By Maria Lopez Conde, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Civil Police in Rio have identified those responsible for firing shots just twenty minutes before a scheduled “Desafio da Paz” (Peace Challenge) run in the Complexo do Alemão favela community last Sunday. The shooting spread fear among the runners who had gathered at the starting line in a disheartening demonstration of how much further the security program has to go in the area.
Video footage showed participants running for cover, seeking refuge from the bullets behind concrete walls and parked vehicles. The incident delayed the start of the 4.8 km run through Complexo do Alemão by an hour and prompted many to abstain from participating in the race.
Organized by NGO AfroReggae, the Corrida da Paz (The Peace Run), as it is often called, was meant to symbolize the community’s progress and commitment to peace since pacification, but the gunfire highlighted the uphill battle local and state authorities still face in curbing violence in one of Rio’s largest favelas.
State Secretary of Security (and avid runner), José Mariano Beltrame, was ready to participate in the sporting event when shots were first heard. “This is a remnant of a faction that has been characterized by the trivialization of violence,” Beltrame told reporters after the shooting, which was directed at the UPP unit in Vila Cruzeiro.
“That faction reigned for thirty years, but now the Civil Police, the Military Police and the State are here and they will not go. [...] It is obvious that this is a faction that, though weakened, thinks that these acts can ward off the police and the state, but we are not leaving,” Beltrame said.
The Complexo do Alemão, an area encompassing fifteen communities in Zona Norte (North Zone), was made infamous during the massive occupation effort by military forces in November 2010, and has since received four Police Pacifying Units (UPPs).
Just four days before the Desafio Pela Paz run, a gunfire exchange between cops and traffickers resulted in the death of Anderson Simplício de Mendonça known as Orelha, an alleged drug dealer in the area. Drug traffickers imposed a curfew on the population of Complexo do Alemão in response to the killing, and commerce and many schools shut down for two days.
José Júnior, one of the AfroReggae organizers, said that although the community still faces challenges, the fact that the third edition of the nearly 5km run occurred as planned was a success in and of itself.
“The name of the run is Peace Challenge, not Celebration of Peace, so it’s something constant. There was the possibility of canceling it, but that would have been a step back and what happened was a victory for Rio de Janeiro,” Júnior said.
Retired 55-year-old and third-time Peace Run participant, Jorge, grew up in Complexo do Alemão and told Globo news, “I saw a lot of people leaving after the shootout, but probably it’s people who do not live here and are not used to it. I am used to it and I did not get scared. I feel that things here are safer after the UPP.”
Although most residents believe the security situation has improved markedly since the arrival of the UPP, many reports indicate people in the community still face violence and intimidation from both police and criminal gangs.