By Zoë Roller, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Last week local media R7 reported that Rocinha, considered the largest favela in Brazil, is next in line to receive a Police Pacifying Unit (UPP). It was reported that BOPE will invade Rocinha and Vidigal on November 13th in preparation for pacification, although no official confirmation has been made.
Located between the wealthy Zona Sul (South Zone) neighborhoods of São Conrado, Gávea, and Leblon, and home to 70-100,000 people (the exact population is unknown, due to the difficulty of conducting a census), Rocinha is consider crucial to the drug trade in Rio.
According to Dcod (Delegacia de Combate às Drogas) estimates, traffickers move R$2 million a week, primarily from cocaine sales. Rocinha and neighboring favela Vidigal are reported to be controlled by Amigos dos Amigos, one of the major factions in the city.
On November 3rd, 65 police officers entered Rocinha in an operation determined to combat piracy. The Civil Police closed an abortion clinic, a gatonet (illegal cable television) office, and counterfeit CD factory.
They confiscated 34 stolen motorcycles, 21,000 pieces of pirate media, 43,000 articles of clothing, and counterfeit toys, watches, and sneakers. Twelve people were arrested.
Police also discovered a stockpile of ninety rockets thought to be able to fire on aircraft, hidden next to a pile of tires. Traffickers allegedly planned to set fire to the tires in the event of a police helicopter attack: the smoke reduces visibility, forcing the helicopter to fly lower, into the range of the missiles.
Top Military Police officials met with State Security Secretary José Mariano Beltrame last week to determine the date of the BOPE invasion, though the secretary has yet to release a statement.
BOPE forces normally plan to occupy favelas for 45-60 days in preparation for the installation of a UPP, although in Mangueira they stayed for four months. Officials decided to invade Vidigal as well as Rocinha to prevent traffickers from escaping to the neighboring community.
Last year’s invasion of the Complexo do Alemão established a precedent for giving the population advance warning to avoid armed conflict. The government is especially concerned about entering Rocinha with as little shooting as possible, because the community is located on thoroughfares connecting Zona Sul to Barra.
This approach has an obvious flaw: Rocinha’s residents have been expecting pacification since March, giving traffickers ample time to escape. Traffickers from Mangueira were apprehended in Duque de Caxias after BOPE invaded, predicting a criminal migration to the Baixada Fluminense.
While few doubt the progress of the UPP program in theory, not all residents in the community are optimistic. Zezinho, who grew up in Rocinha and has operated a favela tour business there explains there is still a legacy of fear and distrust of police.
“People don’t want them here and they have fears because of the ongoing problems with police abuse in places like Complexo do Alemão … nobody has trust for the police and [they are seen] as just corrupt oppressors.” he says.
Regarding the imminent police operations, Zezinho shares: “Most people think that the drug dealers will leave without a shot being fired as the last three times the police came here, not one shot was fired … this really depends on the police and how they go about entering.”