Delays, Death and Torture

gun_drawn.jpg.size.xxlarge.promoA quick note about the ‘delays’ in building of the World Cup stadium and infrastructure.   To sports fans this must seem a mystery: how can any organization make important construction projects go down to the absolute last second?

As an organized crime and corruption specialist, I can say that this tactic is pretty standard in the construction industry. It is like the mob-linked companies using cement heavily mixed with sand to cut down on costs.

The scheme is as follows:  the dodgy companies delay as long as possible.  They want to get as close to the deadline (or the start of the World Cup) as they can.  At some point, in the next few months the Brazilian politicians will panic and throw enormous sums of money at the problem.  The dodgy construction people will jettison a convenient scapegoat over the side and take the extra money like bandits.

This is not to say that all the delays in Brazil are due to this form of corruption but knowing both the industry and the country I would warrant that a fair amount is due to it.


Here is a recent article from the Toronto Star about the torture and death in poor neighbourhoods of Rio de Janeiro, in part, due to the World Cup.


RIO DE JANEIRO—There is a house in a dirty lane in the back of a slum. It is a regular looking house for the area: concrete blocks, tin roof and a rough wooden door. But this one house symbolizes a powerful political and legal phenomenon that is sweeping across Brazil as it prepares for this year’s World Cup of soccer.

The house is in the Rocinha area of Rio de Janeiro. Rocinha is a favela — a slum — where tens of thousands of people live in squalor. Off the main streets, the roads are mostly muddy, potholed ruins and the drainage ditches are clogged with garbage.

There are layers of houses piled one on top of each other, up a steep hillside. A few roads, crammed with traffic, twist and turn through the community. What makes it different from many poor urban areas is that on either side of the Rocinha favela are some of the richest areas of Rio de Janeiro.

One of the country’s most celebrated cosmetic surgeons lives a few blocks away; a little farther is the prestigious American School. At the bottom of the favela is the São Conrado suburb, home to international hotels and some of the priciest real estate in Brazil.

Rocinha used to be a haven for drug dealers. Gang members openly patrolled with machine-guns. One particular gangster — Nem — was said to rule the area. The house with the wooden door is his former hideout.

In November 2011, all that changed. The Brazilian government sent in a special police force — the Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora, or UPP — to “pacify” the area. They went street by street, eventually finding and jailing Nem.

The UPP promised to turn the house into a place where the community could be safe: a daycare or a drug-rehabilitation centre.

Yet, somewhere on the long road between good intentions and reality on the streets of Rocinha, it all went wrong.

The house, claim some community residents, is used as a torture chamber.

The real Rio

The international reputation of Brazil, in general, and Rio de Janeiro, in particular, is that of a place with gorgeous beaches, bikini-clad beauties and wonderful parties. The reality is far more disturbing.

Brazil’s leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 44 is homicide. Luke Dowdney, a British social anthropologist and former professional boxer who has spent considerable time in Rio, estimates that four times as many people were killed in the city between 1979-2000 than during the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1948.

What makes it really dangerous is that many of those people were killed by the police. Human Rights Watch claims that in Brazil’s two largest cities — São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro — more than 11,000 people were killed by authorities in approximately five years after 2003.

“Several key public prosecutors insisted with us that extra-judicial executions and subsequent cover ups are commonplace,” Daniel Wilkinson, a deputy director for Human Rights Watch, testified before U.S. Congress in 2010.

These problems are, according to many Brazilians, getting worse because of the World Cup, which begins in June, and 2016 Summer Olympics. The police are under orders to “clean up” the poorer areas like Rocinha and make sure that sports tourists are safe.

Over Christmas, extra police were reportedly sent into Rocinha to quell growing gunfights, which have increased following last year’s alleged torture and possible murder of a Rocinha bricklayer by police.

And this week, officials said they were investigating whether the killing of at least 12 young men in Campinas, a city of one million known as the hub of Brazil’s tech industry, was done by police as revenge for the shooting death of a colleague.

However, far worse than the alleged crimes of official police is the existence of militias or extrajudicial death squads run by current and former policemen who control many of Rio’s favelas.

In December, sociologists at the State University of Rio de Janeiro released an interdisciplinary report, part of which was based on interviews with favela residents. The researchers discovered that of the estimated 1,000 favelas in Rio, 45 per cent were run by the organized crime police militias, about 37 per cent were still being run by drug gangs and only 18 per cent were run by the official and legal police force — the UPP.

Don’t kill for me

Elizabeth Martin is an American whose nephew was killed by an off-duty policeman in Rio de Janeiro in 2007.

A self-described “reluctant activist,” she has visited Brazil and met with other relatives and friends of people killed by police. She founded a lobby group called Don’t Kill for Me: Safe Games for All, which is warning World Cup and Olympic visitors about the dangers of Brazilian police.

“I am not concerned about the safety of the tourists,” she says, “I am concerned about the increase in violence and death in the lead-up to the World Cup. The police are killing on our behalf. Because of these games, they are going into the neighbourhoods and murdering people. We don’t want that to happen.”

As proof of this phenomenon, she points to the massacre of 19 people in Rio during the Pan Am Games of 2007, when police went into a favela both before and during the event “to secure the area.” The police claim they only killed people in self-defence. However, a Human Rights Watch report cites official autopsies that show several of the victims were shot in the back of the head, execution-style, some with their hands tied.

