Thursday, April 5, 2012

Rocinha Violence Rises, As Police Occupation Rocks Underworld Stability

A police officer has been murdered while patrolling Rio de Janeiro favela Rocinha, in the ninth shooting death in the neighborhood since February.

Some 150 special ops police have been sent to Rocinha following the killing, reports the AP.

Some 3,000 military police “invaded” the neighborhood in a pre-dawn raid in November last year, in part of the city’s drive to seize control of selected shanty towns from drug traffickers and militia groups who have long controlled them. The operation was hailed as a success, with the security forces taking control within hours, “without firing a shot.” This was partly due to the fact that they publicly announced the operation well in advance, giving a warning to criminals. The idea is for the military police to occupy slum areas, bringing enough calm for elite police forces known as Police Pacification Units (UPPs) to be installed. These are trained in community policing techniques and are intended to stay in the areas long term.

However, despite the apparent initial success of the operation to pacify Rocinha, violence has hit the neighborhood this year. Three people died in a shootout in March, which was thought to be a clash between members of the Amigos dos Amigos drug gang. The group dominated Rocinha until the police occupation, when gang boss Antonio Francisco Bonfim Lopes, known as “Nem,” was arrested while trying to flee in the trunk of a car.

Days later, a community leader who had been due to testify in the case against Nem was shot dead in broad daylight outside his community center in Rocinha. He had been accused of being part of the Amigos gang.

Rio Radar said, in a piece written before the latest murder, that the spate of violence;

suggests that favela invasions can leave the community vulnerable to attacks from rival factions. It appears that another gang is taking advantage of the power vacuum left by the arrest of ex-chief trafficker Nem to recover lost territory.
The website argues that the police invasion disrupted established power dynamics, dislodging Amigos dos Amigos, who had controlled the area since 2006. This stability, with a single criminal group in control, meant that the area saw less violence than some other favelas. Sources told Rio Radar that the Comando Vermelho gang had taken the top half of Rocinha, while Amigos continued to hold the bottom. Some reports say that the Comando Vermelho ordered the shooting of the community leader.

Rio Real blog points to reports of corruption among the military police occupying Rocinha, who may be receiving payments not to patrol certain areas. Julia Michaels notes that “Such crime hasn’t been seen in other pacified favelas,” and that “some residents yearn for the return of an iron-fisted druglord.”

With the latest murder, it seems likely that it will be some time before Rocinha is peaceful enough for the installation of UPP forces. But Rio officials will no doubt pour resources into the area. As a former police captain told the AP back in November, 

Rocinha is one of the most strategically important points for police to control in Rio de Janeiro … The pacification of Rocinha means that authorities have closed a security loop around the areas that will host most of the Olympic and World Cup activities.

News Briefs

  • Ahead of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s April 9 visit to the US, Foreign Policy magazine has a piece criticizing Washington for endorsing India’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council and ignoring that of Brazil. It notes that Brazil is not a nuclear power because it respected the rules of non-proliferation, while India flouted them. Meanwhile the Financial Times points out that one easy “deliverable” for Obama would be to recognize Brazil’s national licor cachaça as distinct from rum, thereby removing some of the tax on its import. It says that one of the biggest sticking points for the US is Brazil’s pragmatism in foreign relations, and that Washington would like to know what Brasilia “actually stands for.”
  • Suriname’s Parliament has passed a law granting amnesty to President Desi Bouterse for crimes committed during a previous period in power in the 1980s. Bouterse had been in the midst of a trial for the murder of some 15 opponents in 1982, and the BBC says it is not clear if this will now proceed. Supporters of the president argued in parliament that the amnesty was necessary to unify the divided country, reports the AP. The Netherlands recalled its ambassador from its former colony following the news. Bouterse was convicted in absentia of trafficking cocaine to the Netherlands in 1999, but he is protected from extradition by Surinamese law.
  • The EU has banned Venezuelan state-run airline Conviasa from flying to destinations in the region due to safety concerns, reports Reuters. Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry described the move as “disproportionate” and said it was considering what “reciprocal” steps to take in response. The Financial Times blog points out that one issue for the country’s airlines is the difficulty obtaining foreign currency to pay for spare parts to repair planes.
  • A key suspect in last year’s arson attack on a casino in Monterrey, north Mexico, has died in a shootout with Mexican security forces, reports the AP.Francisco Medina Mejía, known as "El Quemado," “The Burned One,” was thought to be a top Zetas leader in Nuevo Leon, and to be behind the attack which killed 52 people.
  • The Economist has a piece on a controversial ruling on child sex in Brazil, where a high court judged last week that a man who had sex with three 12-year-olds had not committed statutory rape. According to the ruling, the fact that the girls were working as prostitutes meant that they were mature enough to consent. The magazine notes that the authorities are sending a mixed message, with the Tourism Ministry announcing efforts to stop websites promoting Brazil as a child prostitution destination on the same day as the ruling came through.
  • Reuters reports from the “cracklands” of Brazil’s main cities, where “swarms of crack users have converted entire swaths of central neighbourhoods into nocturnal encampments doubling as open-air crack marketplaces.” It says that efforts to clean out the streets of Sao Paulo are said by many to have merely moved addicts elsewhere temporarily, and that the markets continue unabated as soon as night falls.
  • A Chilean anti-discrimination law has been passed by Congress, despite the opposition of evangelical groups, days after the brutal murder of a gay man in an apparent homophobic attack, reports the AP. The Christian Science Monitor says the case “sent support for gay rights soaring,” encouraging the government to force through the law, which had been in the works for the last seven years.
  • The LA Times reports on sprouting small businesses from Cuba, where liberalizing reforms have brought a “sudden wave of entrepreneurship,” and with it “shades of cutthroat capitalism.” In another piece, the newspaper’s blogsays that Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon is planning to make his first trip to Cuba, as he comes to the end of his six-year presidency.
  • A post on Latin America's Moment blog at the CFR argues that Ecuador’s military will not allow President Rafael Correa to serve a further term after his anticipated reelection in 2013, arguing that the military supports civilian rule, and would not allow itself to become politicized in support of further extending Correa’s rule.
  • The Wall Street Journal looks at the result of a Pew Center survey, which found that only 24 percent of Hispanic people in the US most often identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino.
  • Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez return home Wednesday after a trip to Cuba for cancer treatment, reports the AP. He told press he was responding well to treatment. The president has said that he underwent his second bout of radiation therapy on the island, and expects to have five in total.
  • The Washington Post has a moving slideshow of photos from the recent release of 10 FARC hostages, showing the police and soldiers in their first moments of freedom, many after more than a decade in captivity. CNN writes that, as can be seen in the slideshow, some of the hostages brought tame jungle animals back with them, including parakeets and a wild pig, which they had adopted as pets during their time as prisoners. Meanwhile, the LA Times features a photo of a Colombian woman holding a photo of a missing relative, who she says was kidnapped by the rebels. Some counts say 400 civilians are still being held hostage.