By Zoë Roller, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The sprawling Complexo da Maré favelas in Rio’s Zona Norte (North Zone) have been occupied by the Polícia Militar (Military Police, PM) elite force, BOPE, for the past week. The police entered the complex last Friday, October 21st, with the stated objective of finding drug traffickers and arms.
The operations in Maré may also be laying the groundwork for the installation of a Police Pacification Unit (UPP), although some speculate it is to clear the region of drug traffic to allow construction work on Linha Vermelha highway.
Home to 130,000 residents, the Complexo da Maré is considered one of the major strongholds of drug traffic in Rio. Shootouts between traffickers and police have been disturbing daily life in the region for a month, and the UPA hospital was temporarily closed at the PM’s request.
On Thursday, October 20th, reports indicate 120 BOPE troops entered Maré and seized contraband arms and drugs, including a grenade and 120 crack rocks. Five suspects were arrested and two killed.
Adding to the turmoil in Maré, traffickers are allegedly extorting money for permission for construction projects on Linha Vermelha, the freeway connecting Centro to the airport. Armed traffickers from Maré are said to have visited the construction site on October 10th, demanding R$2 million to allow the completion of a bridge.
It is thought that operations in Maré are in preparation for the installation of new police facilities in the region: BOPE is moving its headquarters from Tavares Bastos, in Catete, to a new base in Maré. In an interview with the website Rio Radar, Lieutenant Colonel René Alonso, commander of BOPE, stated that the location was chosen strategically because of its proximity to Avenida Brasil and Linha Amarela highway. “From that location we can bring the pacification process to the area,” said Alonso.
O Globo reported in July that the base would open in August, but the timeline has been delayed. The paper speculated that the past week’s operations were clearing the area in preparation for the installation of the base, known as the Special Operations Center (COE), implying that Maré would receive a UPP unit this year. PM officials have yet to announce a timeline for the pacification of Maré, leaving residents uncertain as to their neighborhood’s future.
In a recent interview with the magazine Epoca, State Security Secretary José Mariano Beltrame said that the favelas along Avenida Brasil are next in line to receive UPPs, beginning with Maré, Kennedy, Juramento, and Cerro-Corá.
The need for an increased police presence in Maré is clear, but residents are unsure whether a UPP will improve their lives. Globo’s crime reporter, Jorge Antonio Barros, has heard many complaints of BOPE officers mistreating civilians.
An anonymous resident is skeptical about pacification in Maré, partly because the current police presence is insufficient. “I saw on the news that Maré is getting occupied, but when I went home on Friday night I saw traffickers walking around the streets like a normal day.” The resident believes the police are only in Maré now because of the Linha Vermelha construction project.
“The reason I think there won’t be a UPP here anytime soon is because they’re not doing what they did with the other communities—they didn’t announce it and give the traffickers a warning and time to leave. If it happens right now or a month from now, I don’t think it will make a change the way it did in the other communities. They’ll be here during the day, and at night the traffickers will come out again.”