Favela Pacification Plan Underway

By Jaylan Boyle, Senior Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – Three people suspected of setting fire to a bus in Copacabana have been arrested as the fall out from an attack apparently carried out by gangs controlling the drug trade in the nearby Pavao-Pavaozinho favela community continues, following last week’s occupation by the Military Police.

Elite security forces in conflict with gangs in Pavão-Pavãozinho favela, photo by Pavão-Pavãozinho

Elite security forces in conflict with gangs in Pavão-Pavãozinho favela, photo by Pavão-Pavãozinho.

The three men were caught near the scene in possession of hand-grenades and fuel, according to police Colonel Marcus Jardim. The bus at the time was not in operation, meaning no passengers were inside, and the driver was taking a break in a bar nearby. Witnesses said that the only injured party was in fact one of the perpetrators, who suffered burns to his feet.

The recent occupation of the Cantagalo and Pavao-Pavaozinho favelas between Copacabana and Ipanema is part of a wider strategy of pacification aimed at limiting the ability of drug trafficking gangs to control Rio’s favelas, where there is usually inadequate police protection for residents. It is reported that gang control in the favelas can even extend to the administration of ‘justice’, with the gangs imposing arbitrary sentences on transgressors.

View of Cantagalo favela in Ipanema, photo by Amadeu Júnior

View of Cantagalo favela in Ipanema, photo by Amadeu Júnior.

The aim of the security forces is to set up bases of permanent occupation in the affected favelas, called Peacemaker Police Units. The units installed in Cantagalo in Ipanema and Pavao-Pavaozinho in Copacabana are the six and seventh such stations to be initiated in Rio’s favelas, beginning with the Dona Marta community in Botafogo. All of the occupation efforts have been met with heavily armed resistance from the gangs.

Both of the latest favelas to be occupied are considered to be of particular importance to the infrastructure of the largest criminal organizations in Rio, the sizable market for the drug trade in the streets of Ipanema and Arpoador being especially lucrative.

The latest efforts to improve security in Rio and the lives of it’s poorer residents were undermined somewhat last week when the Human Rights Watch group released a damning report accusing police both in Rio and Sao Paulo of routinely using unnecessary lethal force, and of thereby exacerbating the violence problem in both cities. The report goes on to say that police have ‘militarized’ the situation by engaging in war tactics with the trafficking gangs.

Rio, with a reported 5,700 murders in 2008, has also demonstrated it’s commitment to improving the security situation with the announcement last Thursday that the advisory services of ex-mayor of New York Rudi Giuliani. Mr Giuliani is widely credited as having been instrumental in dramatically reducing crime rates in New York. “He’s going to help us in day-to-day security and, especially, with an eye toward … the Olympic Games,” said Rio state governor Sergio Cabral.