Opinion, by Samantha Barthelemy
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The news is hardly surprising. But that does not mean they are not upsetting. While authorities celebrate the São Carlos Complex operation’s success, on February 6th, Cariocas seem divided over the pacification plan as traffickers flee occupied or soon to be occupied territories to terrorize residents of other, neglected, areas.
How do we bring criminals to justice if we are granting them a 48-hour head start? Favela resident’s safety is an undeniable priority, but are we creating excuses to cover up symptoms while ignoring the root causes of crime in our city? Is it possible to advance with the pacification ideal without dealing, simultaneously, with the many bad apples rotting our security forces?
According to the Military Police Chief, Álvaro Garcia, the next step in São Carlos is a thorough search of all houses and corners of the nine occupied slums for hiding places, weapons and drugs. While logistically sound, the measure is greeted with wariness by some Cariocas as evidence of corrupt practices abound.
On February 11th, the Federal Police launched Operation Guillotine to crack down on gangs formed by civil and military police officers accused of selling weapons to drug traffickers, controlling militias and clandestine games and leaking information of police operations to criminals.
One group reportedly received up to US$60,000 a month to protect Antonio Bonfim Lopes, known as Nem, the leader of drug trafficking activities in Rocinha, Brazil’s largest and most notorious slum.
The investigation, initiated in September 2009, revealed that instead of arresting drug traffickers, the accused police officers often robbed them. At least nine military and civil policemen were caught stealing from residents and drug traffickers of the Penha and Alemão Complexes, pacified by security forces in November 2010. Others were caught on tape negotiating with drug traffickers the transfer of weapons and drugs to be left behind in Alemão. We now know the same occurred in the São Carlos operation.
Among the thirty officers currently under custody is the Civil Police’s former undersecretary, Carlos Antônio de Oliveira. The head of the Civil Police, Allan Turnowski – cited by a witness as being involved in a corruption scheme – was asked to testify. Turnowski asserted that while the “situation” is embarrassing to the institution, a gross understatement, it is also strengthening it.
While we ponder on what exactly the chief of police meant and wait impatiently for this drama’s unfolding episodes, here is what we want to ask Rio de Janeiro’s government: please clean this up, otherwise we risk effectively transforming the delicate and intricate pacification dream into a half-plan, doomed to failure.
A Belgian-Brazilian native of Rio de Janeiro and former United Nations journalist, Samantha Barthelemy is a dual degree Masters of International Affairs student with Columbia University and the Paris Institute of Political Studies, specializing in International Security Policy, Brazilian Studies and Communications. http://samanthabarthelemy.blogspot.com