Tensions run high in Rio favelas amid 'pacification'
Altercations like this week's fight in Alemão between the army and the local population are expected again as the country adjusts to the irreversible trend of integration.
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Rough edges such as these are rife in Rio, where violence and unrest have returned after a yearlong hiatus. September 2010 saw a wave of motorist robberies (arrastões) that were followed by a crescendo of car and bus torchings, culminating with the Army’s November occupation of Complexo do Alemão and Vila Cruzeiro. Then all was relatively calm – until now.
Yet what’s surprising isn’t this week’s three-night altercation between Complexo do Alemão residents and the Brazilian Army, or the post-baile-funk attack on the local pacification unit in Cidade de Deus – but that it took so long for violence to resurface. Cariocas are famous for their irreverence and noncompliance but many Brazilians bend easily to authority, or at least hide their misdemeanors. Such is the legacy of slavery.
And what’s not surprising are the comparisons being made by some cariocas between the forces of public order and the forces of criminal dominion. ”At least when the drug traffickers ran things, we knew the rules,” favela residents have been heard saying.
This, in a society as authoritarian as Brazil’s, is but a variation of “Things were so much better when the military were in power," often repeated after 1985 by those fearing the forces unleashed by democracy.
And unleashed forces – not the evils of repression – are what this story is all about.
For what pacification – with its many faults – is doing is to integrate the formal and informal territories of Rio de Janeiro. Integration is part of a longterm irreversible trend in Brazil. The country’s poor are bursting through the doors of a party heretofore restricted to those with connections, blessed with a silver spoon knack for the jeitinho, the hallowed improvised solution to the conundrums posed by a bureaucracy meant insidiously to function as a socioeconomic barrier.
Lula’s 2002 election was a clear sign of the trend, and he helped the process along.
Those who think that pacification is just another zig in a long public policy history of zigzags of ignoring favelas and then cracking down on them, or that drug traffickers and militia members will win out, could be practicing a perverse form of wishful thinking.