By Patricia Maresch, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Sunday night at 10PM Rio’s Governor Sergio Cabral tweeted: “São Carlos and Santa Teresa can celebrate liberty, they are free from the rule of criminals. Viva Rio!” It took seventeen armored vehicles, 150 marine soldiers, 700 military, federal and civil police officers, one hour, forty minutes and not a single gunshot to overtake nine favelas around the hillsides of Centro’s popular neighborhood Santa Teresa.
The operation started before dawn on Sunday morning, and by 10AM the Choque battalion declared there was a “peaceful occupation of the favelas.”
Secretary of Security José Beltrame said only two people got arrested and they had surrendered without resistance. “We had a positive result, but we just started. Rio de Janeiro is still not the city we want her to be. Much has to be done, but we are heading in the right direction,” he ended optimistically.
The operation in Santa Teresa differs significantly from the occupation of the Complexo do Alemão and Vila Cruzeiro in November last year, which took several days and cost the lives of 39 people. It might be because this operation was announced well in advance which facilitated the retreat of the drug traffickers.
According to Beltrame it’s important to arrest them, but the priority was to recover the territory from the drug gangs with as less casualties as possible. Beltrame added “We will continue investigating and arresting these persons who are now fugitives.”
There are 26,000 people living in the favelas that are scattered over Santa Teresa’s hillsides. The communities directly effected are São Carlos, Zinco, Querosene, Mineira, Coroa, Fallet, Fogueteiro, Escondidinho and Prazeres.
The commander of the Military Police, Colonel Mario Sergio Duarte, said that the police have now begun sweeping the homes in search of hiding places, weapons and drugs. They stumbled upon a luxury home in São Carlos with three floors, a pool and a hot tub. Police say the house belonged to a drug kingpin.
They also found an illegal clinic with surgical instruments, medicines and first aid equipment. According to the police a German doctor in Rio on an expired tourist visa operates at the clinic. He was delivered into the hands of the Federal Police and it is not sure yet what his fate will be.
At Morro dos Prazeres on the top of Santa Teresa’s hillside, life continued in its normal routine on Monday morning. Despite the shock and some damage claims, residents were relieved that the occupation of their community went rapidly and without shootings. “We knew it would happen because they gave us a heads up. It’s very good, we are happy,” a woman from Prazeres said.
As a symbolic act, the police raised the flag of the Choque Battalion right where drug traffickers used to operate. In addition, they unleashed blue smoke grenades to give visibility to the occupation. The president of the Residents Association, Eliza Rosa Brandão, said to Globo News that the police did exactly what the favela dwellers had hoped for: a peaceful occupation without gunfight.
“We expect that we will benefit from major improvements in our schools, social projects and public works,” she said. Throughout the first half of this year, the communities will receive three UPP stations (Police Pacification Units) and 630 UPP police officers.