Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Brazil: Rio Residents Protest Against Police (Updated)

At least one person was killed in the Brazilian metropolis of Rio de Janeiro as protesters clashed with police on Tuesday night.

Streets in the tourist area of Copacabana where closed and fires where set alight in the impoverished Pavao-Pavaozinho favela as a result of the protests.

Hundreds of residents were angry against police who they blamed for the recent death of 26-year-old Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira.  Demonstrators argued that the professional dancer who appeared on TV Globo died at the hands of the police who allegedly mistook him for a wanted criminal. 

Rio de Janeiro's State Security Secretariat said in a Twitter post that he died as a result of a fall and that the death was still under investigation.  Yet a forensic expert reportedly said to investigators that the blood trail from da Silva Pereira’s body indicates that he ran across the roofs of several houses prior to his death. This lends credibility to the hypothesis that the deceased may have been chased by police officers as he was trying to escape a shootout between the authorities and local drug gangs.

Several cars and buses were burned on Easter Sunday in separate protests by residents in another part of Rio regarding the deaths of two teenagers on Friday while under police custody.

The incidents occurred as authorities step up security roughly six weeks prior to the start of the World Cup.  Their strategy to combat violence, particularly in the poorer areas of Rio, has been controversial:

Pavao-Pavaozinho is one of the poor neighborhoods of Rio that has been part of the recent "pacification" program, in which police move into an area in an effort to wrest control from the drug traffickers who run it.
It is an attempt by the city authorities to drive the heavily armed gangs away from the communities and restore police authority ahead of the football World Cup in June and July.

But the program is controversial as Brazilian police have been accused of using excessive force, at times killing residents not connected to any gangs.

Amnesty International says some 2,000 people die every year in Brazil as a result of police violence.
"This effort to pacify the favelas is a failure; the police violence is only replacing what the drug gangs carried out before," resident Johanas Mesquita told the Associated Press news agency.
Anti-government protests similar to those last summer in Brazil’s major cities are expected to occur during the major soccer tournament that starts on June 12th.  Demonstrators at the time showed their displeasure over the use of public funds for the construction of World Cup stadiums instead of improving social programs like health care and education.

As a possible antecedent to the actions expected during the World Cup, over fifty people were arrested in Sao Paulo following a demonstration that was attended by an estimated 1500 individuals.

Not all World Cup-related demonstrations have been violent; a protest song entitled “I'm Sorry, Neymar” and with the lyrics “I'm tired of watching our people fading slowly on TV shows, In the meantime FIFA worries about standards” became viral in March.

Update: Perhaps it's worth noting that according to the Brazilian press twenty-two members of the federal police force that will be part of the massive security apparatus during the World Cup received training from U.S.-based firm Academi (formerly known as Blackwater).

The reports from Brazil do not mention if any of these officers have taken part in the "pacification"  program in Rio's favelas.

The company then-known as Blackwater came under fire when it was contracted by the U.S. government during the invasion of Iraq.  A security guard for the company could face murder charges over his alleged role in the massacre of seventeen unarmed civilians in Baghdad in 2007. 

As we mentioned previously, ex-military members from countries like Chile, Peru, and Honduras were hired by Blackwater to serve in Iraq while allegations emerged in 2011 claiming that the Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates hired Blackwater to train its own private army that included Colombian mercenaries.        

Video Source– euronews via YouTube

Online Sources – Edmonton Journal; The Latin Americanist; BBC News;; O Globo; CNN; USA TODAY; Reuters; Terra Brasil

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