Pubdate: Wed, 12 Oct 2005
Source: Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Copyright: 2005 Sun-Sentinel Company
Author: Colin McMahon, Chicago Tribune


Rio Woman Films Drug Use, Sales In Favela

RIO DE JANEIRO   The neighbors have their doubts about the woman 
called Dona Vitoria, but no one disputes that the drug trade thrived 
in their neighborhood or in this city where she has become a hero.

Dona Vitoria is the pseudonym given to a Rio woman who, fed up by 
what she says was the lack of response by police, videotaped from her 
apartment window a stream of drug sales on the hills outside her 
home. She gave the tapes to a local reporter, and the publication of 
photos from them won Dona Vitoria recognition, relocation and, with 
good reason, witness protection.

The tapes also brought police storming into the Tabajaras section of 
the Copacabana neighborhood.

"This is an occupation," said Mario Vaz, an officer from the state of 
Rio de Janeiro's military police. "We have an emergency post here. We 
have another up the hill. And we have a command post for the whole area."

That police have to "occupy" a neighborhood in the middle of Brazil's 
most renowned city exposes one of the defining and dismaying aspects of Rio.

Tabajaras is a favela, a collection of mostly poor and working-class 
families living mostly on illegally occupied land. Local heavies and 
criminal outfits control daily life, with drug trafficking a major 
source of their income.

The hillside communities can be no-go zones for police. But then 
something happens to break a tacit truce, or violence within a favela 
becomes too much to ignore, or public pressure forces the police to 
move in. And so they do, in force, often backed by armored vehicles 
and helicopters.

Vaz's "emergency post" is, basically, a police sport-utility vehicle. 
He and his partner sit out of the rain in an alcove next to a shop 
that sells snacks and soda pop.

In a series of raids, police arrested more than a dozen suspects, 
many of whom were identified on the videotapes. Several officers seen 
taking money from the traffickers were arrested as well. And since 
the police arrived, the hill where the deals had been made with 
frequency and impunity has been cleared.

Vaz, however, does not pretend that the dealing has stopped. "They 
have moved somewhere else," he said.

"We have no problems with the residents here," said Vaz, 29, whose 
machine gun resting in his lap is standard issue for the military 
police. "They wave. They don't say bad things to us. But they don't 
really talk to us either."

"They are afraid to be seen talking to the police," said his partner, 
Leonardo Reis, 31. "I don't blame them."

Dona Vitoria was afraid, too. As the story goes, she put film on her 
windows so the traffickers could not see in. Then she cut a small 
hole in the film and rested her video camera on a pile of books to 
record the comings and goings of men, women and children as they 
bought, sold and consumed drugs.

Stills from the video published in the sensationalist newspaper Extra 
show children, not just teenagers but boys younger than 10, smoking 
marijuana and snorting cocaine. Some pictures show middle-aged women 
in housedresses stopping by for a fix. Some show boys and young men 
brandishing automatic weapons.

Residents doubt that Dona Vitoria is really in her 80s, as the police 
and newspapers said. They also doubt that she did this all alone, 
over 18 months, and suggest someone in the news media or police was 
working with her. But they cannot argue with the results.

And Rio de Janeiro is lauding Dona Vitoria.

Tabajaras, meanwhile, is calm.

"You can go anywhere you like here now, it's safe," said Reis. "Just 
don't come here when we are not here."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Elizabeth Wehrman