Source: O Globo
RIO — The business interests of the oldest militia in Rio are behind the violent protests by van owners who blocked avenues in the Western Zone on Monday, leaving the Rio das Pedras neighborhood once again without bus service.
For the fourth straight day, militiamen who control black market van service in the area have demonstrated their strength of their resistance to the decision by Mayor Eduardo Paes to disallow the cooperatives from taking part in auctions of new van lines.
Protesters blocked off Engenheiro Souza Filho Avenue, which cuts through Rio das Pedras, with burning trash and tires, preventing buses from circulating in the areas.
Next, van drivers staged a march along Ayrton Senna Ave. to the subprefecture of Barra, occupying lanes in both directions. With that, traffic was complicated, with repercussions affecting the Yellow Line highway until near midnight.
The measure imposed by the city government, which reduced the number of vans in the area from 1,200 to 392, would presumably represent a loss for the militia, which receives R$ 500 a week from each of 1,200 drivers who operate in the shantytown.
Along with alternative transport, the paramilitaries collect protection money and rent, controlling real estate sales, propane and a black market cable TV and Internet service. The militia even controls political campaigning in its territory.
Police have initiated an investigation into an attack on a security guard and acts of arson during Monday’s episode. In an interview with TV Globo’s “Bom Dia Rio”, the special coordinator for Supplementary Transport of the city government, police delegate Cláudio Ferraz, said that drivers of vans who obtain licenses from the city are being terrorized by militia members.
— They stop the buses, the vans, and terrorize drivers who have a license to provide the service. Police are investigating who is behind the protests, but we know that there are militia involved.
Early Monday afternoon, nearly 40 van drivers arrived at the municipal Secretariat of Transportation in Botafogo. The group broke into the building and demanded a meeting with Ferraz, who is known as the “sheriff of the vans.”
— They went up to the auditorium on the seventh floor, and waited. I was called in. I was in Jacarepaguá and I came back to speak with them. I spoke to four drivers. They delivered their demands and we agreed to meet again on Wednesday — said Ferraz. — We will look at alternative routing.
Police Presence Reinforced
Late Monday afternoon, police took a statement from the president of the Rio das Pedras Cooperative, Expedito Pereira dos Santos, and the president of the Residents Association of Rio das Pedras, Fabrício dos Santos, as well as two van drivers. They confirmed to Maurício Mendonça of the 32th Precinct (Taquara) that they organized the protest, but denied participating in setting fires or barring buses from the area. According to Mendonça , they all said they knew nothing of the activity of militias in the area.
Left without bus service, Rio das Pedras residents had to walk four kilometers to reach the Itanhangá and Jacarepaguá highways to catch a ride. Those who refused to do so were charged abusive prices by the drivers.
The president of the Alternative Transport Drivers Association, Ricardo Douglas, said he participated in the protest, and accused the city government of not keeping its word. According to Douglas, alternative transport in the Western Zone will not be regulated until 2015. Douglas said that the reduction of vans from 1,200 to 392 barred vans from the principal streets of the Barra, and will leave 10,000 unemployed.
After the blockade of Engenheiro Souza Filho, police patrols were reinforced in Rio das Pedras on Monday. Around noon, normal traffic had returned.. That morning, to substitute for the lack of van service, the number of mototaxis in the area increased. The price charged for this service — R$ 3 — rose to R$ 5 and in some cases to R$ 10. Residents say 230 vans divided into nine bus lines circulate through the community.
Some residents complained of the restriction on vans in the area. They said these vehicle are the only ones capable of taking residents with health problems to hospitals, for example. They say that at night the regular bus service does not stop to pick up passengers. João Batista, a craftsman who has lived for 30 years in the community, said the vans were are always overcrowded and are not adequate to the level of demand in the area:
— Vans were the only alternative. This was a thoughtless move by the mayor. And what happens when there is a strike?
Despite the complaints, the protest by drivers was not universally supported by local residents. Bruno Vieira, who walked 30 minutes to catch a city bus in the Jardim Clarice, criticized the movement:
— This is nonsense., You don’t set fire to things if you want to be heard. To protest, you have to be positive, without getting in the way of others and their work.
Blockades Started Friday
Barman Clodoaldo Medeiros, who worked until midnight on Sunday in Copacabana, was unable to get home until 3 a.m. and woke up at 8 a.m. He arrived at the bus stop on foot around 10 a.m.
Rio das Pedras, with its 63,000 inhabitants, has suffered blockades against the entry of buses since Friday. Militiamen have threatened to set fire to coop vans who insist on passing through.
Under the city government’s new scheme, vans can no longer use Américas, Ayrton Senna, Armando Lombardi and Ministro Ivan Lins Avenues. Three new lines began operating over the weekend, following the Taquara-Center Shopping circuit, via Retiro dos Artistas, Nelson Cardoso Avenue and Mirataia Street. The city says that another 15 lines will be circulating within five weeks.
Rio das Pedras was the first community in which the existence of militias was noted, back in the 1970s. In the last six years, at least three community leaders were assassinated, among them state judicial police inspector Félix dos Santos Tostes, in 2007, and city council member Josinaldo Fransciso da Cruz, aka Nadinho, in 2008.
Although some militia leaders are in prison, police believe the organization still calls the shots in the area. There are at least two investigations underway at Draco-IE, the anti-mafia and special investigations division. .
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