Opinion, by Samantha Barthelemy
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Every once in a while a scandal comes along to remind us that despite the soon-to-be-hosted 2016 Summer Olympics and the successes of the 3rd Rock in Rio Festival, “all is not well” in the Marvelous City.
Rio State’s Security Secretary, José Mariano Beltrame, says he is losing sleep. Well, he is not the only one.
As we keep being reminded, no layer of our government is immune to the corruption virus. No surprise, either, in the fact that many of the bad apples are in police uniform. So how do we battle this war?
In late 2008, excited about the ideological strength of the newly launched pacification project, our leaders said, “Things are going to be different this time. We will take Rio back [from the hands of criminals].”
And things were different, for a while.
We watched as tracked armored tanks and camouflaged soldiers flocked the streets of Rio in November 2010. We witnessed, live on television, packs of drug traffickers carrying rifles on bare shoulders flee by foot to Complexo do Alemão following a police incursion in Vila Cruzeiro.
Rio’s residents felt pride in their security forces, kneeling by the Christ the Redeemer statue, praying for their security officers and celebrating the largest police operation in history.
“We won,” Mário Sérgio Duarte, then head of Rio’s State Military Police announced prematurely.
November 2010 was undoublty a moment to commemorate. But we had not won the battle.
In February, the Federal Police’s Operation Guillotine cracked down on gangs formed by policemen accused of selling weapons to drug traffickers, controlling militias, leaking vital police information and (surprise!) blackmailing criminals! Among the dozens of arrested men: the Civil Police’s former undersecretary, Carlos Antônio de Oliveira.
In early September the Public Military Ministry announced its investigation into a Police Pacification Unit corruption scheme in the favelas of Coroa, Fallet, and Fogueteiro. In a “mensalão-type” operation, police officers were discovered receiving payments from drug traffickers to allow trade to continue freely.
In a case that shocked the country, at least eight police officers were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the murder of Judge Patrícia Acioli. Among the accused men: Lieutenant Colonel Cláudio Luiz Silva de Oliveira – former commander of São Gonçalo’s Military Police Battalion and alleged mastermind of the assassination.
Coronel Mário Sérgio Duarte fell last week as a consequence of having appointed Silva de Oliveira.
In his first day as the new head of Rio’s Military Police, Eric Ribeiro da Costa Filho reshuffled no less than thirteen commanding officers – including commanders of the Police Pacification Units. “Things are really going to be different now,” he said.
They have to be, for the most dangerous enemy lies within and the toughest battle of transforming values and behavior has barely begun.
In the meantime, it seems that Mr. Beltrame will continue to lose some sleep.
A Belgian-Brazilian native of Rio de Janeiro and former United Nations journalist, Samantha Barthelemy is a dual degree Masters of International Affairs with Columbia University and the Paris Institute of Political Studies living in Rio and working in the Schools of Tomorrow Program. samanthabarthelemy.blogspot.com