Judge Patricia Acioli
Militia groups in Rio de Janeiro are gaining ground, while one of the state’s most effective enforcers of rule of law is now dead.
On Thursday, August 11, 2011 Judge Patrícia Acioli was in her car outside of her house in Níteroi, across the bay from Rio de Janeiro, when hooded gunmen approached her in several vehicles and shot her at close range 21 times.
Judge Acioli had been “marked for death”. She, along with 12 other judges and prosecutors, had received threats from former police officers and criminal gangs who were threatened by her effort to uphold the law. The judge had previously convicted several former police officers with charges of corruption.
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As beautiful as the country is, Brazil has suffered for decades from the creation and development of shantytowns, known to locals as favelas, where poverty, violence and anarchy frequently dictate a ruthless way of life. The absence of state presence in the communities has made of favelas perfect centers for drug trafficking and violence. Major cities throughout the country, especially in the state of Rio de Janeiro, have fallen victims of this troubling situation.
In a desperate attempt to establish some form of security, a couple of years ago, Rio de Janeiro’s authorities created the state’s Pacifying Police Units (UPP), which have been welcome by the local and neighboring communities. UPPs have been established in 13 slums, and have been coupled with other efforts intended to bring basic services to the local communities. The objective is to provide favelas with safety and basic services, in order to reduce local violence and relentless drug-trafficking crimes. As a result, it appears that after decades of negligence and chaos, favelas may soon join the country’s socioeconomic progress, but not without a fight.
Favela Lords are showcasing their tactics, designed to remind everyone of their power and ability to be violent. It has become evident that they will not be displaced without bloodshed. In the last few weeks, Favela Lords have created havoc in their own towns. Indeed, in a huge sign of defiance, on Nov. 21, 2010 they began a series of attacks against the local inhabitants and police. Up until last week, well over 100 vehicles had been burned and dozens of people had been hurt and attacked.Their objective is to instill fear in the community in order to retain control of the favelas.
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Tactical police stand by in front of the Intercontinental Hotel, in Sao Conrado Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 21, 2010. (c) ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images
Rio de Janeiro is back on the headlines. This time it’s not for its role future role hosting the World Cup in 2014 or the Olympic games in 2016. Rather, violence is again taking primary stage in the city.
On August 21st, 10 heavily armed drug dealers invaded a five stars hotel in Rio de Janeiro. They took over 30 hostages for well over two hours. The InterContinental Hotel in Sao Conrado is located near Vidigal and Rocinha, two of Rio’s largest slums or favelas in Rio. According to local police, the men entered the Hotel to escape police gunshots. Although the hostages were released, a woman died during the confrontation between the police and drug dealers.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated episode of violence in Rio de Janeiro.
Events as this one are just the tip of the iceberg related with the endemic violence originated by the drug trafficking industry in Rio. Drug dealers and militias make poor areas in Rio a ‘parallel’ power, leaving the government with limited or no control and influence in these communities. Amnesty International believes that with their power over communities for illicit economic and political gain, militias threatened the lives of thousands of residents and the very institutions of the state. Public authorities, police officers and even judges receive repeated death threats from the militias. State authorities mounted a series of operations to combat the activities of the militias, leading to a number of arrests, but so far these efforts weren’t enough to stop violence in Rio.
Authorities should invest heavily in security in Brazil, not only to be able to host international events like the Olympic Games, but mainly to bring peace and safety to the local population, which is tired of living in fear and on the margin of the society.