By Matthew Elliott, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Protests and accusations of police responsibility have followed the disappearance of a Rocinha resident. Amarildo de Souza, 42, has been missing since July 14th when a large scale anti-trafficking operation was conducted in Rio’s largest favela. The case has also prompted political commentary as momentum gathers for a truthful explanation of Mr. de Souza’s fate.
The assistant bricklayer was reportedly taken for questioning by the Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) during the much heralded Operation Paz Armada (Armed Peace) and has been missing ever since.
On July 16th his family officially reported the matter and Rocinha residents protested his disappearance on the 17th and 19th, shutting off the Lagoa-Barra highway, and have also conducted their own searches for the locally respected father of six.
Amarildo’s wife Elisabete Gomes was adamant that the police bear responsibility and upset at their response. “My son looked for the commander who said Amarildo had already been released, although this was not visible on the UPP’s camera images because they had broken down. They think poor people are stupid too.”
Chief of Police at the 15th Gávea Precinct, Orlando Zaccone, has pledged assistance to the case reporting that physical searches are underway while the GPS tracking of police vehicles and local cameras are under analysis.
“Today [July 23rd], we have a meeting with the family and friends at the Human Rights Commission of ALERJ [Rio de Janeiro State Legislative Assembly]. The objective is to gain their trust. So that they help with information. Our interest is to solve this case,” informed Mr. Zaccone.
Meanwhile, lieutenant colonel Paulo Henrique de Moraes of the UPP revealed that the four officers who took Amarildo have been suspended. They are freshman officers with past accusations of abuse and brutality levied against them.
Governor Sergio Cabral met with Amarildo’s family on July 24th and afterwards took to Twitter to promise action on their behalf; “I will mobilize the entire government to find out where Amarildo is and identify those responsible for his disappearance.”
Cabral also noted that despite his continued support for the police operation “nothing justifies the disappearance of a person understood by the UPP to be a worker.”
At the meeting the family are understood to have rejected an invitation from Human Rights Secretary of Rio State, Zacchaeus Teixeira, to enter the witness protection program. Elisabete has previously stated her fear of UPP reprisals, worrying that “when the dust settles, the police will make mischief with my family.”
The case has further intensified the ongoing problem of cooperation between the community and the police. Local Rocinha resident Zezinho da Rocinha observed that “unfortunately because of an overall history of neglect and corruption, favela residents tend not to trust the police or the system.”
He added that while protests and media coverage were a positive sign “this sort of thing is not unusual in favelas, it is only recently due to protests, upcoming mega events and Rocinha’s pacified status, that the case has been popularized.”
Rocinha, once notorious for drug-related violence, is often considered the largest favela in South America. It was dramatically occupied in November 2011 by security forces, and received a Police Pacification Unit (UPP) in September 2012.