The FIFA Arrived: Tanks to the Street!

  • 06/20/2014
  • Reporters Desk


05/28/14  17:12

By Edu Sotos, of Rio de Janeiro

The original blog was written in Spanish and published in the Folha De S.Paulo

It is noon and torrential rain pours over the favela of Nova Holanda, one of the neighborhoods that make up the Complexo da Maré, in the north of Rio de Janeiro. Under a metal shed, the same in which a few weeks ago Comando Vermelho traffickers protected themselves from the rain, a group of soldiers guarding the access to one of the most violent favelas in the city.

Beside them, curious children ask about the display of the large-caliber arms that they load on their shoulders. Among them there is no fear, nor surprise.

“With that reach to the Morro do Timbau [another of the favelas as part of Complexo da Maré],” says one of the boys while another replies, “Shut up. For that, a better precision rifle [is needed].” 

Without doubt, they are not the first AR-10 rifles they have seen their lives and more than one knows how to use them perfectly well. It is sad to think, but for these children it is only about other adults playing the same game, the one that they saw play many times in these streets, the one war.

The past April 5, about 2,700 army soldiers and the Brazilian navy, aboard two helicopters and 21 tanks, occupied 16 favelas in the middle of the night at Complexo da Maré, to expel drug traffickers who controlled the region.

Since 2008, when the Ministry of Security of Rio de Janeiro initiated the process pacification of the favelas, it had never been necessary to resort to an occupation of the territory  was it deemed necessary to resort to using the army to occupy the territory by the army.

Action always was limited to providing logistical and tactical support during operations, quickly ceding the command to the established police military and, at last instance, to the Unidades de Policía Pacificadora or UPP, which roughly translates to Peacekeeping Police Units. leaving command to the Military Police, which essentially means the Pacifying Police Units.

But this case was different. The governor of Rio de Janeiro, Sergio Cabral, requested urgent reinforcement of the army to act in Complexo da Maré. President Dilma Rousseff did not think of it twice and, in record time, approved the measure without mediation with local representatives.

The pretext for such action was to ensure the safety of the 60,000 tourists who visiting the city during the celebration of the World Cup, starting in less than two weeks.

The consequences are that 130,000 people would have to live between a rock and a hard place for three months. I only say this because more than 20 attacks on the military and three civilian deaths were registered within the two two weeks after the occupation.

The commands were not going to sell exit cheaply and, despite losing control of the territory, they continue pulling the strings, and the drug, covertly.  No one doubts that when the army leaves, on July 31, the collaborators will be punished.

“When the military leaves, more than one will receive punishment,” confessed a Morro do Timbau merchant with fearful voice. And he is not the only one who opines that way. It just takes walking through the streets of the favela to perceive that that people are afraid to talk.

The case of a woman who was beaten only for participating in the celebration of the Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiaisor BOPE, which meansSpecial Police Operations Battalion, after the pacification, has injected fear into their bodies.

Like several hundred journalists, I accompanied on that early morning of April 5, the shocking military deployment and I entered the alley of the Complexo da Maré with members of BOPE.

After having heard and read much about the pacification efforts so far, I cannot help but ask: Does a sporting event really justify a military occupation? Shouldn’t the army and not the police be the guarantor of civilian safety?

“It’s ridiculous to bring tanks to patrol the streets in the community. Are they trying to have us believe that this is Iraq?” snapped Andrea Matos, the leader of the protest community, about the mater. As president of the Nova Holanda Association, she prevented the troops from placing a flag after the occupation of the favela.

During the conversation I had with Matos at the association’s headquarters. He did not hide at any moment her disgust with the way the pacification took place. She also noted that it only responds to interests that are beyond the protection of citizens.

“Peacemaking is a lie of the government in an election year and to please FIFA, which fears that something would happen with one of the World Cup’s delegations, since we are located along the highway leading to the international airport of Rio.”

Without placing doubt on whether the pacification should take place, because the state must recover control of the territory and maintain social peace, I don’t find it easy to find arguments to justify the occupation or doing it precisely in this moment.

Deep down, I think what gives many of us goose-bumps is the thought that barely are few weeks before the World Cup Brazilian authorities could extend hand the military wildcard, and that the model could be extended, for example to the citizen protests.

Marcelo Freixo, president of the Human Rights Commission of the Legislative Assembly, as well as Atila Roque, executive director of Amnesty International in Brazil, had denounced this possibility for some time. Roque affirmed that “as the World Cup nears, our worries grow over the possible expansion of the of the occupation model of the military in the favelas. The periphery cannot be treated as an enemy territory that must be conquered. A whole community cannot be criminalized that way.”

The example of the Complexo da Maré is extreme and does not allow conclusions to be drawn, but it has made clear how conflicts might be resolved in the coming weeks on the streets of the country.

It won’t just favelas, as Amnesty International warned, but also any situation could be resolved throwing the hand of the military. We’ve already seen with it National Force in Recife and we could see it in any of the 12 host cities in the next weeks.

No one is saying that the army doesn’t have to intervene sometimes as reinforcement, but its persistence in the streets only could be understood as a failure of the state and civil society in guaranteeing the security and liberty of the citizens.

FIFA show is about to land in the country and there are too many interests in play for the claims of the indignant Brazilians, be they from Complexo de Maré, Copacabana or of any other part of Brazil, end up diminishing the brightness of what Pele called “the party of soccer”


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