Yesterday, Rio special forces occupied the Complexo de Lins, where two new "pacification units" will be installed as a part of the city's ongoing security strategy. In total, Rio will now have 36 police pacification units. But the city's pacification strategy has come under further scrutiny in recent weeks as new details emerge about the high-profile disappearance of a bricklayer from Rio's largest slum, Rocinha.
Amarildo de Souza's July disappearance may have just flown under the radar as one of many disappearances in Rio each year. But the vanishing of a man believed to be an honest working father came after Brazil's big protests and amid increasing scrutiny of the military police, sparking the interest of celebrities, Cariocas, and people throughout Brazil and spawning protests in several Brazilian cities.
And last week, on October 2, homicide investigators announced they would charge 10 military police officers who worked at Rocinha's pacification unit for the torture and murder of Amarildo, even though his body still hasn't been found.
New details have emerged about the case that have raised questions about the military police working in Rio's pacification units. Police allegedly questioned Amarildo about local drug traffickers, and tortured him in the pacification unit building using electric shocks and suffocation with a plastic bag. Investigators believe at least 22 other people were tortured by police in the same location in Rocinha's pacification unit. The then commander of the pacification unit also bribed witnesses to blame Amarildo's disappearance on drug traffickers. The bribe money came from donations by a company to benefit the favela; the commander also stole money from the donations to rent an apartment.
Rio's governor and the state security secretary have said that the Amarildo case is not typical of the pacification strategy. "We have 8,600 military police in pacification units and the overwhelming majority are beloved by the population," said Sérgio Cabral, the governor. "The Amarildo case is a sad one and shows that the only thing that could happen is what happened--investigation and punishment--precisely because we have a pacification unit in Rocinha."
But the problem is that the numbers aren't adding up.
According to a September analysis of 18 pacification units by Folha de São Paulo, homicides in pacified favelas have in fact gone down by 68 percent from 2008 to 2011. However, disappearances have increased, from 85 in 2008 to 133 in 2011. An estimated 553 people disappeared in those 18 communities from 2007 to 2012. The study also found that of Rio's 33 pacification units, 76 percent have at least one accusation of police abuse.
Overall, disappearances have grown steadily in Rio state. By one estimate, there have been over 92,000 disappearances in Rio state in the past 22 years. According to government statistics, disappearances in Rio state have grown by nearly 30 percent in the past decade, while murders decreased by 50 percent.
Some believe that police are reporting disappearances instead of autos de resistência, when a person dies after a confrontation with police. Because this type of death results while a policeman is presumably doing his job, it's viewed as justified by security forces. One specialist even said the practice of reporting autos de resistência has been a common practice over the past two decades, and has been used to cover up unwarranted confrontations and executions.
In addition, watchdog group Rio de Paz believes the city has numerous clandestine cemeteries used by police to dump bodies. And there's also the possibility of police simply failing to report some crimes. Jailson de Souza e Silva, who runs Observatório de Favelas, noted that the Amarildo case could be the beginning of a crisis of the long-term police presence in favelas. He said that no favela residents really disappear. "Everyone knows what goes on there," he explained.
The entire basis of the pacification strategy is to ensure the presence of the state in areas where the government used to have no control. Some referred to the drug traffickers as a "parallel power" who acted in lieu of the state, providing things like money for medicine and enforcing order in communities with their own brand of justice.
But if police are using the same violent methods as traffickers, is that really pacification? Perhaps the problem lies in the law enforcement officers themselves--known to be corrupt, poorly paid and trained, and to have ties to organized crime--rather than the strategy overall. The Amarildo case has helped shine a light on the persistent challenges of the military police force, which if unresolved, will prevent any successful pacification strategy.
Image: Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro, by Eliseu Cavalcante.