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Brazzil - Crime - April 2004

Brazilian Army Ready to Occupy Rio

Brazilian Justice Minister, Márcio Thomaz Bastos, admitted on
Monday that the federal government might use the Armed Forces
to fight violence and the drug Mafia in Rio's favelas. Since Friday,
a war between drug gangs from Rocinha and Vidigal favelas
left ten people dead and a population scared to death.

Rodolfo Espinoza

It's not quite as grave as a state of siege, but the city of Rio might be put soon under a state of defense if the governor of Rio de Janeiro state decides that's the only way to fight the drug Mafia. The idea of state of defense was proposed by Rio's Mayor, Cesar Maia and seriously considered by Justice Minister, Márcio Thomaz Bastos, who only needs the green light from governor Rosinha Garotinho to do just that.

State of defense is a measure contemplated in Brazil's Federal Constitution in grave situations. According to article 136, the President may decree a state of defense "in order to preserve or promptly reestablish, in restricted and determined places, public order or social peace threatened by grave and imminent institutional instability or affected by massive natural calamities."

In a situation of state of defense, people would not be able to gather in groups and authorities would have the right to read mail and listen to and spy all kinds of electronic communication. Mayor César Maia argued that the state of defense is needed because "the Garotinhos are in government for five years and for five years they have been a failure."

It took three days of shootings and deaths between rival drug gangs in Rio before the city's Military Police decided, on Monday, to put 1,137 men policing Rio's Zona Sul (South Zone). That's where drugs lords from Vidigal and Rocinha have been waging a war to control the drug trade of both favelas. The shooting in the area has been so intense that many families abandoned those favelas taking refuge wherever they could.

In Brasília, Justice Minister Thomaz Bastos announced the release of US$ 3 million to help the efforts with security in the state of Rio de Janeiro. He told journalists, during a press conference that the federal government is closely following the developments in Rio and putting the Federal Police at the governor's disposal.

He even admitted that the Armed Forces might be used to fight violence and drug trafficking in several favelas of Rio. That wouldn't be the first time this happens in recent times. In 2002 and 2003, during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, the Army took control of several streets and neighborhoods in Rio. During the November 2002 national elections, 11,000 men from the Army policed Rio's streets.

Bastos revealed that he had held talks with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva about the subject and that he had talked twice by telephone with Rio's state governor, Rosinha Matheus Garotinho. The Minister also disclosed that he had dispatched Luiz Fernando Corrêa, the National Secretary for Public Security to Rio for a close evaluation of the situation.

The Wall Solution

"Public order cannot be broken. We will use all possible and indispensable means to maintain peace," said Bastos. According to him. the fight against drug trafficking in Rio's favelas is a tough task because it involves not only people living in the poor hills of the city, but also those "living in luxury apartments" in the town's more upscale neighborhoods. The Minister also criticized Rio lieutenant governor's proposal of building a wall encircling Rocinha favela, the largest shanty town in South America.

The idea of erecting a wall around Rocinha was offered by Luiz Paulo Conde, Rio's lieutenant governor and state's Environment Secretary. Conde backed off, however, when his proposal drew a chorus of jeers from around the country. On Monday, the Secretary said he was sorry for having used the word wall to refer to what he calls now "a project to limit the number of houses at the Rocinha favela."

He added, however, that the idea to limit the spread of the shantytown is still on and thinks this can be done with barbed wire. Conde fears that the favela will continue its expansion towards the Tijuca forest, a jungle preserve in Rio. The secretary's original plan envisaged a 10-feet-high wall flanked by a road.

Rio's Mayor, Cesar Maia, harshly criticized the state government for its failure to deal with drug traffickers and violence in the city. Maia accused Mrs. Garotinho of being "in an autism state, entirely alienated from what is happening. He classified the recent police action in Rocinha favela as an operation of "drying ice" just to deceive the media.

And he reserved the most sarcasm for the proposed wall: "This will be a cocaine theme park for criminals. We are only lacking the electronic gates. The 50 joint shops could be converted into stations, each one with different degrees in cocaine purity. Maybe even a delivery service might be created. This a big joke in a situation like that."

The war between two drug lords for the control of drug traffic at Rocinha started early Good Friday. Since then, ten people have already been killed. The violence has also spread to other favelas in Rio. On Monday, a Military Police helicopter was forced into an emergency landing after being hit by shots from trafficker from the downtown favela Morro de São Carlos. The military men aboard were hurt, but not seriously.

In two favelas from Zona Norte, five traffickers were killed by police and a group of criminals, according to the police, invaded Morro da Mineira, another favela, killing a young man, apparently a trafficker.

In Vigário Geral, two men accused of being traffickers by the police were killed by the military. Three other criminals were also killed by the military police in the Quitungo favela. According to the police, they had three guns, a home made grenade and 66 cocaine bags.

The presence of the police in the area was not enough to convince some store owners to opens their shops, however. Traffickers who control the neighborhood had ordered commerce to close its doors for the day.

Two schools, Escola Americana and Ciep, which are close to the entrance to Rocinha, in the São Corado neighborhood did not open on Monday and parents who brought their children after the extended holiday were sent back. There was no information on when the schools would reopen.

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