Rio has more than 720 communites with the presence of militia — Maria Helena Moreira Alves
This is an astonishing number, produced by a sociologist who spent several years as a participant-observer of life in five Rio de Janeiro shantytowns. Can it really be accurate?
Interview subject : Maria Helena Moreira Alves
The system of UPPs — Pacfification Police Units — implanted in Rio de Janeiro constitute military occupations and presuppose a state of exception which is antidemocratic. The argument belongs to sociologist Maria Helena Moreira Alves, who is about the launch her book “Living in the Crossfire,” a work full of acid criticisms.
A PhD. in political science from MIT, and retired now from a career at the Rio State University, Maria Helena lived in three different shantytowns between 2007 and 2008. She interviewed local residents, leadership figures, researchers and politicians (including FHC, Lula and Cabral). The book, written in partnerhip with historian Philip Evanson, defends a change in the current law enforcement model.
“Imagine BOPE arriving at your Leblon apartment, kicking in the door and entering with submachine guns at the ready. This could never happen in the Zona Sul, but it happens every day in areas where UPPs have been installed,” Maria Helena, 69, tell the Folha.
In the following interview, she says she is concerned with the expansion of a state of exception in the cities that will host the World Cup.
She discuses militias, electoral corrals, and police corruption. She fears that Rio will develope into Little Colombia, and comments that the Amarildo case shows that violence has been a hidden phenomenon in the city, but that citizens are starting to fight back.
Folha – In your book you discuss the increase in the numbers of disappeared persons in Rio. Is that why the Amarildo has galvanized public opinion?
Maria Helena Moreira Alves – There are 5,000 disappearances per year. The Amarildo case calls attention because Rocinha had been a sort of display window for the government and its pacification program. They installed the UPP, and Rocinha became a tourist attraction. Located in a strategic location, Rocinha was the most signiicant success story of the UPP program.
But the ongoing violence there is simply well hidden. All of a sudden, someone with nothing to do with what is going on is detained by UPP police andtaken back to the UPP office. Amarildo has been missing for one month. A first the police said Amarildo had disappeared a month prior. The police said at first that his family worked in the drug trade. This was not well received by police higher-ups, who tried to assign the blame to the victims. Blowing the whistle is an act of extreme courage for those lliving inside the territory of the UPP. Solidarity among those with missing persons cases is what enables everyone to survive.
Did the Amarildo case and attacks on AfroReggae stymie the policies of the UPPs?
We finished our book just as the UPPs were being set up. But even then you could see what it was going to be like. The UPP model is not a community police force. It is a military invastion that has besieged the community and taken up permanent occupation of its territory. With police hitting the streets every day with submachinie gun in hand, patrolling the narrow alleyways and habitually abusing its authority.
The first step was the invasion by BOPE, the PM’s SWAT team, in the expectation that war was imminent. People are routinely killed. Recently in Maré, residents tried to invade a UPP but failed . A massacre of ten persons took place. It was an enormous social convulsion. They are giving up on the UPP program in reaction to popular opinion .
Does the UPP not have any support in the communities?
At first, there was little fear.While I was researching my book, somebody told me: “Silence does not constitute consent.. Today there is substantial debate and commotion in te communities. Marches are being organized that will link up with street protests, whch has the supported of the middle class. | The police | break into houses, tear down the door, force women nd children to cook for them, they force their feet to block the door from being closed, they call us sluts. This is a permanent situation. Communties were occupied by the state SWAT team, BOPE, which is trained to kill.
Give us an example of a UPP without a state of exception?
A publicly proclaimed state of exception has already been declared. The state of exception exists. This is not some supposition of mine. Various civil rights are being suspended. Persons are searched, the police enter and exit our houses at will. If they suspect someone, they taken him away, as they did Amarildo. There is no such thing as access to defense counsel. The suspects are summarily identified as traffickers. UPP police do things they would never do in Ipanema, Copacabana and Leblon. Imagine BOPE arriving at your Leblon apartment, kicking in the door and entering with submachine guns at the ready. This could never happen in the Zona Sul, but it happens every day in areas where UPPs have been installed,” she tells the Folha. What is unthinkable in the Suthern Zone happens every day under the tutelage of the UPPs. which constitute a military siege.
