By Benjamin Parkin, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Sunday morning, March 30th, police and armed forces began the occupation of the Complexo da Maré, a group of favelas in Rio’s Zona Norte (North Zone). State Governor Sérgio Cabral announced last week that the army would occupy Maré “indefinitely” until a UPP (Police Pacifying Unit) is eventually set up.
According to reports, 118 arrests have been made since BOPE (Special Operations Battalion) occupied two of Maré’s favelas, Nova Holanda and Parque União, on Friday (March 21st). Among those arrested earlier this week was one of the suspected heads of drug trafficking in Maré, “Menor P”. Six Rocinha UPP officers were also arrested on Monday for suspected connections with Menor P’s drug trafficking faction.
G1 reported that police apprehended large amounts of ammunition, ten revolvers, 33 pistols, seven rifles, five shotguns, two sub-machine guns and eighteen grenades. During searches federal police found 450 pounds of marijuana as well as weapons that were stored underground.
The occupation, carried out by 1,180 military police, 180 civil police and 250 Navy riflemen, was peaceful and no shots were fired in the process. However, a fight between youths in Nova Holanda on Sunday, after the occupation, resulted in shots that left one 15-year-old dead.
Born and raised in Parque Maré, Higor Antônio, 30, explained that, so far, “The process is being carried out smoothly, and I haven’t heard complaints… The police have been respectful […] If it continues on this trajectory I think it will be very good. But I’m scared that in a few months things will be the same or worse.”
“I believe that the best way to combat the drug traffic here […] is not a military occupation, I think it is projects that promote social inclusion and good quality education. I don’t think this [the military occupation] is the way, I think it aggravates the situation. I hope I’m wrong. I don’t think we should have the army anywhere, the police anywhere, nor criminals anywhere. There needs to be social development and education.”
Cabral stated of the occupation that Maré, home to 130,000 people, that “It [Maré] is a city which is being integrated with the City. It is a historic day. If the entrance of the police has previously brought fear to residents, today it represents the arrival of peace.” It was announced that the government would invest R$225 million in six schools and a crèche to create an educational campus in Maré. Thirteen more units will be set up by 2016.
The military occupation of Maré is permitted by the Guarantee of Law and Order (GLO), which was signed by President Dilma Rousseff on Friday. The GLO allows the armed forces to remain there until July 31st, at which point a UPP, of an estimated 1,500 officers, will be set up. It has been used six times in Rio since 2007, most notably during the occupation of the Complexo do Alemão, another large group of favelas, in 2010.
On Sunday evening, there were no longer soldiers or police in at least four of Maré’s sixteen favelas, with residents explaining to The Rio Times they had left earlier in the day, and drugs were once again being sold openly on the streets.