In Rio de Janeiro, ‘Complete Vulnerability’ as Violence Surges

In Rio de Janeiro, ‘Complete Vulnerability’ as Violence Surges


A poll conducted by the research firm Datafolha in early October found that 72 percent of Rio de Janeiro residents would move to a safer city if they could. The survey, which included 812 respondents and had a 4 percent margin of error, found that fewer than one in 10 people felt the military police, the main entity responsible for security, was efficient at preventing crime.

Ordinary residents here speak with similar despondence about the police and the drug gangs.

Ana Paula Oliveira, a community activist whose 19-year-old son was killed by the police in 2014, said residents of low-income communities feel besieged every time the police crack down temporarily, only to ultimately fade away and allow areas to fall back under the control of traffickers. Between January and September, at least 800 of the people killed in the state were shot by police officers.

“They come to us with a discourse that there is a war,” she said. “But this is not a war. It’s a massacre of poor people living in favelas. In order to ensure that the elite enjoys security, it’s necessary to kill the poor people.”

Upscale parts of Rio de Janeiro, including the tourist hubs like Copacabana and Ipanema, feel like a world apart, thanks to a robust police presence. But they have not been spared by the rise in crime. And the violence has taken a steep toll on the tourism industry.

The city lost approximately $200 million in tourism revenue between January and August, according to the National Federation of Commerce, Goods, Services and Tourism. Two tourists have been shot so far this year in the city, including a Spanish woman who was killed by a policeman last month while she was touring a favela.

While security in Brazil has historically been a state and municipal government responsibility, the federal government in recent months has deployed hundreds of soldiers to contain outbursts of violence in Rio de Janeiro. In a sign that the military is bracing for a prolonged role here, it successfully lobbied Congress last month to pass a law allowing soldiers who commit crimes against civilians during operations to be tried in military tribunals, rather than civilian courts.

Roberto Sá, the secretary of security for Rio de Janeiro State, said in response to emailed questions that the “financial calamity” that has afflicted the state over the last year and a half has made it impossible to implement a comprehensive security policy.

“To put it in practice,” Mr. Sá said, we need financial resources that the state does not have at its disposal.”



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