RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – What can I say, the açaí hit the fan, and a dust up Rio-style dominated the collective consciousness here for a very tense week. The bottom line is the favela gangsters had to make a statement, a show of resistance or protest about the UPP programs squeezing their turf. So they coordinated some terrorist-like attacks, and the authorities won.
But it’s just a flesh wound, a surface scratch, and there are still a lot of desperados in them hills. Just a dust-up in respect to the massive disparity in class, a huge gap between inflation and wages, exasperated by the World Cup and Olympic shine.
In all seriousness the city is breathing a sigh of relief that in the face of anarchy the government did what it needed to do. The drug gangs that dominate the favelas walk around with assault riffles and pistols hanging out of their shorts.
While they have no interest in hurting civilians, they sure aren’t accountable to anyone but themselves. And at the end of the day, they are selling cocaine and guns, which no intelligent person can suggest is a victimless crime.
This last bit is written for those who figure that the traficantes are harmless and easy enough to get on with. It may be fine to have a beer with them and geek at their guns, but they kill people, regularly. So while many prefer them to the police (who also kill people regularly), at least the government employees are supposed to be accountable to civil law and serve the community.
For those who have not followed the coverage, or missed the context, here is the very high-level chain-of-events:
1 ) Rio favelas have been run by drug gangs for as long as most can remember with little police interference.
2 ) Because of the World Cup and Olympics, underlined by Brazil’s rising economic status (in part fueled by oil discovery), the authorities have instituted UPP programs to penetrate and pacify favelas.
3 ) The favela gangs had enough, and last week started burning vehicles and shooting at police in violent protest/retaliation.
4 ) The police fought back, bringing the fight to the gangs, primarily in the Vila Cruzeiro favela (in Zona Norte).
5 ) Fighting escalated, Rio called in reinforcements including the Brazilian Armed Forces, overwhelming the armed gangs and then chased them to the massive Complexo do Alemão favela (also in Zona Norte).
6 ) The gangs were gunned down, surrendered or fled.
7 ) There is talk of the reinforced police presence staying put, and continuing to attack the remaining drug gangs, potentially going much sooner then planned into Rochina, Rio’s largest favela (which also happens to be close to Zona Sul – where tourists and expats are).
8 ) Summer started, and life continues in Rio.
Over the last week The Rio Times has tried to keep up with the story, which has sparked incredible media interest and drawn the world’s eyes. We’ve had record Readership, and CNN International got in touch with us, leading to an opportunity for relatively new freelance Contributing Reporter, Amy Skalmusky, to be interviewed twice over the weekend. Sky News also was in contact on Monday and for lack of others available, I actually did an interview on Monday (I prefer being behind the scenes).