As Brazil continues to be rocked by the largest street demonstrations the country has witnessed in 20 years, some of the harsh social realities many Brazilians deal with have begun to make their way into the mainstream media. The New York Times recently ran a piece and even the Economist – the great champion of free market economics – claimed Brazilians unfairly pay first-world taxes for third-world services. Mike Davis – author of Planet of Slums – has also provided an interesting article on the government’s fight against crime and the setbacks it has witnessed since the days Lula da Silva was in office. Davis writes:
To help convince the International Olympic Committee that Rio would be a safe as well as beautiful site for the 2016 games, first the government had to capture and hold the morros. The trial run in 2008 targeted Dona Marta, a famous cliff-dwelling favela in the south zone, which boasts some of the best samba and funk in Rio. A year later the police pacification unit (UPP) entered Cidade de Deus in the west zone. In each case there was less opposition from gangs than expected and the government invoked early ‘successes’.
Then, just two weeks after huge crowds celebrated the award of the games to Rio, gang members firing a 50-caliber machine-gun brought down a police helicopter over the favela of Morro dos Macacos. Amateur video relayed across the world showed the helicopter’s fiery crash into a local soccer field, killing three policemen and badly burning two others.
Davis goes on to add:
Jose Mariano Beltrame, police chief and secretary of security for the state of Rio, called it ‘our 9/11’, while the US consul, in emails released by Wikileaks, worried that gang violence had escalated into ‘a full-bore internal armed conflict’ and that Washington had underestimated the extent to which the ‘favelas have been outside state authority’. State governor Sergio Cabral again asked Lula for help from the army, and the army, in turn, volunteered to apply the ‘clear and hold’ tactics it had learned in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where it has been leading the UN stabilisation mission since 2004.
After many months of skirmishes and the establishment of more UPP beachheads, the full might of the Brazilian state was again unleashed against the Red Command in Complexo do Alemao. On ‘D Day,’ 25 November 2010, Marines and BOPE stormed the satellite favela of Vila Cruzeiro, killing 31 people, but the narco-revolutionaries simply retreated deeper into their labyrinth. Army paratroopers were brought in and the authorities broadcast a ‘surrender or die’ ultimatum. The Red Command defiantly replied with bus burnings and assaults across the city. Two days later, 3,000 troops with tanks and helicopter gunships overwhelmed the district. They seized truckloads of drugs and guns, but most gang members slipped away again.
Lula, in his last month in office, tried to put a brave face on military frustration: ‘The important thing is we have taken the first step. We went in, we are inside Complexo do Alemao.’ He described the assault as just the beginning of the campaign to take back the favelas (in fact it was already four years old) and promised ‘we will win this war’.