Troops to reinforce Rio police after attacks

UPP Mandela. Photo by Ale Silva/Futura Press/Estadão Conteúdo

The Police Pacification Unit (UPP) in the Mandela favela, part of the Manguinhos complex, was torched on Thursday 20 March. Photo by Ale Silva/Futura Press/Estadão Conteúdo.

Brazil is to deploy federal troops to the city of Rio de Janeiro to ensure public security after a number of serious attacks on favela (shantytown) police stations across the city.

Rio state governor Sérgio Cabral and Federal Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo made the announcement on Friday following a meeting with President Dilma Rousseff.

Cabral and Rio’s public security secretary José Beltrame had traveled to the capital, Brasília, on Friday to ask the government for federal support to help quell the violence.

No further details were given in a subsequent press conference, but ahead of the announcement on troops Beltrame said: “We are ready […] to make sure there is no kind of threat to Rio’s citizens. We are out in maximum force on the streets of Rio de Janeiro.”

Military police had already bolstered their presence in a number of favelas (shantytowns) after a series of attacks on communities with Police Pacification Stations, known as UPPs, local media reported on Friday.

Extra officers and backup from tactical divisions were deployed in the favela communities after at least three separate “pacified” favela communities saw attacks on Thursday night.

Manguinhos favela. Photo by Felipe Dana/AP.

Manguinhos favela in Rio’s North Zone now has a far greater police presence due to a slew of attacks. Photo by Felipe Dana/AP.

Thirty-eight communities have so far undergone “pacification”, a city-wide policy by which police bring lawless areas, often controlled by armed gangs involved in drug trafficking, under their control by force, with UPPs left to consolidate gains.

On Thursday attacks were reported in three communities in different parts of the city with parts of the Manguinhos, Lins and Alemão favela complexes consequently waking up to a major police presence on Friday morning.

Manguinhos, in Rio’s North Zone, suffered the worst attack, Globo News reported. The head of one of the region’s UPPs suffered gunshot wounds and another officer was hit in the head by a rock. Both are reportedly stable in hospital and undergoing treatment.

The Mandela UPP, located in the Manguinhos complex visited by Pope Francis in June 2013, was set ablaze and gutted. Two police cars and five support bases were also torched.

The police chief in overall charge of Rio’s UPPs said he believed the attacks were coordinated.

‘On high alert’

The attacks brought some parts of the city to a standstill on Thursday night, with trains stopped in places due to running gun battles between criminals and police.

Local media in Rio de Janeiro reported that the Manguinhos community was without power after the attacks and schools were unable to teach around 4,000 school children on Friday.

All UPP communities have been put on high alert and police have had time-off suspended and are ready to carry out operationwhen deemed necessary, the local authorities said.

After meeting with the cabinet, Beltrame said the city’s security problems were down to Brazil’s “archaic” penal and prison systems, as well as a growing problem with crack use and gun crime within the country, the G1 news website reported.

Rio’s controversial pacification policy has been praised for integrating previously-lawless areas into the wider community and bringing security and public services to the city’s most underprivileged communities.

However, an underlying sense of distrust between residents and police remains. A number of incidents in recent weeks in which favela residents have been shot dead – by police or during police operations with criminals – has brought the topic of pacification back into the spotlight.

Written for Anadolu Agency

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