By Zoë Roller, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In the past week the Complexo do Alemão in Rio’s Zona Norte (North Zone) has seen several clashes between civilians and peacekeeping forces. While no new incidents have been reported since September 7th, the unrest spurred officials to reevaluate the pacification strategy in Alemão. These events mark the largest shootout between police and civilians since the community was invaded by peacekeeping forces in November 2010.
The unrest started on Sunday, September 4th, when an alleged noise complaint escalated into a street fight. Police fired rubber bullets and pepper spray into a crowd of civilians, who retaliated by throwing rocks. On Tuesday evening violence broke out again: Ana Lucia da Silva, a fifteen year-old on her way home from school, was killed, and a 47 year old man identified only as Luis was hit in the head by shrapnel from a grenade.
Da Silva’s death made international news, but reports disagree on the exact circumstances. According to the Associated Press, officials denied any fatalities in Tuesday’s altercation; later that day, however, Al Jazeera reported that the young woman was killed, and sixteen others wounded by stray bullets.
Al Jazeera also stated that heavily armed drug traffickers from a yet-to-be-pacified neighboring favela raided police units on Tuesday and opened fire on officers. AP confirms this statement, but citizen journalists claim the only shots fired came from police.
Walmir dos Santos, a longtime resident of the Complexo do Alemão, was skeptical about traffickers invading the favela. “They don’t have images, they don’t have audio—there’s no proof. This is just to sell papers…It’s to create panic.” He added, “It raises another question: if the police have no proof that there were traffickers, why were shots fired?” Many residents saw bullets streaking across the sky on Tuesday night, though they were unsure who was firing.
General Adriano Pereira Júnior, commander of the Eastern Military Command, announced that the shots were fired from Baiana and Adeus, two hills within the Complexo that were not officially within the peacekeeping force’s jurisdiction. “Alemão and Penha do not have heavy weapons,” the general said. On Wednesday, over one hundred Military Police occupied the two hills, with more reinforcements on the way. Soldiers set up barricades blocking access points to the community.
City Councilman Zaqueu Teixeira stated that leaving the hills unoccupied “allowed confrontations alongside the army’s forces,” and made it clear that peacekeeping forces “can’t have vulnerable points.”
Governor Sérgio Cabral admitted that pacification security policy is fragile, and announced that the pacification units would undergo a review. State Security Secretary José Mariano Beltrame confirmed that traffickers had reentered Alemão, but he did not disclose how many or where they came from.
In an official statement, the Security Secretariat said that the violence was prompted either by the closure of an illegal gas business belonging to a trafficker’s brother, or the army’s extended occupation of the area. It was announced on August 30th that troops will remain in Alemão and Penha until July 2012, and 2,200 new soldiers will be added to the 1,700 already there.
On Wednesday, city councilman Marcelo Freixo visited the community to talk to residents about their views on UPP. He found that while most people welcomed the peacekeeping force, they wanted government presence in areas other than security. “The State brought in military forces, but there’s not an investment in the areas of health, education, or sanitation.”
Freixo added that until residents in the Complexo feel they can trust peacekeeping officers, further conflict may be unavoidable. “There is great strain within that community. And the lack of tact can cause military conflicts … Residents do want the police presence, but there are complaints about their treatment.”
Correction: October 31, 2011
This article was first published noting the UPP as part of the peacekeeping force, but although Alemão is pacified and has UPP Social, as a community reader clarified – there is no UPP unit in Complexo de Alemão yet.