Pubdate: Thu, 15 Jan 2009
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited
Author: Tom Phillips, in Rio de Janeiro
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Youth)


* Militia Says It Controls Slum Made Famous By Film

* Forces Plan To Stay, But Community Is Sceptical

It is one of the most notorious postcodes on earth - a sprawling red
brick shantytown that has been under the control of heavily armed drug
traffickers for nearly four decades. This week, however, police
claimed the gangs were no more in the City of God, the Rio slum made
infamous by Fernando Meirelles' 2002 film.

On Tuesday, after two months of incursions, special forces celebrated
the "conquering" of the City of God by hoisting the Brazilian flag
over a creche they said was used as a base by traffickers.

Although the special forces are staying on to flush out lingering gang
members, police say the community is now effectively gang-free. "This
represents the handing back of democracy to the people of the City of
God," Captain Ivan Blaz, a spokesman for Rio's special forces, told
the lunchtime news show RJTV.

Until the success of Meirelles' film, which was nominated for four
Oscars, City of God, or Cidade de Deus, was a little-known slum on the
western outskirts of Rio. Based on a book of the same name published
in 1997, the film documented the bloody struggle between cocaine
traffickers that ravaged the community during the 1970s and 1980s,
with many of the actors recruited from Rio's favelas.

Attempts to evict the real traffickers from the City of God, which is
home to about 50,000 people, are part of a police initiative that
authorities hope will help them regain control of the slums and serve
as a blueprint for fighting urban crime across South America. "The
state is going back to occupy territories from which it was absent,
both in terms of public security and in terms of social investment,"
Rio's governor, Sergio Cabral, said.

In their battle against the city's three drug factions, police have
traditionally launched "hit and run" attacks on the favelas. The
police kill more than 1,000 people each year, according to official
figures, many during such raids.

Now the authorities plan to permanently station hundreds of military
policemen inside three favelas as part of a pilot project to combat
organised crime.

The police, who will spend 24 hours a day in the communities, aim to
build trust, gather intelligence and help rebuild the slums. Millions
of dollars will be invested in infrastructure and housing. City of
God, where about 700 troops will be deployed, is the second favela in
which the new "hearts and minds" policy will be tried.

Since November, Dona Marta, in southern Rio, has been home to 120
officers. Captain Priscilla de Oliveira Azevedo, the officer
responsible for Dona Marta, said the idea of the policing initiative
was "to hand the community back to the people". "It is a challenge ...
because I've always worked in the conventional way: go in, combat and
leave," she added.

The community policing scheme has not pleased everyone. Many predict
the authorities will soon withdraw from places such as City of God and
Dona Marta, allowing the traffickers to return. The government has
also admitted its "policy of confrontation" will not end as a result
of the community policing project.

Others view the initiative as little more than a marketing stunt by a
media-savvy government, arguing that the City of God was only chosen
because of its notoriety.

Mauricio Campos, a human rights activist from the Network of
Communities against Violence, said similar projects had failed in the
past. "The discourse is always the same: to occupy militarily and to
then have a social 'occupation'," he said.

Jose Mario Santos, the president of the Dona Marta residents'
association, said many locals had complained to him about aggressive
searches by the community force. "Outside they are saying that this is
community policing, that they say good morning, good afternoon and
good evening. But here inside the slum we are seeing that it isn't
like this," he said.

"If you ask the residents here what is better - the government or the
parallel [power] - I bet you the huge majority will say the parallel
[power] until they get used to the new reality."

Azevedo admitted convincing residents that their blue-clad neighbours
were there to stay was a long-term project. Many children were so used
to the drug traffickers they could even identify their weapons, she
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