Today's guest post comes from Micaela, an acquaintance of mine from the New York - Rio connection who recently started a blog about Rio de Janeiro. After reading my recent post about crime statistics in Rio, she commented that people reported as disappeared don't factor into murder statistics, which are likely much higher. She went on to write the following post, which she kindly offered as a guest post here.
Twelve days ago, 11 year-old Juan Moraes, a resident of the low-income Rio suburb of Nova Iguaçu, disappeared during a confrontation with the military police (PM). As of yet, the government-led investigation has failed to locate the young boy, who is now feared dead. Although it will be nearly impossible to prove without a body, many claim the boy was assassinated in cold blood by the PMs.
On June 20th, PMs invaded the comunidade of Danon, in Nova Iguaçu. Juan was last seen during during a confrontation between police and residents, in which his 14 year-old brother Weslley was wounded by PM gunshots. Another young man, 19 year-old Wanderson, was also gravely injured by bullets as he was walking home from the candy store where he had worked for over a year. Both Weslley and Wanderson were hospitalized for their wounds, and discharged several days later.
After recovering, Weslley testified that immediately before he went unconscious, he saw Juan's body on the ground in a nearby beco (narrow alley). He confirmed that the boy had taken a bullet.
Later, Juan's mother Rosineia identified a bloody sandal recovered by criminal investigators as Juan's, and declared that she believes her son is no longer alive. "That's my sandal, which I let Juan use," cried Rosineia. "I didn't have money to buy him a pair, so he was using mine."
Further evidence corroborating the probable assassination of Juan by the invading PMs emerged on the 28th, when 5 PM vehicles present during the operation in Nova Iguaçu underwent a luminol examination. At least one of the vehicles presented "streaks of blood", and is being tested to confirm that the blood is human. However, director of the Carlos Eboli Institute of Criminology, Sergio Henriques, says it will take at least a week to carry out the tests.
Meanwhile, following a series of threats, Juan's family has entered into the witness protection program at the suggestion of Federal Deputy Marcelo Freixo (PSOL).
Just this morning, the press announced that Juan's family - temporarily in a secret location under government watch - will permanently leave Nova Iguaçu, the neighborhood in which they have always lived. The family cited threats already received and "fear of retaliation" as their primary motive for fleeing their hometown.
Unfortunately, the progression of the Juan case - like so many other "disappearance" investigations - is likely being hindered by a number of factors, the most obvious of which would be a cover-up attempt by the PMs involved. Although Secretary of Public Security Jose Beltrame has confirmed that the PMs present at the Nova Iguaçu confrontation have been temporarily dismissed, many questions remain regarding their involvement. Although the media does not specify the source of the threats made against Juan's family, it does not take big leap of faith to conclude that those responsible for the threats are also responsible for Juan's "disappearance."
Disappearances such as Juan's are common in Rio de Janeiro. So common, in fact, that few batted an eyelash when a body recovered by investigators on Wednesday turned out to be that of another missing child. There was no media mention of whether another homicide investigation would be launched to ID the body that was found.
Rio de Janeiro's public security forces and politicians point to declining homicide rates as evidence that the police pacifying units (UPPs) and anti-corruption measures are working to produce a safer state. While homicide statistics do indicate that there has been an overall decrease in murders, what the statistics will not tell you is that "disappearances" - such as Juan's - are not included in the data. Examining the data provided by the Institute for Public Security reveals a homicide incidence of 29, 573 for the period of 2007-2011. The number of people officially registered as "missing persons" was 22,533 for the same period. It's probably fair to assume that the majority of these 22,533 are now dead, and that many were the victims of homicide. In other words, if missing persons were included in homicide statistics, Rio could be looking at a homicide rate of nearly twice what the Institute of Public Security reports.
Sadly, the attention that Juan's case has received is the exception, not the rule. Most such "disappearances" will never be reported, never investigated, and never solved.
Micaela is currently living in Rio, and has spent a total of three years there working for various NGOs. After graduating from Johns Hopkins with a major in Latin American Studies, she's now working on her Master's in international development at Tulane. She writes Rio Outside-In.