Federal troops will begin to occupy the complex of 15 favela communities that make up the Complexo da Maré in the north of Rio de Janeiro on Saturday, the chief of the city’s Military Command Center of Operations confirmed in a press conference on Thursday.
The ten-square-kilometre swathe of favelas is nestled near the city’s Galeão International Airport alongside a number of major thoroughfares, including fast transit systems to the centre, where the Maracanã World Cup stadium is located, and to Barra da Tijuca, the city’s main Olympic site.
The Maré area is also thought to be home to around 130,000 inhabitants.
The deployment, designated Operation Saint Francis, will see some 2,700 members of the armed forces begin to take over from military police from midnight on Saturday 6 April until at least 31 July, after the conclusion of the World Cup. The city is hosting seven matches, including the final.
“We are ready to proceed. We are authorised to carry out patrols, search and arrest suspects,” operations chief General Ronaldo Lundgren told reporters.
Asked about recent cases of excessive force and criminal acts by military police, Lundgren said: “Our troops will act in accordance with norms which are very clear in terms of what we can and cannot do.”
A free hotline will be established for people to report abuses but the general emphasised that his troops will be there to “bring peace to the region”:
“We believe we can improve the quality of life of people living in the region.”
Rio Secretary of Security José Mariano Beltrame met with Maré residents on Thursday after complaints were levelled at police following the initial occupation of the region. He also promised he would set up a system to deal with reports of police wrongdoing.
The military operation in the Maré was approved after a Guarantee of Law and Order (GLO) was passed by the government and signed by President Dilma Rousseff, who had openly pledged her support to the local authorities in the city.
GLOs have been used on several previous operations since 2007, including the 2010 military occupation of the neighbouring Complexo do Alemão, another vast, tangled swathe of favela communities home to 300,000 residents located next to Maré.
The area was recently reinforced after a spike in violence against police.
Those attacks against local law enforcement may explain why the occupation of the neighbouring Maré complex of slums, pledged for at least the last two years, has suddenly been given the go-ahead.
Fábio Mendonça, a Rio favela tour guide, says his company has had to stop offering visits to the nearby Alemão area because of battles between criminal gangs and police. He believed Maré has been occupied partly due to its “strategic location” alongside the road serving the international airport.
“Perhaps with increasing crime and fears associated with hosting the World Cup in the midst of escalating urban tension, arising from protests, community evictions and economic pressures, occupying Maré seemed necessary,” suggested Theresa Williamson, executive director of Catalytic Communities and local expert on Rio’s favela communities.
Since the start of Rio’s policy of favela “pacification” in 2008, over 9,000 police have already been deployed to 38 Police Pacification Stations, UPPs, across Rio – encompassing over 170 favelas.
Residents of favela make up around 22 percent of Rio’s overall population.
Written for Anadolu Agency | SÃO PAULO | 3 April 2014