang members attacked UPP stations. Smoke, explosions and gunshots, with three deaths, were part of the drama. Police fought back, helicopters circled, and some pretty shocking videos made their way to the internet. One showed a suspect, reportedly shot from a helicopter, falling off the Cantagalo hill above the Lagoa. Another featured young men on the roof of the Ipanema metro entrance next to the federally-funded 2010 elevator (a tourist attraction), apparently throwing rocks at police in the street below.
The attack was reportedly led by a trafficker, arrested yesterday, who hadn’t returned from a Mother’s Day jail furlough.
What has gone wrong? The three-level governmental alliance ended two years ago and the state of Rio is broke, delaying wages and seriously undermining police work. Earlier, local politics and egos, fiefdom-style administration, inadequate police reform, a focus on UPP quantity over quality, poor police working conditions, insufficient coordination among agencies, with the judiciary and between city and state government — plus low-quality public services — contributed to the failure of pacification and the social component originally meant to accompany it.
By 2012, Rio’s homicide rate had come down significantly, to 25 per 100,000, from 41 in 2006. State and city officials then turned to Olympic concerns such as public transportation (BRTs and the Metro extension), port/center-city revitalization and facilities for the Games, according to José Marcelo Zacchi, Casa Fluminense executive director and former Social UPP official. Policies to work on promised integration between formal and informal areas of the city, such as Morar Carioca, were given short shrift, he adds.
The violent police response to 2013 street demonstrations and the death of Rocinha resident Amarildo de Souza under police torture undermined support for pacification, which was widespread, earlier.
Future public safety policy is unknown. The outgoing Civil Police chief describes a frightening lack of funds in his area, in an October 12 interview. Beltrame said he believes that the UPPs will continue to exist. Roberto Sá has yet to comment on the handover. One can only hope that he’ll find ways (including funding) to draw on the experience, both positive and negative, gained in the Beltrame years — and work closely with mayors in Rio (to be elected Oct. 30) and other cities in the metropolitan area.
Watch this rudimentary 2010 RioRealblog video mostly shot in and near the Ipanema/Copacabana Cantagalo favela, no longer an easy place to visit.