Slums in Rio Still Very Dangerous

By Dialogo
June 12, 2013

The selection of Rio de Janeiro as the venue for the upcoming major international events may have been too premature. Conducting events the size of the World Cup or the Olympics requires much more than the construction of sports arenas, small subway expansions, and some added portions to the roads. The city is the birthplace of organized crime in Brazil and to this day has exported highly dangerous criminals to other states and even to other countries. Last May, members of the “Comando Vermelho” criminal gang were arrested in Paraguay. A few days later, a German tourist was shot while visiting the city’s biggest slum, Rocinha.

The public safety situation in the city, as portrayed in movies such as City of God, Elite Squad, and others, has improved, but it is far from comfortable. The current government of Rio de Janeiro was forced to emphasize their actions when, in November of 2010, the leaders of the “Comando Vermelho” challenged the government.

At that time, over 20 people died and dozens of vehicles (buses and cars) were set on fire in several districts of the city, perpetrating acts of terrorism against the population.

After questions were raised on the capability to ensure safety during the events and the possibility that the state would not receive large investments, an unprecedented effort was made, gathering police officers to invade a region that had been neglected by the government for decades. The drug dealers escape from Vila Cruzeiro to the Complexo do Alemão favela through a mountain known as Serra da Misericórdia was broadcast on live television, and the Army subsequently occupied the area for a period of 19 months, but we must not forget that there are hundreds of slums in the city.

Despite the Police Pacification Units ( UPP in Portuguese) in many of the slums, the complete extermination of criminal organizations such as the “Comando Vermelho” (CV), the “Terceiro Comando Puro” (TCP), and “Amigos dos Amigos” (ADA), is far from being a fact. The activities are only moderate, in other words, less aggressive. Domestic drug consumption in the slums is high, consequently ensuring profit for the drug dealers; in addition, people continue to purchase drugs in the slums for their own use or to resell.

The anxiety to promote the city as a place completely restored from violence is premature. The slums of Rio have even been shown in Hollywood movies, such as “Hulk” and “Fast Five”.

Curiosity among foreigners is natural. Based on this assumption, companies went on to promote a true “Russian Roulette,” selling tour packages that include a visit to the slums, as if it were a completely safe activity.

There is no need for in-depth research to verify the fragility of the public security system in Rio de Janeiro, and the tremendous exposure a tourist has while walking through the city.

At the end of May, the drug dealers’ attack on the UPP inside Complexo do Alemão caused a a sports event to be delayed where Rio de Janeiro’s Public Security Secretary was expected. In April, the press broadcast rapes that occurred in vans, the “arrastão” or wild group robberies inside the Corcovado cable car and also, hundreds of crimes that are not reported due to the inefficiency of the Civil Police in arresting the overwhelming majority of criminals or because of the bureaucracy in local police stations.

On top of that, there is a serious problem with Rio de Janeiro militias controlling the slums. They are comprised by off duty, or even on duty, police officers, firefighters, vigilantes, correction officers, and soldiers. Several militias are residents of the slums and they count on the political and local community’s leadership support.

Since the large events are inevitable, it is important to supervise the companies which are promoting irresponsible tour packages to locations where tourist safety cannot be assured. It is important to mention that the majority of the population in Rio de Janeiro lives outside the slums, and never visited a slum, in fear of their safety, and not due to prejudice.

*Fernando Montenegro is a Brazilian Army Retired Colonel of Special Forces, Commandos, and Paratroopers, specializing in Counter-terrorism, and twice commander of the Light Infantry Battalion Task Force.