Brazil: Why Raiding Rio’s Favelas Is Not as Good as It Looks

Police at Rocinha, Rio, Brazil Every few days the roar of helicopters passes above. It is a sound that is never far away. Sometimes it will be followed by gunshots or the sound of fireworks. Later in the evening when we catch the news on TV we are told that there are now fewer guns and gangsters on the streets. Maybe we should feel relieved or safer, happy even, but we don’t, we feel dejected.

On Wednesday the Police and Drae (Office for the Repression of Firearms and Explosives) entered Pavão-Pavãozinho in Copacabana. They were looking for a gun factory. They found one, although no actual guns were found, only parts.

On the same day, they had an operation in Morro do Juramento, in the North Zone of Rio. Their goal was to find people involved with a smuggling offence last week. Again, weapons were seized, and a number of people were arrested.

In theory, the shutting down of these arms factories as well as arrests of local criminals should be a good thing, yet the cost of these actions is far greater. The media do a good job of covering up the less successful side of each operation.

A wounded man is referred to as a ‘wounded bandit’, arrested men are referred to by their nicknames, ingraining a sense of gangster life into their profile, and when a woman or child is shot the Police were nowhere near.

The scariest element of any news reports regarding these kinds of operations is the age of the men involved. Very rarely do they exceed 25 years. On Wednesday a number of men were shot (we are told they went to hospital, but know nothing more than this), a woman and child were shot (the Police state they never entered their community) and two men were arrested. These last two were aged 22 and 23 years old. The first of which is nicknamed ‘Gordo’ (Fat Man) and we are told was the general manager of arms trafficking in the favela.

This is the element which is so scary. The manager of arms trafficking is only 22 years old. For any parent, this is horrific. By the time any child becomes a teenager, there is a good chance they will be involved in the gangs in some way. This is inevitable.

There are no other successful ways of earning money in the favela; there are no shopping malls, or tourist attractions, only sale of drugs and arms. When they see the gangsters in designer clothes, driving expensive cars and seemingly untouchable within the community, this becomes their aspiration.

Now, the next time the Police enter they are in the firing line, and into a horrible circle of consequence. If the Police didn’t make so many excursions into the favelas then the gangsters would have less use for the arms factories in the first place.

Of course violence would still exist between rival gangs, especially in areas such as Pavão-Pavãozinho where its close proximity to Copacabana makes it a hugely desirable spot from which to sell drugs, but it would be to a lesser extent. Fewer enemies for the gangs would mean less guns and less recruits.

Alternatives need to be found, the children in the favela need to find an alternative way of life. At the moment, the only organisations that offer this are the few NGOs which have been set-up in the communities by local people and some outside organisations.

For the situation to improve more needs to be done by the Government and the Police need to take a different method of protection and prosecution.

It is clear to all that, as it exists, it is a failed system of escalating violence, where the youngsters of Rio are being thrown into a life of crime or simply just an extra few words at the end of a news story.

Russell Slater is a journalist currently based in South America, reporting on a variety of topics including travel, culture, food and football. He keeps a blog at http://ontheroadtofindout.com and writes for a number of freelance magazines and websites.

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