Monday, November 14, 2011

Rio Officials 'Pacify' Largest Favela with 3,000 Troops

About 3,000 police officers and soldiers raided the largest of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas on Sunday as part of the government’s plans to “pacify” the most dangerous slums in advance of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. As the AP and WSJ report, the massive operation, which took place in the Rochinha favela and involved elements from the Brazilian Army and Navy as well as police, was a resounding success. Despite the presence of tanks, armored vehicles and helicopters, not a single shot was fired in the maneuver.

Officials claim that much of this success was due to intelligence gained after capture of Antonio Francisco Bonfim Lopes, Rocinha’s top drug kingpin. Lopes was arrested on Thursday at a roadside police checkpoint on the favela’s outskirts. According to the BBC, the drug trafficker had been attempting to flee Rocinha in anticipation of yesterday’s raid. When stopped, Lopes’ driver allegedly tried to claim diplomatic immunity, saying he was a diplomat for the Democratic Republic of Congo. After this failed to convince police, he then tried to bribe them with about $570,000. This too failed, prompting the authorities to search the vehicle, resulting in the discovery of Lopes hiding in its trunk.  

But while officials are chalking up the Rocinha occupation as a major victory in the country’s struggle to restore the rule of law to impoverished urban areas, others are unconvinced about the state of progress in the much-lauded “pacification” efforts. As the New York Times reports, Rocinha has a relatively peaceful reputation compared to other favelas in Rio, and some critics claim that the slum was merely chosen as an easy target. MercoPress adds to this criticism, noting that the other side of the security program, which is supposed to involve the deployment of specially-trained community police and increased access to public services, has been neglected in many favelas. According to the news agency:
“A year after a similar operation to occupy a large slum called Alemao, the favela has yet to receive a community police force as the security forces struggle to train enough officers. “Most of the occupations have taken place in slums close to Rio's wealthier areas, leading to criticism that the program is aimed mostly at supporting the city's real-estate boom and preparing for the sports events. Huge slums in more distant areas are still controlled by gangs or militia groups made up of rogue off-duty police and fire-fighters.”

News Briefs:

·         The AP takes a look at the result of Sunday’s gubernatorial elections in Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s home state of Michoacan. In addition to being Calderon’s birthplace, it is also the state where the president launched his armed campaign against drug cartels in late 2006. For these two reasons, the stakes are high for all three candidates running for office. With 93 percent of the ballots counted, El Universal reports that PRI candidate Fausto Vallejo Figueroa is leading with 35 percent of the votes, followed by the president's sister, Luisa Maria "Cocoa" Calderon, with 33 percent. Silvano Aureoles Conejo, the PRD candidate, is trailing with 29 percent. Meanwhile, the L.A. Times has an interesting overview of the influence of drug gangs on elections in the state.

·         After the helicopter crash which killed Interior Minister Francisco Blake Mora on Friday, investigators have claimed that engine failure can be ruled out as a cause. Still, officials are not suspecting any foul play in the crash, which they claim was likely caused by a pilot’s miscalculation.  On Sunday it was announced that the U.S. would be sending a team from its National Transportation Safety Board to assist in the investigation.

·         AP profiles Maria Lourdes Afiuni, a former Venezuelan judge who is facing corruption charges for freeing a banker from prison because he had awaited trial for more than three years on charges of violating the country’s currency exchange controls. As the wire agency notes, Aifuni’s case is “something of a smoking gun for their argument that he is using the judiciary to harass his opponents.” Human rights advocates around the region have claimed that Aifuni is the victim of politicized charges, and even noted leftist Noam Chomsky has called for them to be dropped.

·         The kidnapping of Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos in Venezuela ended in a hail of gunfire on Friday, as Venezuelan police commandos raided the site were the baseball player had been kept. The New York Times says officials arrested four Venezuelan nationals in the operation, but are still looking for four Colombians who managed to escape.

·         The Wall Street Journal examines Panama’s plans to open a new lane on the Panama Canal which will allow larger ships to carry three times the cargo currently carried by the vessels using the current channel. According to the paper, the lane is set to open in 2014, and could have serious implications for the world economy. With the price of sending cargo through the canal set to become  far cheaper, ports along the eastern seaboard and Gulf Coast of the U.S. could see a significant uptick in traffic.

·         WOLA’s Vicki Gass has written a compelling argument in the Huffington Post for more U.S. aid to El Salvador in light of the disastrous flooding that has occurred recently in the Central American country. According to Gass, the flooding has caused $840 million in economic loss, hitting 181 municipalities in all 14 departments in the country.

·         The Latin American Herald Tribune and EFE both report that the number of lynchings in Guatemala have increased 500 percent since 2004. However, Mike Allison at Central American Politics points out that this figure only relates to attempted lynchings. According to the Prensa Libre, the number of deaths caused by lynchings has risen from 4 in 2004 to 47 so far this year, an increase of 1100 percent.

·         The Miami Herald claims that remittances are on the rise again in the U.S., after the financial crisis caused a significant slump over the past few years. The paper cites two reports by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Bank of Mexico, which point to improvements in the money transfer industry as the cause.