By Sibel Tinar, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – As the chaos and the surge of violence in Rio approaches the one week mark, the death toll has risen to at least 46, and over one hundred vehicles have been attacked and set on fire. After the police declared that they had taken control of Vila Cruzeiro on Friday, the conflict has shifted to Complexo do Alemão, a sprawl of favelas in Zona Norte (Noth zone), home to over 400,000 people, and widely considered the city’s most violent area.
Supporting the police, Brazilian Army forces have helped occupy Complexo do Alemão, and announced that they have encircled the criminals, giving them an ultimatum to surrender. The surrounded fugitives have called José Júnior, a conflict mediator and the coordinator of AfroReggae, to Complexo do Alemão to initiate a conversation with the police and negotiate a surrender, in order to prevent yet another deadly confrontation.
During the day, as some of the alleged criminals had started to surrender to the police, others opened fire on a police helicopter that was flying above the complex looking for their hiding places, leading to another burst of shooting between the combatants.
Recent police estimates suggested that around 200 fugitives have been hiding in Complexo do Alemão, some of them believed to have escaped from the police occupation in Vila Cruzeiro. The total number of the people involved in the recent city-wide attacks are estimated to be between 500-600 by authorities.
This sensational violence over the last week in Rio de Janeiro has led to the largest police operation in its history. According to consultant to the Secretary of National Security, Vinícius Cavalcanti, “the agents in the entire state, civil and military police, those who are on vacation and off-duty” have been called to duty.
Meanwhile, groups of residents in Rio’s Zona Norte have organized protests and demonstrations asking for peace. The city’s violence has not afflicted the more affluent Zona Sul (South zone) as much, but it has not been immune to the attacks either, and vehicles have been reported burned in neighborhoods such as Botafogo and Ipanema.
Despite the international repercussions of this recent surge of violence in the city, Carlos Arthur Nuzman the president of the Brazilian Olympic Committee has released a statement expressing total confidence in Rio’s ability to safely host the 2016 Olympics, stating that the governor Sérgio Cabral’s planning would “benefit the entire population in the short, medium, and the long term”, and that the military operation employed to combat this severe violence “represents yet another clear demonstration that the state government’s public security policy is on track”.
The International Olympic Committee in Switzerland has also released a statement pointing out that in the past Rio has shown that it was capable of successfully hosting big sporting events, as evidenced in the Pan-American Games of 2007, and that they had “full confidence in the ability of the Brazilian authorities to hold the Olympic Games with safety in 2016.”
FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) as well has expressed confidence in Brazil and Rio to safely host the 2014 World Cup finals, revealing that “the Brazilian security authorities have already been working with the biggest international security agencies and with Interpol to develop a security plan for the event”.
The fears of violence in Rio has naturally caused concern for the tourism industry of the city as the high season approaches, as well as the apprehension by prospective tourists to the Cidade Maravilhosa. The tourism experts, however, remain optimistic, saying that as long as the violence is contained soon, it should not have long-term implications.
They also note that about 90 percent of the reservations for New Year’s Eve and the Carnival have already been made, and so far there have not been a significant amount of cancellations. Although many have expressed some worry that it may have an effect on last-minute decisions.