Pubdate: Fri, 10 Dec 2010
Source: New York Times (NY)
Page: A6
Copyright: 2010 The New York Times Company
Author: Alexei Barrionuevo
Bookmark: (Corruption - Outside U.S.)


RIO DE JANEIRO -- Flanked by officers holding assault rifles, Jose 
Mariano Beltrame, Rio's security chief, strolled through the streets 
of Complexo do Alemao, just days after the police and military had 
stormed the notoriously dangerous slum and retaken it by force.

It was a historic walk, the first time he had set foot in the slum in 
years, underscoring this city's newfound willingness to wrest away 
areas of the city that have been violent refuges for drug gangs for 
more than three decades.

Residents watched stone-faced as Mr. Beltrame passed. No one 
applauded or rushed to shake the hand of the man who had orchestrated 
the program to "pacify" Rio's slums ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 
2016 Olympic Games. Instead, a 54-year-old mother confronted him for 
several minutes, telling him that a Military Police officer had 
entered her home, pinned her against her kitchen sink and demanded 
her son's money.

"My son is an honest person, and this is his salary," she said in an 
interview. The officer "wanted to take my camera, but I did not let 
him take my money or my camera. So he took my bananas and ate them as he left."

One week after the Alemao operation, the culmination of a weeklong 
street battle against drug gangs that claimed dozens of lives across 
Rio, residents here were viewing the security presence through cautious eyes.

Gone was the initial euphoria when the police entered the community 
of 120,000 people on Nov. 28, prompting small children to frolic in a 
former drug trafficker's rooftop swimming pool. By week's end, 
residents had accused the police of dozens of abuses, including 
robberies and violent entries into their homes as officers scoured 
the slum for guns, drugs and money.

After a week of searching here and in another slum, the police said 
they had recovered about 34 tons of marijuana; 692 pounds of cocaine; 
well over 400 pistols, rifles, machine guns and grenades; but 
comparatively little cash: about $68,000. All of the money, moreover, 
was recovered by the army and the federal police -- Rio's own forces 
turned in none -- raising broad suspicions of police corruption.

"They have been showing you drugs and arms, but where is the money?" 
asked Rafael Correia, 22, who works at a furniture store in Alemao. 
"We had tons of money here. Complexo do Alemao was a money mine. So 
did the criminals leave here with all that money? Or where is it now?"

Even military officials have expressed concern that their soldiers 
would be "contaminated" by the "culture of corruption" inside Alemao, 
a high-ranking military officer acknowledged. And despite the 
community being surrounded by about 2,600 personnel from the police 
and the military, most of the traffickers somehow escaped, fueling an 
investigation into whether officers helped some of them.

The aftermath of the operation to retake Alemao, a complex of several 
slums that Mr. Beltrame has called "the heart of evil," has 
reinforced concerns among analysts and police experts that Gov. 
Sergio Cabral's "police pacification" program may be achieving only 
part of what is needed to bring lasting peace. While the vast 
majority of Rio's residents here support the program, which involves 
taking over the slums and then installing a community police force, 
little is being done to reform Rio's notoriously corrupt police officers.

"We are trying to solve the problem of the drug dealers by using the 
same police that originated the problem in the first place," said 
Jose Padilha, who has made three films exploring police abuses in 
Rio. "We should acknowledge that this is only half a program. The 
other half is you have to change the police."

The incursion into Alemao had not been planned to begin for at least 
several more months. But after drug gangs attacked city buses and 
cars last month, terrorizing Rio residents, state officials felt the 
moment was ripe.

Assisted by 17 armored personnel vehicles from the military, security 
forces took Alemao with surprising ease. No one died in the two-hour 
operation, the police said, erasing fears of a bloodbath that would 
further stain Rio's reputation as one of the most violent cities in the world.

"It turned out far better than I had hoped," said Jose Junior, 
executive coordinator of AfroReggae, a group that works to build 
youth self-esteem in the slums. He said he tried to persuade gang 
leaders to surrender before the forces moved in. "The most optimistic 
outcome was a bloodbath, the most pessimistic was a genocide," he said.

Today, it is difficult to walk 50 feet without passing police 
officers. They roam the uneven streets with rifles and body armor, 
interrogating residents and conducting house-to-house searches. 
Soldiers wearing red berets guard important entry points, sweating in 
Rio's summer heat.

Military Police officers used to walk through Alemao carrying 
backpacks until police officials, responding to residents' claims of 
stealing, instituted a rule last week banning them for all but Elite 
Squad members.

When under the thumb of drug dealers, residents said they lacked 
basic services like a post office or fixed telephone lines. 
Government officials rushed in last week to fill the void, setting up 
tables to note residents' health care needs and to find them jobs. 
Satellite television companies, previously fearful of the "high-risk" 
community, set up tables along the main avenue.

But the questions around the operation have not faded. Despite the 
slum's having been surrounded, more than 400 drug traffickers 
escaped, either crawling through sewer tunnels or disguised as 
religious figures who walked through unguarded exits, the police and 
residents said.

The police said they were investigating claims by residents that 
officers may have driven out top gang leaders in squad cars, perhaps 
before the military moved into position two days before the raid.

"I am very interested in getting to the bottom of this because I have 
not been home and with my family for days and have given my blood and 
sweat to this operation," said Capt. Ivan Blaz, a spokesman for the 
Military Police's Elite Squad. "The good cops are among the most 
interested in getting to the bottom of this information."

In the wake of the operation, residents have provided invaluable 
assistance to the police in discovering drug and gun stashes, calling 
in some 4,000 tips, the police said. A police cruiser also roamed the 
streets with a megaphone directing residents to file complaints of 
any police abuses. "We are on your side," a woman's voice said. 
"Let's work together."

After working his way through the slum, Mr. Beltrame explained that 
complaints "must be carefully checked, and the police must remain in 
here and exchange information with the community so that we can 
restore freedom and guarantee the territory for these people."

But skepticism remains. "With police or traffickers it is all the 
same to me today," said Cosmo Antonio da Silva, 26, who owns a hair 
salon on the main avenue. "Maybe in the future things will get 
better, but right now I don't have any hope left."
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