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Brazilian troops' occupation of Rio de Janeiro slum: a media circus?

The peaceful rollout of some 3,000 Brazilian troops and cops into Rio's Rocinha slum was a PR success for the Rio government, writes guest blogger Rachel Glickhouse, but it left many wondering why such a massive operation with such intensive media coverage was necessary.

By Rachel GlickhouseGuest blogger / November 14, 2011

Brazil's soldiers guard the streets of the Rocinha slum in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday. Elite police units backed by armored military vehicles and helicopters invaded the largest slum in this seaside Olympic city before dawn Sunday. It's the most ambitious attempt yet to bring security to a town long known for its violence.

Silvia Izquierdo/AP


Early Sunday morning, 3,000 police and soldiers arrived in Rocinha, the biggest slum in Rio, all of Brazil, and even Latin America, to begin the process of pacification. They arrived heavily armed, some in armored tanks. By the afternoon, troops hoisted the state and national flags, declaring the favela under state control. The massive operation met no resistance, and not a single shot was fired.

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As some predicted, the occupation was peaceful. Rocinha, after all, does suffer from violence, but less in comparison to other favelas, notably Complexo do Alemão, which is known as Rio's "Gaza Strip." Rocinha is also a place constantly frequented by outsiders: Cariocas from around the city for funk parties, foreigners and Cariocas working for local NGOs, and tourists. Since the initial occupation was mostly uneventful, it left many wondering why such a massive operation with such intensive media coverage was necessary.

The name of the operation itself seemed an oxymoron: Operação Choque de Paz, or Operation Shock of Peace. It was hardly a shock, given that the occupation was announced well in advance and everyone knew it was coming, and wasn't so much of a military "shock" given the lack of violence. While the capture of Rocinha's top drug trafficker helped avoid a clash during the occupation, other traffickers had time to flee. Since several police officers and traffickers were arrested "escorting" some of the traffickers during Nem's failed escape, it's likely other drug traffickers had ample time to leave Rocinha before the occupation. (In the past, though, some of the traffickers simply moved out of newly pacified favelas into other favelas.) Conspiracy theorists even speculated if the state government made a deal with traffickers to leave before the operation.

A PR success for the Rio government

Security forces encountered no resistance from traffickers, except for trash left blocking some streets and oil poured on the roads in Rocinha and Vidigal (a nearby favela that was also occupied) intended to make the streets slippery. By announcing the massive operation ahead of time and raising the possibility of clashes between traffickers and police, the state government guaranteed its success with the eventual absence of violence by exceeding expectations. Also, by demonstrating a show of force, the state government also gave Rio's middle and upper classes, as well as the foreign community de olho before the World Cup and Olympics, a sign that it's serious about combating crime and imposing order.


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