By Patricia Maresch, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Just before Christmas, the second phase of the occupation of the infamous Complexo do Alemão and Penha favelas started. The new peace keeping force, Força de Pacificação, is now in charge of security in areas within Rio’s Zona Norte (North zone), and remains a joint effort between the Brazilian army and police following last month’s operations.
Eight-hundred men from the Brazilian Army Parachute Infantry, the Red Berets, will control the area together with 240 officers of the Polícia Militar and thirty from the Polícia Civil.
The Red Barets are authorized to patrol and make arrests when suspects are caught in the act. They’re also permitted to search for guns, weapons and criminals.
At the inauguration ceremony, Rio’s Governor Sergio Cabral, became emotional during the ceremony. “I guarantee the people in the communities that the government will never abandon the Complexo do Alemão and Penha,” he said.
He expressed thanks to the Minister of Defense, Nelson Jobim, for the Army’s help. No end date has been set and it is probable that the peacekeeping forces will stay until the installation of the UPP in 2011.
The Complexo do Alemão and Penha have been occupied since the end of November, the ruling drug traffickers were driven away in a joint action of the Military Police, Civilian, Federal and Armed Forces. The last few weeks have shown relative calm and some holiday hope in a community long neglected.
Both Alemão and Penha were dominated by the criminal gang Red Command. The police and army operations were a response to a series of attacks in the streets of Rio de Janeiro. In one week at least 39 people died and numerous vehicles were torched.
Cabral is said to be pleased that, after many years of violence, the police and military are expelling drug traffickers and turning favelas into better supported neighborhoods.
Yet both he and Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, are aware that the civilian and military police are also heavily criticized by favela residents and human rights groups. Worldwide the Rio police have a reputation of being corrupt and extremely violent, with almost twice as many deadly confrontations as in the larger city of São Paulo.
According to the newspaper O Globo, the governor and the mayor have recently developed a plan to reform the way the police operate using financial incentives. The plan is that Civilian and Military police officers who kill less, will receive higher wages.