Monday, June 06, 2016

2016 SUMMER OLYMPICS - Securing Rio

"Violence flares in Rio's slums just months before Summer Olympics" PBS NewsHour 5/31/2016


SUMMARY:  As Brazil prepares for its first Olympic Games, violence is flaring in the notorious favelas surrounding Rio de Janeiro.  While a paramilitary policing initiative known as “pacification” stemmed the tide of drugs and crime for a while, economic downturn and widespread police brutality have once again turned the slum districts into war zones.  Special correspondent Lulu Garcia-Navarro of NPR reports.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  It's just over two months until the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

For the host country, Brazil, it's been a troubled journey.  The Zika virus, corruption scandals, and an economic and political meltdown have all had an impact.  But for many residents, the most worrying development is a spike in crime across Rio and what happens after the athletes go home.

NewsHour” producer Jon Gerberg teamed up with NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro, and they report from the shantytowns, or favelas, of Rio de Janeiro.

And a warning:  Some of the images are disturbing.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO (NPR):  The image of glamorous Rio de Janeiro most people know; world-famous beaches like Copacabana, a draw for tourists and residents alike.

But just behind the high-rises and hotels lies another world.  These are two impoverished communities called Babilonia and Chapeu Mangueira.  They are at the heart of a bold policing experiment that started in 2008.  It's called pacification.

It introduced community-based police units to many favelas that are close to tourist areas, its aim, to push out the violent drug gangs that operated here in advance of Brazil's debut on the world stage with the 2014 World Cup and, in two months' time, the Olympics.

Babilonia and Chapeu Mangueira together became the poster children of Rio's transformation.  Crime dropped.  New businesses opened, catering to tourists.  Police would walk around with their weapons holstered.  Dignitaries like U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and media like me were taken here to show off the project's success.

But that success is now under threat.  Pacification is in crisis.  The first time I came to this favela three years ago, it was safe.  It was known as the Disneyland favela.  This time, residents refusing to talk to us because they have been threatened by drug traffickers.  And the only way we can come is with heavily armed police.

These pacification units, known as UPPs, now walk around ready for battle.  Two rival gangs are violently fighting for control in this area, and police are struggling.  At the crest of the favelas, Commander Paulo Berbat tells me the gangs use these jungle paths to ferry weapons and drugs in and out.

He told me that, in March, the battle for control over these routes turned deadly.

So, he's saying that, just up here in this area, members of a rival gang from a different community used the cover of the forest to try and invade this community and take it over.  There was an intense confrontation between the drug gang that controls this community, and three of the drug traffickers were killed.

Businesses that had flourished, attracting foreigners, are now reporting a 50 percent drop in revenue.  Even though no visitors have been harmed in Babilonia and Chapeu Mangueira, tourists are choosing to stay away.  It's a shocking turnaround for the residents here.

Among them is Rodrigo da Silva.  He sells food to make a living on the beaches just near his home in Chapeu Mangueira.  He had hoped that the Olympics and pacification would provide new opportunities, so he opened a hostel, advertised on Airbnb, but clients today are scarce

RODRIGO DA SILVA, Favela Resident (through interpreter):  Our business has decreased.  We had much higher expectations in terms of hosting people throughout the Olympics.  If the situation had improved, maybe I wouldn't still have to work here on the beach.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO:  Concerned about gang pressure, da Silva only agreed to meet us outside his favela.

RODRIGO DA SILVA (through interpreter):  If you talk too much, it ends badly.  Here's the deal:  You do not mess with their business.  I don't mess with their stuff and they don't mess with mine.  Everyone wins, in a way.

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