Peacekeeping Forces in Rio de Janeiro’s Slums
By Dialogo December 22, 2010Brazil has started doing some provisional cleaning. The criminals who have not been put in jail are going to move somewhere else and start doing everything again, as they do not know how to live differently.
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – For 30 years, they lived amidst a narcotics
But now they appear to be living in peace.
Residents of Complexo do Alemão, a sprawling array of 15 slums, and of Vila
Cruzeiro, which is one of 10 favelas comprising Complexo da Penha in Rio de
Janeiro’s northern region, no longer have narcotics traffickers as neighbors.
Rio de Janeiro’s police force, with the support of the country’s armed
forces, expelled those who peddled narcotics for a living during an operation last
month following a wave of violence in which narcotics traffickers burned more than
100 vehicles from Nov. 21-25.
But on Nov. 25, police forces quelled the narcotics traffickers’ uprising,
taking control of Vila Cruzeiro, where the traffickers were hiding after having fled
from neighborhoods patrolled by Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) created to make the
Three days later, the police invaded neighboring Complexo do Alemão, the new
home of the traffickers who had left Vila Cruzeiro.
“I’ve seen a lot of shooting back and forth, and I’ve had to run away,” said
Aluisio Mendes da Silva, 49, who has lived in Complexo do Alemão for the past 15
years. “Now, it’s different. Everything is peaceful. That story is a part of the
Silva owns a small seafood shop with walls displaying marks of the
community’s turbulent past: dozens of bullet holes.
Complexo do Alemão and Complexo da Penha are home to 102,735, according to
the 2000 Census by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). The
two regions are among the most violent in Rio de Janeiro, having been dominated by
narcotics traffickers for decades.
In Silva’s case, the scars of violence are visible on his shop’s walls.
But for housewife Elisabeth da Silva, they are visible on her body.
The big toe on Elisabeth’s right foot still is swollen and purple after being
hit with the butt of a rifle by narcotics traffickers a few months ago.
Why was Elisabeth beaten?
Elisabeth allegedly violated a street rule of the local traffickers by asking
her sister-in-law to allow her to take possession of the residence that belonged to
her brother, who had died a few months earlier.
Her sister-in-law told local narcotics dealers of Elisabeth’s request – and
they were not happy.
So they punished her, severely.
“My back and my face were seriously injured,” Elisabeth said. “Nobody helped
me. People don’t want any trouble, so they don’t get involved. I couldn’t go to the
hospital because I would have had to explain what happened and file a complaint with
the police. They might kill me for something like that.”
Elisabeth talked to Infosurhoy.com as she attempted to renew
her identification card at the mobile service center on a bus in Complexo do Alemão.
The initiative, launched by the Public Defender’s Office of the State of Rio de
Janeiro, has been offering a wide range of services to the community since Nov. 30.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen something like this here,” Elisabeth said.
Peace allows for new public services
Vera Lúcia de Carvalho, 32, who was in line to request a copy of her birth
certificate, also had never seen the kind of initiative that’s being held in the
“The only reason this is here is that things are quiet now,” said Carvalho, a
mother of nine, referring to the mobile service center.
The Brazilian army is leading the effort to instill peace throughout Complexo
do Alemão. Since Nov. 25, 800 troops have been stationed on the perimeter of the
Complexo and at checkpoints, where those entering and leaving the community are
“Rio de Janeiro’s state government asked us to stay here a while longer in
order to maintain control of the region and guarantee that the Rio police can
operate within the community,” said Maj. Fabiano Lima de Carvalho, a spokesman for
the Army’s Airborne Infantry Brigade, which has provided nearly all of the troops
stationed in Complexo do Alemão.
The army is currently transitioning into the second phase of their operations
in the slums, Carvalho said.
“We are going to take control of operations and begin patrolling within the
community, as well as on the perimeter,” Carvalho said.
The first phases consisted of a joint operation without a unified command
structure. In the second phase, Rio de Janeiro’s security forces will come under the
command of the army. The number of troops will increase to 2,000, as the operation
will extend into Complexo da Penha.
It’s unclear how long the army will be deployed in the slums, but government
officials said it will be at least six months. The long-term plan of Rio de Janeiro
state officials is to install a UPP in the area. Thirteen UPPs already have been
established throughout the city.
Since Nov. 25, the troops have been using an abandoned factory in Complexo do
Alemão as their base camp, where they sleep in tents.
A medical center, kitchen and bathroom and shower areas have been established
for the soldiers, who are fed meals in ready-to-eat, individually sealed packages.
“This is a densely populated area, there isn’t any shade,” said Carvalho,
referring to the 30ºC (86ºF) summer temperature. “The heat is highly exhausting, and
there’s also the weight of the bulletproof vest. As we get established, we’re going
to choose a few locations within the community itself that can serve as bases, which
will improve operating conditions for the troops.”
Rio’s operation patterned on MINUSTAH in Haiti
The army already has participated in similar occupations of Rio’s slums, but
none of this size or duration.
It’s also the first time the mission is patterned as a peacekeeping
operation, such as the one carried out in Haiti.
Since 2004, the army has been responsible for the United Nations
Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), with has a force of about 1,200 soldiers.
More than half of the troops stationed in Complexo do Alemão served in Haiti.
Fernando Sardenberg, who is coordinating the operation in the slums, is a
former MINUSTAH commander.
“The first [peacekeeping operation of the Brazilian Army] was in the 1960s,
in the Suez Canal,” Carvalho said. “In the 1990s, we carried out operations in
Africa, Angola and Mozambique. Then we spent some time sending observers to
peacekeeping missions, and we began sending troops again to Haiti.”
Capt. Leonardo da Rocha Costa, 32, recalled his experience in Haiti during
the second half of 2005.
“We had to control the riots and face a number of armed gangs,” he said. “We
took part in the pacification of the violent neighborhood of Bel Air and then went
on to operate throughout the city of Port-au-Prince (Haiti’s capital). My life was
at risk on a number of occasions.”
Rocha said his experience in Haiti prepared him to work in Complexo do
“Even though this isn’t a typical mission for the army, we have evolved
considerably when it comes to deployment in urban areas and slums,” he said.
Residents of Complexo do Alemão, however, don’t like talking about the past.
They say discussing it could lead them to suffering the same fate as Elisabeth – or
“I never had any problems,” said Luiz Vale da Cunha, 68, who works in a bar
and has lived in the Complexo for 45 years. “I go from my house to work, from work
to my house. I think I’m still alive today because I don’t bother anybody and nobody
bothers me, and life goes on.”