By Samuel Elliott Novacich, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Few could deny the increase in violent crime in Macaé over the last several decades. In recent months however, it has escalated and many attribute this to drug gangs from Rio migrating to Macaé, fleeing newly inaugurated UPPs in their respective territories.
On March 22nd, approximately 270 civil police (32nd BPM Macaé) and 100 police from the Batalhão de Operações Especiais (Special Operations Battalion, BOPE) responded with the invasion of the Favela Nova Holanda as part of Operation Falkland. As reported by O Globo, the objective was apprehending fugitives hiding in the region. Thirteen individuals were arrested, including a minor, and over 150 kilograms of marijuana were seized.
Security forces remain in place, with increased requests to Governor Sérgio Cabral from political and law enforcement officials for the installment of UPPs in Macaé. The UPP efforts in Rio have been seen largely as a success, although some critics note that by announcing their arrival, as done in Santa Teresa, it allows criminals time to relocate.
Twenty-year-old Aline, wishing to remain anonymous, grew up in Macaé but now lives in Rio, and explains: “In the last ten years the favelas have grown a lot, and the violence and crime is much worse. For a long time the head of ADA (Amigo dos Amigos) lived in both Macaé and Rio, when they had problems with the police in Rio, they hid out in Macaé, and people suffered for it.”
Last year, the infamous Macaé drug trafficker Roger Rios Mosqueira, better known as Roupinol, was killed in a battle with police in the favela Morro São Carlos, in Rio’s Zona Norte (North zone). Unfortunately, with larger police operations in Rio like the massive battle for Complexo do Alemão, come fears that drug gangs will continue to set up business in out-lying areas.
Macaé was once a small town to the north of Rio state, relatively unaffected by urban violence or sprawling poverty and class division. In the 1970s, Brazil’s state owned oil company, Petrobras, announced that it had chosen Macaé and the surrounding region for a massive oil extraction and refinement plant.
The city, now composed of approximately 200,000 inhabitants, has seen significant but staggered growth (up 600 percent in ten years). Many who migrated to the region for oil industry jobs were unable to find employment though, for lack of training or experience.
Enormous economic growth and a ballooning yet economically divided population has been coupled with lacking state presence in the favelas. Macaé’s growing favela communities of Nova Holanda, Nova Esperança, Malvinas and Nova Malvinas were no exception, and quickly became fertile ground for drug traffickers.
Aline goes on to describe: “It’s much worse now, last time I was home in February, traficantes were exchanging fire with police in the streets, there are much more of them, with a lot more guns.”
Regardless of the presence of fugitives taking shelter in Macaé, the city’s violent crime rates have been relatively stable (though high) all along. The Instituto de Segurança Publica (Public Security Institute) reported that willful homicides were relatively constant throughout the last five years.
They numbered 183 in 2006, 189 in 2007, 147 in 2008, 137 in 2009, and 145 in 2010. Since 2008, violent crimes have remained fairly steady, wavering between 150 and 190 every six months. Macaé’s high indices of violence have not gone unnoticed, providing sufficient impetus for the aforementioned Operation Falklands, and maintained police presence.
Marcelo Salvini Fernandez, Headmaster at International School of Macaé relates, “While urban life makes the elimination of street violence appear impossible, city residents have seen an improvement. Due to the recent police strategy in areas like Malvina and Nova Holanda, today one can see neighborhood residents walking peacefully along the streets.”
For residents within these impoverished favela communities however, this is just one battle in a uphill struggle for a better life.