Rio safe? Tell that to residents afraid of the police

Soldiers patrol the entrance to Rio's Vila do Joao shantytown where National Force soldier Helio Andrade was shot dead after entering by mistake

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – The Rio authorities promised total safety during the Olympics, but for Mauricio Lima da Silva, a 19-year-old street vendor, it doesn’t feel that way.

Never mind the occasional, highly publicized muggings of foreigners along Copacabana beach and other Olympic hot spots flooded by police.

Just a few miles away in a favela, or slum, called Complexo da Mare, da Silva and thousands of other people live under the rule of drug traffickers — and the security forces are nowhere to be seen.

Some 85,000 police and soldiers — double the number used in London 2012 — have been deployed for the Rio Olympics.

But they patrol areas frequented by tourists and athletes, while swaths of Rio, often close by, continue to be shaken by deadly, little-reported violence.

Da Silva, who came to Rio two years ago from the country’s impoverished northeast in search of a better life, says the Olympics “doesn’t interest me.”

He has to worry about surviving stray bullets and clashes between drug traffickers and police.

“Here you go out of your house and don’t know if you’ll come back,” he said. “You’re always scared. It’s almost like a prison.”

Pushing a cart of soft drinks through the huge, cramped favela, da Silva has a simple rule.

“When the police come I don’t go outside. I don’t work,” he said. “When there’s police, there’s a risk of shooting.”

– Police the enemy? –

Last Wednesday, three officers from the elite National Force who stumbled into the Mare favela after getting lost were met with automatic weapons fire, fatally injuring one of them.

Locals seemed more angry at the police than sympathetic.

“The police don’t have rules. They come in here to aggress us,” said Jansen, 56, the owner of a small cafe near where the shooting took place. “They look at us all as suspects because we’re from a favela, but as you can see, I’m a working man.”

Traffickers, on the other hand, “have rules,” added Jansen, who did not want to give his full name.

“You have to know the right people, be respectful to them and then life in the favela is not a problem.”

Despite the recent police shooting and a blitz-style raid the next day by more elite forces, the Mare appeared practically abandoned by the authorities.

One access road to the favela was unmanned, while another was guarded by only three police officers parked well out of the way and apparently napping.

At a third, several soldiers with rifles sheltered from the sun under a tree. They made no attempt to monitor passing vehicles, let alone venture down the street.

Recalling a full-scale occupation of the Mare by the army in 2014-2015, followed by a total retreat, one of the soldiers lamented: “The bandits came back.”

– ‘Olympics for the rich’ –

The traffickers’ “rules” of course include summary justice and impunity.

But with the Olympics increasing the sense of alienation felt by the poor, they can sometimes seem like the better of two evils.

The Complexo da Alemao favela, next to the Mare, has permanent police stations, part of a so-called pacification program that seeks to bring community policing to almost lawless areas.

Beyond the stations’ walls, however, the favela remains something close to enemy territory. The only officers visible at a busy market clutch automatic rifles, their fingers over the trigger guards before they, too, drive away.

“There’s no security, it’s all a facade,” said Marcos Enrique Nascimento, 35.

“The police there are just sacrificed to die for nothing, just to put up an appearance,” Nascimento, who drives a motorbike taxi, added.

The Olympics feel far more distant than the few miles between his home and the stadiums, he says.

“No one comes here to ask us if anyone from the favela wants to see the Games,” he said. “I have a son who likes to watch football, but he’s never had the chance to go in a stadium and see foreign teams.”

“The Olympics are for the rich.”


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