It was a moment that residents of Rio de Janeiro thought would never come. For decades many of the city’s favelas have been ruled by drug traffickers or militias. Sporadic flare-ups would see the police go in to these self-built settlements seeking revenge, only to pull back leaving bodies scattered and the gangs to return to business. But last month when the city’s two main drug gangs began hijacking and torching vehicles at gunpoint, this time the authorities’ response was different.
Reports of human rights abuses committed during the police and military occupation of several favelas in this Brazilian city are jeopardising local residents’ newfound support for the security forces and posing challenges within the police. "I have never felt so humiliated," a local woman who takes in people’s laundry for a living told IPS. Asking to be identified merely as "D", she talked about what happened during the massive joint police and armed forces incursion in the Complexo do Alemão, a series of favelas or shantytowns on the north side of Rio de Janeiro.
Illicit cannabis factory farmers are arming themselves with sawn-off shotguns, CS sprays and machetes and even setting booby traps to protect their crops from rival gangs, according to a police study published today. The report for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) reveals there has been a boom in cannabis production across Britain in the last two years, with nearly 7,000 illegal farms and factories uncovered in 2009/10 alone.
Mexico's president, Felipe Calderón, has joined calls for a debate on the legalisation of drugs as new figures show thousands of Mexicans every year being slaughtered in cartel wars. "It is a fundamental debate," the president said, belying his traditional reluctance to accept any questioning of the military-focused offensive against the country's drug cartels. "You have to analyse carefully the pros and cons and key arguments on both sides." The president said he personally opposes the idea of legalisation.
The policy of a saturation police presence in the favelas or shantytowns that are home to around 20 percent of the population of Rio de Jnaeiro is merely a means of criminalising poverty, because it does nothing to address the underlying question of social exclusion, which drives the violence, human rights groups complain. A year and a half ago, State Governor Sergio Cabral began to send Pacification Police Units (UPPs), made up of members of the military police, into the slums to wrest control from drug gangs. The UPPs "are just one more way to exercise control over the poor," said Patricia Oliveira, a member of the Community Network Against Violence.