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Latin America Blog

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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Census data show that almost 40 million people came into the middle class in the last eight years. This means fewer folks to boss around and more to compete with. It means doing your own laundry and studying hard.

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New behavior is the order of the day for all: army, police, favela residents, traditional middle class members, the elite, politicians, business, and many more.

“We have to learn from [the recent conflicts in Complexo do Alemão and Cidade de Deus],” Colonel Robson Rodrigues, coordinator of the police pacification program, told O Globo newspaper on Tuesday. He added that a seminar would be held this week to evaluate the program, with police participating initially and community members later on.

The growing middle class (some of which can nowadays be found in favelas) is part of a global trend. Rio can certainly thank the Olympics and the World Cup for its makeover, but the writing was already on the wall: no more can a city or a country practice socioeconomic apartheid.

As indicated by a video of the first of three nights of violence in the Complexo do Alemão, uploaded to YouTube, millions of people now have the technological capability to expose their world to everyone else. Do a search on YouTube for “Complexo do Alemão” and you’ll find no fewer than 5,330 videos. Try ignoring those.

According to RioRadar blogger Andrew Fishman, the initial occupying force, comprised of Haitian shantytown patrol veterans, was recently replaced by less experienced troops. The video linked above shows initially uncertain and hesitant Army soldiers, who ended up shooting rubber bullets and lacing residents with spray. Four soldiers have been taken off duty and there will be an inquest.

“Two [drug traffickers] went into the bar and started all the confusion,” East Military Commander Adriano Pereira Júnior told O Globo. “This was the reason for the conflict filmed by the community, not the [earlier reported] story about asking [residents] to turn down the volume. What happened is that some soldiers didn’t realize it was a setup and they ended up taking the wrong action.”

It’s not clear what’s been happening in Alemão. O Globo gives credence to the Army’s and state Public Safety Secretariat’s view that drug traffickers are instigating locals to violence against the Army, as a reaction to a crackdown on illegal sales of bottled gas, supposedly a new business for former drug traffickers. Officials had also just announced that the Army will stay until June 2012, instead of leaving next month.

Others say Alemão residents are truly tired of being occupied, of being searched and suspected and ordered around.

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