Tom Blickman, Paulo Jorge Ribeiro, Rosane Oliveira
01 March 2010
An examination of the rise of militias – well-organised private vigilante groups made up of rogue, dismissed or retired police officers, firemen and prison guards - in the recurrent episodes of extreme urban violence in Rio de Janeiro, which represents developments in urban security that spread far beyond Brazil.
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.
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.
The police, who used to shoot first and ask questions later in Santa Marta, a Rio de Janeiro shantytown, are now getting on well with the local community – the result of a state government plan that nevertheless has drawn criticism. Out of long habit, many local residents in the Santa Marta "favela" do not dare talk openly about the police who have been permanently posted in their neighbourhood for the past six months, as part of what the Rio de Janeiro state government describes as a plan to "pacify" the slums.