It is a serious matter that this model is declared a state of emergency a plan to remove slum dwellers temporarily — the FIFA Law will declare a temporary suspension of rights in all the cities where games will be held. The state of exception means the suspension of contitutional rights. — as occurred during the military dictatorship.
But havent’t the UPPs brought more security, driving up real estate prices, stimulating consumption. Isn’t there a positive side the the program?
The original idea was developed by Pronasci — Programa Nacional de Segurança Pública com Cidadania –and it is an excellent policy. It established police training in community relations. forming a cadre of police trained to remain on good terms with the community. It will not be militarized. It will carry no firearms. It will boast no “Big Skull” battle wagon, no rifles and machine guns. It will involve itself in social, culture and sporting activities, whose personnel will also be trained by Pronasci.
All that remains now is the military police, the rest of the agenda having been cut out. The policy contemplates only the PMs — what remains is a military contingent, the rest being cut. Hopes were raised, support was demonstrated but then things changed. The communities are more and more critical in their participaton. During marches they display banners such as “The same person beating the snot out of you (during this demonstration) murders people in the shantytowns.”
Will the UPP program fail?
Part of the middle class and sectors of the upper classes eagerly await a resolution to the impasse, because the shantytown is besieged by PM who are there to provide security. But this is nonsense, because homicide and robbery have increased in the Southern Zone in the same measure. The viewpoints of opinion makers among these three classses are highly variable. Some say that those against the UPP is in favor of criminality. I criticize the UPP because it is a violent, military approach to the situation, n which people cannot defend themselves beause they face a violent military model, the brunt of which is borne by those unable to fight back and while deprives people of ther civil and constitutiona guarantees .
I favor a community police with respect for the rights of every person.
But how to do this in areas controlled by the traffic?
Controlling the drug trade is a duboius proposition. In an interview he gave me for my book, Rio spublic safety secretary José Beltrame said that the organized traffic is not located in the shantytowns. Organized crime has abandoned them. As to the small-scale retailers, the bosses do not live in the favela. Opposing a military invastions is not to favor the traffic. It is possible to cope with crime while respecting the Constitution. They did it in New York. Dealing with crime by rrepressing the entire community is not an option. There must be police intelligence. Intellgence is indispensable. “Police receive this training to identify who the bosses are, and then follow the trail of corruption. The police is extremely corrupt. ”
You say in your book that most Rio police are corrupt. Is that possible?
I have not the slightest doubt. Honest cops are threatened and say that they are more affraid of their colleagues than of the traffic. They may be killed by comrades if they refuse to join a corruption scheme.
Is corruption worsening or improving under the Cabral administration?
It is arrivimg at a critical juncture. Now we have the joiningof forces between militias and the traffic, At this point, there is an overlap between militias and criminal territory in areas patroled by police. The exploitation of black market cooking gas, pirate satellite TV, and the van racket are now in the power of the militias. Rio has more than 720 communites with the presence of militia. At the UPPs, it was very eash for the militias to meet and plan. Because the UPP cops are not honest, they retain control, negotiating their financial arrangements,.There isa slang expression — “arrego, pedir arrego” — or “giving it up.” For example, you cannot hold a funk dance without paying off the police. If you oppose the scheme, you die.
Have the UPPs affected traffic?
It is hard to say. | Iomitted,, a long and rambling anecdote — Trans.|
Will the UPPs garner the support of the population?
The middle and upper classes accept and like these measures, even though it might lend support to the return of a dictatorship. It is unconstitutional. The state of exception cannot cohabit with the democratic rule of law. If all citizens have the same rights, and if these rights begin sinking into a hole in the sand, where some have no rights and are viewed as having no rights and are written off to collateral damage. The democratic ruleof law is undermined, and not long after, deomccracy has melted away.
Is democracy at risk for such a turn of events?
Brazliian democracy is running a terrible risk. There are things going on that remind us closely of 1964. We have supporters helping us, which is great It is that same old story: They are taking my neighbor away, but not me, because I am not a communist or a shantytown dweller But the are arresting everyone.Now they are beating the middle lclass in the Cinelândia, without trying to hide it. When I was a shantytown dweller,people would applaud. and yell “Come killl in the Alemão Mata no Alemão, beat us. do whatever you want. No one wanted to hear about it. Now things are different.
