By Fiona Hurrell, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – After a week of increased violence and confrontation between suspected drug trafficking gangs, Rocinha has had its military police (PMs) forces increased with 130 new Shock Battalion officers, now reaching over 300 in total. The favela community, considered the largest in Rio and Brazil, was occupied in November by armed forces without resistance. Officials are hoping not to lose momentum in plans to install UPPs (Police Pacification Units) in the first half of 2012.
The recent violence first broke out on Monday, March 19th, between alleged drug dealers in the Campina da Macega district of Rocinha. Three men were pronounced dead at the scene whilst a further man was taken to Miguel Couto hospital in Leblon.
Policing of the area was increased, including the Batalhão de Choque (Shock Battalion) and the Batalhão de Operações Especiais (BOPE) military police in the favela community.
On the following day (Tuesday, March 20th) further conflict was reported to have taken place in the Roupa Suja area. Later that same day, someone opened fire on military police officers shortly before fleeing the scene and leaving behind only the weapon.
On Friday, March 23rd the additional 130 police officers were deployed, patrolling the streets on foot. Of the new forces, 46 are women, and all have been trained to work as pacification police, with the hope of supporting the eventual arrival of the UPP.
After a brief period of quiet, another shooting took place in the early hours of Monday, March 26th and a man was rushed to the Miguel Couto Hospital in Gávea.
These recent spates of violence and trafficking have troubled residents who are concerned that the gangs who once controlled the favela will try to reclaim it. According to Luiz Fantozzi, who has owned a business in Rocinha for over ten years “the atmosphere is quite tense.”
Public relations officer and spokesman for the military police, Colonel Frederick Caldas, has assured that there will be no attempt to ‘take back the favela’ and notes that the increased number of police patrolling the community will make it impossible for the traffickers to be successful.
He stated “Whatever the military police have to do in terms of strengthening patrols they will do because for forty years there has been the presence of trafficking and for forty years the population of Rocinha were hostage to criminals.”
“Four months of police presence is not enough time to restore peace in its fullness, but from now on, we believe that Rocinha will be a much quieter place than it has been,” Colonel Caldas adds.
Despite these reinforced patrols however, not all residents in Rocinha are feeling secure. Zezinho lives and works in Rocinha operating tours. He says: “If the police wanted to put a stop to the conflict they would have done so already, as it is they just can’t maintain all of the areas.”