Rio police drag woman along road. Photo: reprodução/Globo Extra.

Amateur video shows police dragging Cláudio da Silva Ferreira, 38, along a road in Rio de Janeiro on her way to hospital. Image: Reprodução/Globo Extra

Three military police officers have been arrested after a dying woman was dragged along a road by a police car that was meant to be taking her to hospital in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, the military police service confirmed on Monday.

The woman, 38-year-old Cláudia da Silva Ferreira, had reportedly gone out to buy bread on Sunday morning when she was shot twice by what police described as “stray bullets” in gunfire between officers and drugs traffickers in an operation in the Morro da Congonha favela (slum) community in Madureira, in Rio’s North Zone.

Officers then put the mother-of-four into the trunk of their police car to drive her to hospital and at some point during the journey to hospital, as amateur mobile phone footage testified, the trunk opened and she was dragged along the road for approximately 250 metres.

Shocked onlookers said the police were only alerted to what was happening by pedestrians and drivers when the car pulled up at traffic signals.

Health officials say Ferreira was pronounced dead upon arrival at hospital.

A police spokesperson said Ferreira should have been in the back seat alongside an officer and that the case was already being investigated internally by the military police:

“This type of conduct did not fit with the principal values of the corporation – which are the preservation of life and human dignity,” the spokesperson told reporters.

The investigation will also seek to establish whether Ferreira had been shot by police or traffickers in the anti-trafficking operation.

But local people took to the streets on Monday to protest the woman’s death, bringing a major local road to a halt as protesters burned piles of trash and accused the military police of killing favela residents indiscriminately.

‘Treated like an animal’

Ferreira, who took care of four relatives as well as raising four of her own children, was buried on Monday afternoon at a local cemetery.

“They [the police] treated her like an animal. Not even the worst trafficker in the world would have been treated like that,” Ferreira’s husband, 41-year-old security guard Alexandre da Silva was quoted by Brazilian daily Folha de S.Paulo as saying at the funeral service.

Silva said he believed his wife would have survived the gunshot wounds if she had not subsequently been dragged behind the police car.

Tensions have been running higher than usual in a number of favelas in Rio after new communities were ‘pacified’ – forcibly brought under police control – and previously-pacified areas reinforced by tactical squadrons after an increase in the number of attacks against police, including the notorious North Zone swathe of favelas known as the Complexo do Alemão.

Indeed an officer at one of the city’s UPPs – so-called “police pacification units” installed inside newly-pacified favelas – was killed last week after criminals attacked the station in Vila Cruzeiro, part of the Complexo da Penha group of favela communities.

Adding to the tension is an ongoing investigation into the alleged torture and murder of Rio bricklayer Amarildo Dias da Souza who disappeared in 2013. Local UPP police officers are the main suspects and proceedings against them have begun.

In 2008 Rio policymakers set out plans to ‘pacify’ forty favela communities and install UPPs. Last week saw the installation of Rio’s 38th UPP, in Vila Kennedy in the west of the city.

The policy of pacification has been largely praised by the wider community, but there remains significant distrust between favela community residents – which make up around 22 percent of Rio’s population – and military police.

Written for Anadolu Agency

Santa Maria victims funeral, photo by Wilson Dias/ABr.

Santa Maria buries victims of the Kiss nightclub blaze, photo by Wilson Dias/ABr.

A fire that claimed the lives of 235 people in a nightclub in Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul state in Southern Brazil, has sparked an investigation into whether fire prevention regulations under Brazil’s health and safety laws are fit for purpose, and whether local authorities are complying with existing legislation.

Marco Maia, President of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies (PT), has said he will order a review of all existing safety legislation for venues, including nightclubs, and although he acknowledged that the issue was a matter for municipal authorities, he hinted federal legislation could be established.

“My aim is to look at all existing legislation and suggest that there be Brazil-wide legislation with minimal safety requirements that should be adhered to by all the states and municipalities,” Agência Brasil reported Maia as saying.

Operating licences, issued by local fire departments, are obligatory for a range of venues, including theatres, cinemas, clubs, bars, restaurants, gyms and religious buildings. In the aftermath of the incident in Santa Maria, it was revealed that the club’s operating licence had expired in August 2012, although the owner has since told police that he had already started applying for a new one.

