By Mira Olson, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Seven favelas in Tijuca were invaded and occupied by police forces last Wednesday, April 28th, in preparation for the establishment of the city’s first Police Pacification Unit (UPP) in this part of Rio’s North Zone. The occupation is part of the city’s continued efforts to create permanent police presence in poor communities in order to reduce drug trafficking.
More than 200 officers of the Special Police Operations Battalion of the Military Police (BOPE), also known as Rio’s Elite Squad, carried out the initial invasion of the favelas that comprise the “Borel Complex”; Morro do Borel, Morro da Casa Branca, Morro da Cruz, Chácara do Céu, Catrambi, Indiana and Morro da Formiga.
Some arrived from above, at the division of Borel and Casa Branca, having taken a trail through the forest in Alto da Boa Vista. For now, BOPE will continue to occupy the first six of these, while the 6th Battalion of the Military Police in Tijuca holds ground in Morro da Formiga.
According to BOPE Second Sargent Max Coelho, thus far the occupation has proved to be successful. “The climate is quite calm. The Borel Complex has received BOPE very well and pacification with much acceptance.” Traffickers have not resisted and no confrontations have taken place. Past UPP initiatives in other communities yielded a varied degree of resistance by traffickers.
In the first few days of occupation, one person was arrested with 309 packets of cocaine. Police have also confiscated one .45 pistol with two chargers, ammunition, several portable radio transmitters, motorcycles, an accounting book with trafficking information, and a laptop with photos of Silas Playboy, the head of trafficking in Chácara do Céu an Casa Branca.
The ease with which occupation took place suggests that several traffickers fled the communities. Police arrested Assis Albano Ferreira da Silva (known as Ratinho), one of the principal drug lords from Borel, in Rio’s West Zone on Thursday following the invasion.
The permanent UPP is expected to take over occupancy in the coming weeks, but according to Coelho, a specific date has not yet been determined. Tijuca’s first UPP will be comprised of 500 police officers; all are recent graduates of the training course designed especially for creating pacification units free from the corruption that known to plague Rio’s police forces.
The Tijuca occupation is expected to be complicated, as this will be the first time a UPP troop will occupy an area controlled and divided by rival criminal cartels. Comando Vermelho (Red Command) controls trafficking in the Borel and Formiga favelas; adjacent favelas are controlled by Amigos dos Amigos (Friends of Friends). For years, the imaginary division was so marked that children from the Borel community could not play at the only sports court in the area, located in Casa Branca.
Nevertheless, Coelho insists that BOPE presence and pacification will help unite the divided communities. “The communities are already showing good will towards one another.”
The arrival of UPP in Borel is significant, as this favela is considered one of Comando Vermelho’s super-trading headquarters. According to Civil Police, until recently drug lord Isaías Costa Rodrígues (47), one of the police’s most wanted traffickers during the 1980s, continued to give orders in Borel despite being held in a maximum-security prison in the state of Paraná since 1990.
In a statement made after attending the XXVII International Drugs Enforcement Conference, held on Tuesday, April 27th in Barra da Tijuca, Governor Sérgio Cabral promised to occupy all seventeen favelas in the Greater Tijuca area the end of this year. “We’re beginning with Borel, but all the other communities in Tijuca will also be pacified, following of course a strategy designed by the Secretary of Security. Tijuca deserves this, as it was one of the carioca neighborhoods that suffered the most with the issue of security.”
Over 10,000 people live in the favelas currently occupied in Tijuca, according to the last census, conducted in 2000. An estimated 20,000 people will be effected by the UPP presence if all Tijuca favelas are occupied.