By Chesney Hearst, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – State and federal security forces occupied the communities of Complexo do Caju and Barreira do Vasco during the early hours of Sunday, March 3rd. Over 1,300 armed forces including Special Operations Battalions (BOPE) and Shock Battalions (BPChoque), 200 civil police officers and 200 Naval officers participated in the occupation of the two communities, complete with seventeen armored tanks.
The security forces entered the Complexo do Caju favela about 25 minutes after their arrival, shortly before 5AM, and the operation proceeded without a single shot fired. Preliminary action in Caju and Barreira do Vasco began on February 14th, leading to police arrested over 300 suspected criminals prior to Sunday.
Thirteen different favela communities make up the Complexo do Caju with an estimated 20,000 residents. Civilians in the area were advised to stay indoors and to carry their identification documents with them throughout the morning.
Complexo do Caju is located near two major highways of the city, Avenida Brasil and Linha Vermelha, and authorities closed the Linha Vermelha on Sunday from 4AM to 6AM in an effort to protect drivers should there be clashes or violence during the operation.
The occupation was the first step in installing what is planned to be the 31st Police Pacification Unit (UPP) in the state of Rio de Janeiro. During operations on Sunday a temporary portable building was installed in the area to serve as the the base for the UPP until a structure can be built.
“In the case of [Complexo do] Caju and Barreira do Vasco, the whole region had entered a process of decay,” Sergio Cabral, the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro said during a conference held at Military Police Headquarters on Sunday.
“It is an area that has generated thousands of jobs [...] it will give more reassurance to investors, service providers and our workers,” Cabral said, adding “I mean, it is a rebirth of a region that adds to other revivals.”
“This is another crucial step in the recovery of the areas occupied by the parallel power,” said Governor Cabral adding, “This is evidence of the credibility of the security policy. There is an understanding that our actions are structural and not cyclical. In fact, these are actions that change the lives of residents of the communities to ensure the sacred right to come and go in peace.”
José Mariano Beltrame, the Secretary of Public Security for the state of Rio, was more cautious, stating that, “You will never see me celebrating victory [today] because these problems are very old and very serious, so we can not resolve it in one ‘Monday’. Public safety is very subjective, every day is an achievement.”
At the end of the operations the Brazilian and Rio de Janeiro flags were ceremonially hoisted by officials at Parque Alegria in Complexo do Caju, to mark the successful beginning of the pacification process in the area.
December marked the fourth anniversary of Rio’s first UPP, installed in the Santa Marta favela community on December 19, 2008. The state government’s pacification program has helped bring greater security, but complaints over a lack of basic infrastructure continue in Rio’s favelas.