The recent events that took place in Rio de Janeiro made us rethink Brazil’s role in the international arena. Brazil is considered the most developed country in South America, is part of the G-20 and one of the BRICs. However, as it has been demonstrated in the past few weeks, there is a lot of work to be done before Brazil can even be compared to other developing countries and to be a safe host country for the World Coup and the Olympic Games.
Federal and state police, the army and the navy are all involved in the Brazilian government ongoing attempt to regain authority and power in the so-called “Complexo do Alemão”, a territory formed of 25 favelas, more than 30 thousand houses and with a population of 120 thousand people in North Rio de Janeiro. The main objective of this entire operation is to ensure peace and security in the region.
The operation mobilized 100 million Brazilian reais (approximately 40 million euros) and 22,700 men and women from the armed forces (double of the total amount of men and women sent to Haiti by the UN and 1/5 of the total sent by the USA to Afghanistan).
Drug trafficking in Brazil is a serious and material problem that for years governmental officials have been trying to avoid discussing or actually doing something to improve the situation.
Drug traffickers for as long as I can remember know no rule of law in Rio de Janeiro and live in a complete state of parallel power. They have always controlled the favelas and the local communities, thus bringing suffering, despair and violence to such population.
The residents from the favelas are the most vulnerable in Rio de Janeiro, not only because of their economical status, but also because they are subject to barbaric and brutal power. Children and elderly people are recruited to help the drug lords, serving as guards, messengers and mules due to their status of usually not raising any suspicion from the police.
Shocking images revealed that Rio de Janeiro is in fact living a precarious situation, that could be considered as a situation of war. Very little has been done by international organisations present in Rio de Janeiro or even by non-governmental organizations. This can be easily explained by the fear of trying to enter the favelas, which are often not accessible to civilians that do not reside therein.
There is a massive support by the local communities to the operation, a novelty in the dynamics of Rio de Janeiro’s situation, as the population was always too afraid and terrified to testify or even communicate with the police.
Unfortunately, in Brazil and especially in Rio de Janeiro, there is a persistent culture of corruption and abuse of power by the police. Reports of abuses have already been made by the local communities from Complexo do Alemão, showing that the rule of law can also be weak in the other end of the stick. That, combined with the evident economic and social inequalities, hampers Brazil’s chances to grow and develop.
It should be highlighted that regardless the nature of the crimes committed by the drug traffickers, and the complete chaotic and anarchic situation North Rio de Janeiro is at the moment, the rule of law must always prevail. Respect for the rule of law and for human rights should not be neglected in view of the circumstances of the case at hand.
The army will stay in Complexo do Alemão at least for another year. Brazilian President elected Dilma Roussef wants the army in North Rio de Janeiro until the Olympic Games. Whatever length of period of time the army stays in the region, we can only hope that both so-called good and evil sides of the story will respect the civilian population and bring some peace at last.
For further information about the situation in North Rio de Janeiro and IHL, see Sven Peterke, Urban Insurgency, ‘Drug War’ and International Humanitarian Law: The Case of Rio de Janeiro, in International Humanitarian Legal Studies 1 (2010) pp. 165-187. <http://docserver.ingentaconnect.com/deliver/connect/mnp/18781373/v1n1/s6.pdf?expires=1291766203&id=60146632&titleid=75006395&accname=Guest+User&checksum=59E765D8CE1649F808FB844E22BD22E1>
For a daily update on the situation in Rio de Janeiro, please check: http://veja.abril.com.br/blog/veja-acompanha/tag/complexo-do-alemao/page/2/