By Nelson Belen and Ciara Long, Contributing Reporters
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Late Thursday, December 8th, local news outlets reported that Italian tourist Roberto Bardella, 52, was shot in the head after inadvertently entering the favela community of Prazeres with his cousin earlier that day. The two men had been sightseeing and were visiting Christ the Redeemer, but were led by their GPS device into Prazeres, a favela close to Santa Teresa and central Rio.
According to Rio’s Delegacia de Homicídios (Homicides Department), the incident began at about 11:30 AM, when Bardella and his cousin were approached by ten individuals, allegedly robbers, and taken to a location further within the community. Shortly afterwards, the group robbed the two tourists and Bardella ended up shot and killed.
The two Italian adventurers had been traveling on motorcycles throughout Brazil and had already visited Curitiba and Foz do Iguaçu before arriving in Rio. The initial investigation has revealed that the two men could have been mistaken for police, potentially due to the portable cameras the two tourists were wearing on their motorcycle helmets.
According to the commander of Prazeres’s Police Pacifying Unit (UPP), the police unit had received word of the two tourists’ disappearance soon after they had been taken into the favela community. Shortly thereafter, authorities recovered Bardella’s body close to Rua Cândido de Oliveira and believe the crime took place nearby.
Bardella’s cousin, who was uninjured but shaken, was brought by police to the Homicides Department in Barra da Tijuca shortly after the incident. The two cousins’ motorbikes were also recovered by the Military Police, but at time of writing, the perpetrators remain at-large. Several UPPs and police units are providing aid in the investigation.
Italian expatriate Stefano Macchi, one of the principle owners of Rio Classic Sailing and Casalegre Art Vila, in Santa Teresa near to where the incident occurred commented to The Rio Times on the state of security in the favala community, “Safety is a big issue, not only in Rio’s favelas, but everywhere in town.” Macchi added, “[…] the UPP have proved to be a failure and now the war between different gangs is on again…for the people that live in favelas, it’s a nightmare.”
The UPPs have been a controversial measure since their introduction in 2008. Almost constant tension between residents and UPP units remains due to documented incidents of police corruption, violence and brutality over the years.
Thursday’s incident also adds to the troubling news from last week’s Public Security Institute (ISP) report, released on Wednesday, November 30th, which showed that murder across Rio de Janeiro state increased 21 percent from January to October 2016 compared to the same period in 2015.