Many questions have yet to be answered, but the repercussions are already being felt nationwide: a number of cities have ordered that all nightclubs be urgently re-inspected, including Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Brasília. Fire authorities in Rio de Janeiro have said they will step up checks and hunt down those without licences.

Wengrover Carlos Rosa, coordinator of the Brazilian Committee on Fire Prevention and Safety, told G1 News that nightclubs must have clearly signed emergency exits, fire extinguishers and emergency lighting, and have their license on display.

“Smoke extraction systems and fire alarms are already mandatory in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and could have contributed to the safety of the [Kiss] nightclub.”

The blaze, which started after a flare set light to sound-proofing material on the club’s ceiling, was the second deadliest in Brazil’s history. Some 503 people died in a fire at the Great North American Circus in Niterói in 1961.

Read my full article on The Rio Times website.

Rio building collapse, January 2012

The last thing Rio wants - with two years to go before it hosts the World Cup - is images like this showing up on news channels and in newspapers.

Last week’s multiple-building collapse in downtown Rio was big news around the world. Not unsurprisingly, given Rio will be hosting the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, and tourists would probably rather their hotel stay in one piece.

Aside from covering it for The Rio Times, I was on Canadian CTV News and BBC radio – trying to put as fair a spin on it as possible, while feeling it was a real pity I wasn’t conveying something more upbeat about Rio.

Yes, it was terrible; no, it wasn’t totally unexpected; yes, Rio will have to put its socks up before these sporting mega-events; no, you can’t expect perfection from a country that’s still developing; yes, the quality of its infrastructure still needs to catch up with the zeros on its bank balance; no, this doesn’t justify the loss of life.

Brazil might be the world’s 6th biggest economy now, but it is still growing and adapting to its new-found wealth – which is still split extremely unfairly among the country’s 205 million-strong population. Yes, the country’s middle class is growing – and at quite a lick – but no one’s kidding themselves that Lula really solved all of Brazil’s woes in eight years in office.

Rio was very lucky, if you can say that, to escape with only seventeen deaths from this building collapse. This area, Cinelândia – Centro, is Rio’s commercial heartland (along with its more recent Barra business district), with Petrobras’ HQ and the Metropolitan Cathedral nearby, and only the fact that it was 8:30pm when the collapse happened meant a higher death toll was avoided. It’s also on Rio’s secondary tourist trail – for those who venture inland from Rio’s stunning beaches in Copacabana and panoramic views from the Christ the Redeemer statue in Corcovado.

Theatro Municipal, Rio Jan 2011, photo by Ben Tavener

The buildings which collapsed were directly behind the 100-year-old Theatro Municipal, photo by Ben Tavener (Jan 2011).

Questions are inevitably being asked as to how three buildings could collapse – one 20 storeys tall, one 10 storeys, and a joining five-storey section – on the same block as the century-old Theatro Municipal (pictured), one of Rio’s most recognisable human-built landmarks.

It’s likely that no one factor was involved here.

Having spoken to a number of industry specialists in the past few days, it seems that, whether or not illegal construction work going on in the 20-storey building triggered the collapse, a good deal of other factors would have helped bring it down.

Yes, constructing buildings quickly and on the cheap – to keep up with Rio’s booming real estate markets and demand for new buildings – means that the workers and material used will not be of best quality. But this is just one factor.

Another is Rio’s tropical climate – temperatures regularly in the high 30Cs, with moist sea air, shifting soils.

Together, buildings age fast – and if new buildings are put up around them, then the land is again shaken and disrupted; add in the metro rumbling underneath and the substandard electric, water and gas infrastructure (which occasionally leads to manhole covers exploding in the streets, and led to a lethal explosion in a restaurant last November) – then you start to see a different pictures than just “they took out the wrong wall and it collapsed”.

However, there can be no denying that Rio needs to take its buildings more seriously. For the sake of its own people as much as its millions of tourists.

The experts tell me building plans are often poor or missing altogether, and engineers are often needed to second-guess how the building was originally put together. And that’s the people who bother finding out. Most just make alterations as they please, without the consent of the relevant authorities – as was the case with the works being carried out on the 20-storey Freedom Building, whose collapse last week killed so many.

Officials rushing to demand tighter regulation and drawing attention to Rio’s more positive sides may have averted Rio’s image being tarnished too severely on this occasion.

But another major PR disaster, with the World Cup and the Olympics looming large on the horizon, might be impossible to avoid.