By Melissa Rossi, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Since the pacification and UPP installation in Complexo do Alemão and surrounding favela communities in Zona Norte (North Zone), a rapid decrease in gunshot wound victims indicates safer streets for residents. Communities that lived under the fear of being caught in cross-fire confrontations by opposing drug gangs or police incursions should be able to breath easier.
As declared by the government of Rio, Penha’s State Hospital Getúlio Vargas, which attends mostly residents from the area, has reported a 37 percent decrease in the cases of gunshot wound victims from the year 2010 to 2011, although numbers still remain alarmingly high in comparison to other Rio neighborhoods.
In the first five months of 2012, the Hospital reported 149 gunshot wound patients, about 43 percent less than the same period in 2010, prior to Complexo do Alemão’s occupation by Brazil’s armed forces. Carlos Henrique Ribeiro, head of the emergency room at Hospital Getúlio Vargas, commented on the fact that the Complexo do Alemão is slowly turning into a safer area:
“Presently, we hardly see patients tragically wounded by gunshots. The Getúlio Vargas’ State Hospital always had one of the largest surgical activities in the state but it is finally able to realize elective surgeries since its emergency room has received less victims of urban violence. The doctors themselves feel relieved psychologically,” he said.
The prediction is that two more UPPs (Police Pacifying Units) will be functional in adjacent areas such as Vila Cruzeiro and Parque Proletário within a month. Both will count on a police force contingent of 540 representatives, from a total of 2,150 military police officers in Complexo do Alemão’s eight UPPs.
Last Thursday in the favela community of Vila Cuzeiro, Rio’s BOPE (Special Operations Battalion) began the transition operation to substitute the presence of the Brazilian Armed Forces that have been present in the area since November 2010.
The operation counted on new vehicles produced by American company Oshkosh, known as Sandcats. The Sandcats are light-tactical vehicles, designed for urban operations and can protect its occupants from mine attacks, IEDs, standard ammunition and armor piercing bullets.
They are currently being tested by Brazil’s military police and have been quickly re-named as caveirinhas (little skulls) in reference to the caveirões (big skulls), the older and larger armed vehicles that became the symbol of BOPE’s presence during surprise incursions against organized crime in Rio’s favelas.
The Sandcats can withstand heavy gunfire and easily move through the narrow winding alleys, making it easier to reach and patrol hundreds of roads that connect the Complexo do Alemão and surrounding communities. Fortunately, gun-shots were not reported during Vila Cruzeiro’s recent operation by the military police, according to Brazilian news company O Globo.