By W. J. Woodward
January 18, 2012
I truly wish I could share Alison McGowan’s overly optimistic and lyrical vision of the retaking” of the favelas in Rio, however I can’t seem to find my rose colored glasses anywhere. Having lived in Brazil for ten years now I know from personal experience things here just don’t happen as she has described.
The state and municipal governments will do just about anything at the moment in order to make purely cosmetic improvements in the run-up to the World Cup and Olympic Games. The operation in Vidigal and Chacar do Cu, like all the others, was just that cosmetic. Nothing different than an embalmer applying make-up in order to make a corpse presentable for a funeral service.
Giving advanced notice of these operations meticulously planned? Did McGowan bother to ask herself exactly where the drug-lords have gone to? Sure, the police (due to extreme luck) managed to capture Nem and Peixe, but that’s all. How can she really believe that the capture of these two individuals will even make a dent in the free flow of drugs and the related violence that goes along with drug trafficking? One need only consider the fact that even though he is in one of the most secure prisons in all of Brazil, Fernandinho Beira-Mar is still able to manage a drug empire that moved according to police reports R$62 million in the slums that make up the Complexo do Alemão. Even if Nem and Peixe are unable to do exactly the same thing you can rest assured that someone stepped in to fill the void in the chain of command the second that the two were arrested. It would also not surprise me in the least if both Nem and Peixe get the same kind of controversial privileged treatment, which included trips, time outside of the prison walls, telephone calls, etc., that were afforded to Fernandinho.
Earlier this year, I watched the first police invasion in awe with the traffickers escaping up the dirt road, on foot, in pick-up trucks and not one police officer in sight. The operation gave a whole new meaning to the term “police intelligence”, and not a very good one at that. The logic of a police force that, knowing the escape route, would announce their coming well in advance and not take steps to capture those escaping along the known route eludes me completely. The fact that they would do exactly the same thing again is unconscionable.
Will the drugs stop flowing in Rio? Will the violence related to drug trafficking come to an end? Clearly, the answer to both these questions is a resounding NO! These problems have just been displaced. The gangs that control the movement of drugs in Rio and most of Brazil have simply moved to other cities in the state, Maca and Campo dos Goytacazes as well as into the surrounding states. They will continue to operate virtually unaffected, but from a distance. The governments of Rio de Janeiro at every level can pat themselves on the back in a very public way and brag to those gullible enough to believe them that the situation is now under control and the public will be safe during the World Cup and Olympics. What they can’t do is turn this “fairy-tale” into reality. Nothing has changed and nothing will.
The only significant difference is the fact that the residents of the favelas will, at long last, have a little peace in their own backyard. They might even see a little bit of the government spending and services that they have been denied for so many years. I guess that in itself is really a major achievement that is worthy of praise. Too bad that it is about the only positive aspect of this whole sad situation.
As far as McGowan’s overly simplistic account is concerned, I have great difficulty in giving credence to a report from anyone remotely connected to either the hospitality industry or marketing sector since they clearly have a vested interest in painting a rosy picture in order to keep the money flowing into Rio for these major events. I hardly think she is so naãve as to really believe what she put into print.
Of course my article is simplistic – there is no space in 500 words to go into bigger issues and as I believe I said in the article the invasion doesn’t mean everything is just going to be bright and rosy from now on. The drugs trade for one will survive anywhere as long as there is a market for it and Rocinha itself (and I live up close and personal) has been in many ways more difficult since the invasion with loads more armed robberies following the lack of protection from drug lords. But I do believe it was definitely a step in the right direction and not purely cosmetic as our rather cynical friend purports.
Mr Woodward seems to think that as he has been in Brazil 10 years and is not involved in marketing or tourism his view is somehow more valid than mine. Unlike him I have actually lived in Rio itself on and off for over 17 years, and I was here when Brizola made his momentous and ill fated decision in the early 80s to keep the police out of the favelas in return for the traffickers keeping off the asfalto. Despite what Woodward assumes from his erroneous idea of what I do, I have no “vested interest” in presenting only a rose coloured Brazil. In this case I just gave my own perspective on what was rather a momentous event.
– Alison McGowan