By Andrew Willis, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Violence in Rio’s Complexo do Alemão continues with the death of two police officers over the past week. The sprawling complex, home to an estimated 70,000 across fourteen favelas in the Zona Norte (North Zone), was invaded by the army in 2010 but sporadic clashes continue there to this day, in contrast to some other ‘pacified’ favelas.

UPP inauguration, Complexo do Alemao, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
The UPP inauguration in Complexo do Alemão, photo by Marcelo Horn/Imprensa RJ.

On Friday, December 7th, there was a shootout between police and drug traffickers in the Nova Brasília favela inside the complex. Two suspects were killed during the exchange of fire and later one police officer from a Police Pacifying Unit (UPP).

Since then things have returned to normal, say residents. “Everything is fine now. There were shots fired between police and traffickers on Friday night but now it’s calm,” Rosângela Maria dos Santos, a Complexo Alemão resident who works for the Community in Action NGO, told The Rio Times.

Shops were reporting slower than usual business in the days following however, as residents gradually ventured out after a trafficker-imposed curfew on Saturday.

The events in Complexo do Alemão marked the second death of a UPP officer in 48 hours, with the case set to be investigated by the Homicide Division. Police are keen to establish whether the killing was the result of an attempted car robbery or a reprisal for the earlier shootout in which two suspects where killed.

The growing number of civilian fatalities during clashes of this nature in Brazil has attracted international attention. Between 2001 and 2011, more than ten thousand people were killed during police confrontations in the state of Rio in cases classified as ‘acts of resistance’, according to a study by the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), led by sociologist Michel Misse.

UPP takes over from army in Complexo do Alemao, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
UPP takes over from army in Complexo do Alemão, July 2012, photo by Marino Azevedo/Imprensa RJ.

Amnesty International is among the human rights groups which have condemned the high death toll – roughly a thousand per year – and lack of subsequent investigations.

Last month the Council for the Defense of Human passed a resolution, calling on states to stop registering all killings committed by police as ‘acts of resistance’, instead demanding that they be defined as ‘death due to police intervention’.

“The use of terms like ‘acts of resistance’ has served to legitimize police violence, especially against young black men living in the favelas and slums of Brazil’s cities,” said Atila Roque, Executive Director of Amnesty International Brazil.

“While Amnesty International recognizes the police’s right to self defense, registering all police killings as ‘acts of resistance’ as a matter of course potentially turns victims into aggressors preempting any investigation,” the organization added.

Complexo do Alemão was once one of Rio’s most notorious areas for drug trafficking and violence. Since the 2010 invasion and subsequent UPP installations, levels of violence have been substantially reduced. The UPPs are designed to maintain law and order as opposed to securing it, and the aim is to work within and with the support of the community.


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