By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Despite the clouds that led many beachgoers to skip the sand and waves this Saturday in Rio de Janeiro, Operação Verão (Operation Summer) was implemented on the beachfront along Zona Sul (South Zone). The operation was moved up a week by officials after last week’s mass robberies, known locally as “arrastões” (big drags), swept through the beaches and spilled over on to the streets.
The operation, expected to last throughout the summer, will count on the extensive patrol of beaches, seven police posts set up on the sand with three hundred agents guarding both the boardwalk and beach areas, and a police helicopter monitoring from above. Police officers are also expected to enter buses headed towards the beach areas and monitor the flow of groups of youngsters, some of whom are suspected of going to the beaches just to loot beachgoers.
Bel Casson, and expatriate living in Rio for years, and Manager at Caminhos Language Centre in Ipanema, has doubts about the current police strategy. “I don’t think the police will be successful at stopping the arrastões. It’s a reoccurring issue in Rio and they are always going to happen here.”
“The issue is deeper at the moment with increased unemployment leading to increased crime. The economy is collapsing, the Real is weak and people are struggling to live. The arrastao and other increased crime is just a result of what is happening in life here in Rio,” Casson explains. Adding “I think once the deeper issues are fixed then this will slow down. The police can’t control all these people.”
This year security officials have an additional concern. Last week’s violence led to reports of groups promoting vigilantism through social media. Following looting and arrastōes at the beaches, a group of approximately thirty men reportedly conducted ‘raids’ on buses that were passing through the neighborhoods of Copacabana and Ipanema, looking for looters.
According to daily Folha de S. Paulo, the group arranged the actions by using the smartphone application WhatsApp. Passengers in at least one of these busses panicked, and were seen jumping out the window to escape the fights between these ‘vigilantes’ and groups of youths going home.
Non-government organizations (NGO) working with underprivileged youths also fear a rise in vigilante action this year, after Rio courts announced police were not allowed to seize or search youths on their way to, or at, the beach unless they were caught committing a crime.
The decision according to the NGOs has made residents of these beachside neighborhoods fearful of waves of violence and looting with impunity for those who commit them. This fear, say analysts, may lead residents to retaliate, taking actions which could plunge this part of the city into further turbulence.