We need to create a society based on equalty for all before the law. There can be no laws that favor some citizens and not others. As long as we have a situation in which ciivil rights are the right of some and not others, there is no Constitution or authentic democracy.
| Translation to come |
In your book, you say that the shantytown is the slave quarters of the 21st Century and that the wealthy denizens of the Southern Zone are akin to the slave owners of the big house of old. But isn’t this changing?
My brother was Márcio Moreira Alves (1936-2009). My family supported the 1964 coup d’etat. When middle class students began to learn, things changed. When they captured my brother, my mother became one of the most important combatants against the dictatorship. Something of the kind is happening now. When they were repressing the so-called “torturable classes” — to use an expression by Graham Greene cited by Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro in the preface to my book — no one said a word. That is why I use the model of the big house and the slave quarters: so long as the slaves remain torturable, they can work in my house, then return home to their shanty and I do not care what happens there. When they started arresting their middle class children, then things change. This is why the popularity of Cabral has fallen so low. …
In your book, you trace the tentacles of the drug traffic and the militias as they infiltrate politics. How does this happen?
Electoral “corrals” are a very serious danger to democracy. They have already infiltrated the city council, the state assembly, the federal congress. Their policy is to elect their own and at the same place their own in the judiciary. It is beginning to resemble Colombia.
This is the first time I have read a Brazilian expert making the obvious connection with Colombian “parapolitics” ,,,
An example. There is a militia with ties to the police in a closed commuity that is occupied in a military manner. A social program comes along and wants to register local families. When the election comes around, armed men knock on the doors of residents and say: the voto is free and secret, but we would like for our candidate to receive x number of votes. If the correct number of votes is not received by the preferred candidate in that zone, the family is in deep trouble. They have to leave the area or vote as the militia wants. It is much more effective than old-fashioned “colonelism.”
You also mention clandestine cemeteries. Do these still exist?
They are not really that clandestine. The communities know where they are and have taken Amnesty and the UN to see them. The problem is that no one does a thing about it. These are areas where the law is not in force.
In your experience living in the favelas, what was the most shocking?
Learning how to use the “crow” knife that was used in Operation Condor. WIth this knife you can open up the belly, tear out the viscera, and throw the corpse in the water where no one will ever find it. You don’t even need a cemetry. You just throw it in the ocean. We saw this knife in the drawings of children, one of which we included in the book. They are using the same method of killing as Pinochet, Argentina, Paraguai, and Brazil used to disappear corpses during the worst times. desaparecer os corpos nos piores períodos das ditaduras.
Did you feel threatened?
I feel threatened know. I thought about not holding a public launch [scheduled for August 28 at the OAB-RJ]. I do have some protection because I am upper middle class. I was threatened when I was in Chile: anonymous phone calls. Once they killed two small dogs we owned and left a note saying I should take a lesson …. I was in the middle of this entire story.
What impressed you during your time in those favelas (not identified for security purposes)?
On a positive note, the power of solidarity. This is one reason why people don’t want to leave the communities. There they enjoy the support of neighbors in every aspect of life.
In the book, you question the thesis that Rio is a divided city. Why?
The perceptionthat the city is divided is partially true: military sieges and the UPP are for the suburbs. They aren’t applied in the Southern Zone. It is not divided, however, in terms of economic and social dependence. If there were no slum dwellers who work for very little, the economy of Rio would be very different. The recently passed Domestics Law has infuriated the middle class. This mentality is very much alive in Rio, where the history of slavocracy is most deeply rooted. I can say this because my great-grandfather, the Viscount of Rio Preto, was a slave owner. He had thousands of slaves working a number of coffee plantations. My mother, on the other hand, always battled the slavocratic mentality.
You state that public security policy has changed very little since the return of democracy. Why?
Because the Constitution maintained the military police (PM) as a military organization. One of the UN’s suggestions is exactly this: Abolish the PM and create a more effective civilian law enforcement establishment. This is not an easy thing to do in Brazil because everything is tainted by corruption.It would be an important step, but I don’t know if it is possible. We would need courageous and highly honest politicians. The governors find it politically convenientto have a PM, an army, under their control. This is a perilous dituation for a federal democracy. Dilma could bring back the Pronasci program, which she had abandoned.
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