Last year, during the Confederations Cup — an international soccer tournament — a similar incident occurred in a favela near the Rio de Janeiro airport. The BOPE — or paramilitary units of the police — killed nine residents on one day during the tournament. Police were in the favela in part because a TV engineer working at the tournament was shot after driving into the neighbourhood by mistake. According to the Guardian, officers subsequently got into a firefight with protesting residents.

The underlying motive in all these cases seems to be the same. The Rio police claim they have to secure large areas of the city before international events — be it the World Cup, Olympics or even a visit by the pope. The only way to secure an area is to come in with a heavy police presence. If people are killed, it is simply because their neighbourhoods are dangerous.

Pedro Paulo, the Rio de Janeiro Civilian Household secretary, went even further when he defended the police action. “Pacification is perhaps the greatest public safety policy that Rio de Janeiro ever experienced,” he said recently. “It’s the principal mechanism to bring security. When a community is pacified, the quality of life improves. The greatest achievement is to allow quality public services to enter these communities, reducing the difference between favelas and (other) urban neighbourhoods.”

This view is supported by a 2012 study by academics at the University of the State of Rio de Janeiro. The researchers, using official statistics, showed that UPP presence in a neighbourhood could reduce homicides by almost 78 per cent. Ideally, as the police entered the neighbourhood so, too, could proper schools, medical clinics and other public services.

Theresa Williamson, leader of the Rio de Janeiro group Catalytic Communities, was initially thrilled with the pacification program.

“At first, the UPP were the best police that we have ever seen in Rio. They tried to select officers who were not corrupt. They tried to give them good training. I was part of a community leaders training program in 2010. Almost all of the favela leaders wanted the UPP to come to their areas.”

However, over the last year, after a series of well-publicized killings and tortures, Williamson notes the UPP’s popularity among the favelas has declined.

Today, she says, “the benefit the UPP has brought is felt only in the wealthy areas of the city that have become safer.”

Even the University of the State of Rio de Janeiro report showed that while murders and police violence declined when the UPP went into a neighbourhood, other crime — such as rape or burglary — shot up.

Activists like Williamson claim that by using official statistics the report overlooks illegal disappearances, murders and tortures by police and their militia gangs.

Christopher Gaffney, a visiting professor at the Universidade Federal Fluminense, claims the violence in the preparations for the World Cup and Olympics is about a larger issue: the transfer of wealth and land from the poor to the rich under the guise of sports mega-events. For evidence, he points to the recent establishment of a real estate investment fund based on the location of the UPP forces in the city.

“I compare it with the ‘Shock and Awe’ campaign in Iraq. Instead of guns and bullets, here we have media and festival — but it is the same (thing); you wake up with a parallel government that is interested in directing cash into private bodies.”

‘Threats and fear’

In Rocinha, community leaders know these problems intimately. Antonio Trajano is vice president of the Associação dos Moradores, a citizen’s group that runs a social assistance centre. He grew up and has lived in Rocinha for more than 60 years, seeing various drug-lord rulers and government social programs come and go.

“The last 10 years have been very complicated. Our state government stopped assisting the community in a meaningful way. For example, even today we still have a problem accessing drinking water.”

He chooses his words and issues carefully. Last March, the president of his association was murdered in a drive-by shooting allegedly as part of a gangland turf war. However, Trajano is clear that the UPP pacification is deeply controversial.

“The police were too aggressive. Initially, people liked them but not any more. I hope the new leader of the UPP is more respectful.”

His friend Carlos Eduardo is more outspoken. Younger, and himself a former police officer, Eduardo has had a series of run-ins with the UPP. He claims he submitted a report to the authorities in April about the UPP using the house in Rocinha as a torture centre. Various neighbours also reported hearing screams of people inside the house.

Eduardo says he is not opposed to the UPP being in his favela, but says the police should be more respectful to residents.

“The UPP regard us — the community association — as criminals. (To us) the UPP means threats and fear. Confrontation is not the right way to pacification.”

Eduardo acknowledges that he knew many of the former drug-dealers and criminals in the area, and says there is little difference between the UPP and the drug lords when it comes to governance.

“The same bullet that kills an innocent person can come either from a drug dealer’s weapon or from a policeman’s weapon.”

Death in the park

The UPP headquarters in Rocinha is on top of the hill, surrounded by an ecological park. It looks straight down into the neighbourhood and is only a few hundred metres from the house with the wooden door. The whole place has an isolated feel — a kilometre from the main road and surrounded by forest.

The headquarters’ buildings are converted shipping containers piled one on top of another. Policemen in flak jackets with machine-guns over their shoulders walk around the area. A female officer in the compound claimed no one in the UPP could speak to the media, as the controversy was too great.

The next day, federal police issued arrest warrants for that UPP officer and 10 of her colleagues. They claimed the isolated compound was where several UPP officers had tortured and killed a local Rocinha resident.

A few weeks later, police raided the home of Carlos Eduardo, the community activist. A gun was allegedly put to his head and he was forced to his knees.

The raid came as gun battles broke out all over Rocinha and three people were killed.

More death in a divided neighbourhood of a divided country.

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