By Benjamin Parkin, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Police carried out a major operation in Cidade de Deus (City of God), Zona Oeste (West Zone), on Monday, in response to an attack on the local UPP (Police Pacifying Unit) station. Officer Vinícius Salles de Oliveira was shot in the attack on Sunday night, allegedly retaliation for the shooting of a drug trafficker early that day.
On the same night, reports indicate three other officers were shot elsewhere in the Zona Oeste, and the previous Tuesday another Cidade de Deus UPP officer was shot.
The police operation was intended to capture those responsible for the attack on the Cidade de Deus UPP. Oliveira was shot in the arm while sitting at a computer inside the base, and was taken to the local UPA (Emergency Treatment Unit). An armed man later invaded the UPA looking for Oliveira, though he had already been transferred.
As a result of the operation, sixteen schools were closed on Monday and 7,068 students were unable to go to school, according to the SME (Municipal Secretary of Education). Maria do Socorro Melo Brandão, of ASVI CDD (The Seed of Life Association of Cidade de Deus), complained of the difficulty created for the students.
“It’s not good when children are left without school. This interferes. It interferes a lot with their development. […] This situation, of not having lessons, seriously affects the students”, she said. “We even had to cancel our activities yesterday. It’s a long time that this hasn’t happened, but the schools prefer not to put their students at risk.”
Of the operation, Elizete (last name withheld), resident of Cidade de Deus and mother of two children who no longer live there, told The Rio Times that “it was calm, we were able to work normally. Everything I know about it is from the news, I only noticed that the school opposite was closed.”
Officer Oliveira was the 118th police officer to be shot this year in Rio, of which six have died. Only hours earlier on Sunday, the families of police officers who have been killed while carrying out their duties, organized an event in Copacabana to commemorate and demand increased attention to those killed in service.
UPPs, initially widely praised, have come under heavy criticism after increasing violence this year. Complexo do Alemão, Penha, Rocinha and other UPP favelas have been scenes of frequent shootouts between police and drug traffickers. This received international attention in March when Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, a dancer on Rede Globo’s hugely popular show Esquenta, was killed in an incident involving UPP officers. His wounds showed he had been beaten and shot.
Governor Luiz Fernando Pezão blamed criticism of UPPs on political bickering in the run up to October’s elections. “We see at this election moment some candidates are trying to destabilize the UPPs. It’s all part of the game, but we have the determination to continue,” he told O Globo.
Cidade de Deus, with a population of approximately 40,000 people, was the second favela to receive a UPP, in 2009. The community began as a government housing project in the 1960s, to transfer people who were removed from other favelas under the government’s policy of relocation.