By Benjamin Parkin, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Saturday, officers from BOPE (Special Operations Battalion) reoccupied the Complexo do Alemão and Complexo da Penha in the Zona Norte (North Zone) of Rio, after the death of four UPP (Pacifying Police Unit) officers in the past month. Between 200 and 300 BOPE officers will patrol the communities in order to “reassert stability”, according to the commander of the UPPs.
BOPE forces last occupied Alemão and Penha in 2010, when they were first “pacified” and started the long process to receiving UPP stations. The re-occupation of the territories is a sign of the escalating and violent situation there in the past few months.
The immediate spark was the death of UPP officer Leison Acácio, who died after being shot in the head in Vila Cruzeiro, Penha, on Thursday. Two other police officers were killed in Rio on Saturday. The total number of officers killed so far in 2014 now surpasses those killed in the entirety of 2013.
Frederico Caldas, the commander of the UPPs, stated that their “response would be extremely tough,” and that the UPP officers will carry out various operations this week with the support of BOPE and Choque (Shock Police Battalion) officers. They will also train around a hundred UPP officers to create an “intervention” unit for violent situations.
Kimberly Farnham, an American student who has lived in Alemão for over a year, said of the reoccupation by BOPE, “The biggest difference in the day to day is the amount of police around. I personally haven’t had any encounters with the police, but from the way people talk about it here, it has amplified a culture of fear. People are worried that a war is going to start again.”
“While everyone agrees that there are still banditos here and something needs to be done about them,” she continued, “the police don’t seem to be doing that. They are using their power to intimidate regular people who are just trying to live their life as they always do.”
As well as four police deaths and those of an unknown number of criminals, residents of Alemão and Penha have complained of violence and intimidation coming from both sides. On Tuesday, various residents protested against the arrests of two youths, Kleyton da Rocha Afonso and Hallam Marcilio Gonçalves, as arbitrary and unjust.
They were arrested in relation to the death of a UPP officer, Rodrigo de Souza Paes Leme on Thursday, March 6th. Police used tear gas and pepper spray against the crowd, with live rounds reportedly fired, and the protest was followed by a night of shootouts and violence.
Amid the controversy surrounding the UPP program after the recent violence, Vila Kennedy, a favela in Rio’s Zona Oeste (West Zone), will receive the 38th UPP after BOPE officers invaded and occupied the territory on Thursday.
Sérgio Cabral, Governor of Rio de Janeiro state, defended the project by saying, “Is it better for the communities to continue without any structure and with the guns of the gangs, or is it better to have police present, guaranteeing the citizens peacefulness, growing commerce in the community, and the investment of the Municipality and the Government?”