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Interview with Osmar Paiva Camelo, President of Morro do Timbau, Shot Dead on Monday

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“Maybe I won’t live to see that change, but I am fighting so that this legacy will be around for my son” — Osmar Paiva Camelo, one week prior to his assassination

Osmar Paiva Camelo, 54, President of the Morro do Timbau Residents Association in Complexo da Maré, was shot seven times on the evening of Monday September 15 at close range. He was known as an enthusiast for the pacification process in the community.

According to witnesses, armed men entered the Association’s headquarters and asked for him prior to shooting. Witnesses are still being heard by the Civil Police and an investigation is underway. There are no suspects so far. One woman was injured in the incident.

Osmar was a defender of the military presence in the Complexo da Maré. He believed that the Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) re-established social peace and citizenship in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.

RioOnWatch interviewed Osmar on Tuesday September 9, less than a week prior to his death, to learn more about his vision for the community. Following are the most important moments of the interview.

Why do you love the community?

Osmar: Before the possibility of the UPP coming here, I was thinking of leaving. When I saw that peace would be brought to the community, I said to myself ‘I am going to invest in this place and stay.’ I don’t have a reason to leave. Violence is what makes people leave Maré. But now, we have an outlook of peace in Maré. So the people who are born in Maré, who live in Maré, think it is better to stay here.

I was born here in Baixa do Sapateiro. I was raised in Nova Holanda and later I came to Timbau, married, and stayed. I am 54 years old, and have lived in Maré for 54 years.

What do you think about the protests against human rights violations by the Military Police here in the community?

Osmar: We know there are violations, and we know these violations face repercussions. If the people who carry out these violations are found, they are held accountable. So we have to look at the positive side of things. People forget that in the past this territory was dominated by armed criminals and thieves who did what they wanted–they entered people’s homes, and dominated Maré.

The people who call for the end of the UPP, they are [the] intellectualized [ones]. I believe the name of the institution or project, the acronyms–they don’t interest me. Whether it is UPP–Public Policies Unit, like they’ve been saying–doesn’t interest me. What interests me is the result of the pacification process, the result of change, of a good thing that could happen here. The violations must be investigated. The truth must be told, but let’s look at the bright side of the situation. Sometimes we only look for the negative aspects.

I don’t want to involve myself in political issues, I want to involve myself in the issues of change that are happening here in Maré and in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

What we see a lot are people complaining that they put up a Special Operations Battalion (BOPE) flag up, or one from the Shock Battalion. I don’t care if you hang a BOPE or Shock Battalion flag. I’ll give you an example, I am a Flamengo (soccer) supporter, but if you fly Vasco da Gama’s flag, I am satisfied as well. What is important is the result within the territory. However, people take it very politically and only highlight the negative aspects.

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What is the role of the Neighborhood Association in a community that is being occupied by the army?

Osmar: The President of the Association is a community leader. We work together with people who try to make the residents’ situation better. For example, when you arrived I was trying to solve a problem, together with the army, for the community of Mac Laren that is in dire need of a proper sewerage system.

Our job is to improve the quality of life for people in the community. Since we are an institution, we have more power to bring resources to the community. So the guy [who comes to help] doesn’t need to talk to each and every resident, he can just talk to the President of the Association.

There are many institutions [working] here run by people who don’t live here. They are taking advantage of a difficult moment, both for the community and for the authorities, to speak about politics and we don’t want to speak about politics. We want to talk about living, the day-to-day. That is the role of the President of the Association–[to understand] the feelings of the people from the community.

I am President of the Association and I defend my community. I will not defend the drug traffickers, and I won’t defend a political party. I will defend the resident who lives here in Maré who simply wants to live like a regular citizen, with the right to come and go as they please. [I will defend] their right to turn on their TVs without noise or disturbance.

We help the community. For example: if there is an event outside the community, the Association rents a bus to take residents on a cultural outing. That is one of our services. There is an understanding of helping one another. Isn’t that cool? People have to get involved for things to happen.

We want change for the better, and people have an important role in the community. There are so many NGOs, governmental organizations, and churches at this moment that we have to engage, not to point out the negative, but to add something to the process that we want to see happen.

How long have you been President of the Association?

Osmar: I’m on my third term here, and I was re-elected in November for another four years. There is another thing here that is very important, the presidents of the associations are elected by vote, with the support of the residents. They go and they vote so that you can continue your work, or if they don’t want you here, they vote for you to leave. In the past, the community was dominated by drug traffickers, but the traffickers [here] were never involved in these questions of politics—they are very intelligent and know if they mess with the guy who is a leader, who the people want, it will become bad for them too.

We want to be respected as an institution and many people don’t respect us as such yet, and we are fighting for this at the moment. We are meeting with government agencies, the Secretary of Security, etc. Now, during this time of pacification we have become more prominent because we represent the local community’s desires. Therefore, it was an important moment during this time of pacification and change, not only for the community, but for the Neighborhood Association as well. Especially because we are chosen by the votes of our community.

This is different from associations in the past, in other areas, where presidents were chosen at gunpoint. The trafficker would say ‘Ah the president is going to be this guy.’ Here in Maré, thank God, we skipped that stage. Here, the people respect us. Anyone can come in, someone from the local government, or from the drug traffic, but they know we are exercising a function supported by popular demand. That is one of the most important things I like to bring up whenever I am in the Association–it isn’t just me, but the other leaders in Maré as well who are brought into office by popular vote. We demand respect in that regard.

Do you have hope for the future of the community?

Osmar: I have a lot of hope, because the local government had forgotten about us for many years. Many, many years. Now, we are seeing a change and we are only starting this process. We know there will be a few bumps in the road but it comes with the expectation of change, something better. So, yes I have hope. I have a son who is 8 years old, and maybe I won’t live to see that change, but I am fighting so that this legacy will be around for my son.

For us to have a healthy community, one with social programs, healthcare, security, and other important aspects related to citizenship, we have to go after it. I believe the community leader has to fight with the people and local institutions so that we can win this process in the future, so that change will come, so that we can have health and peace in Maré.

Do you think it is important to build social infrastructure before occupying the favela with armed forces?

Osmar: I believe this has to happen in an integrated way. We need education, we need better schools, better medical assistance. In Maré, we have plenty of schools, we have emergency clinics, we have Family Clinics, but it is poorly structured. We have quantity but not quality. We have to invest in quality.

But the fundamental point in Maré, in Complexo do Alemão, in other communities, is pacification.

It doesn’t help to speak about health clinics, schools, or any other type of project that the community needs without first pacifying the community. The control of these spaces is not that of the local government; it is under the control of the drug traffickers.

We believe this change is really important and very real. Everything has to happen in an integrated way, together with peace.

You cannot speak the way they speak: ‘How are they going to bring in the military with nothing else?’ It is the opposite, you have to have security and you have to have education, you have to have doctors, health, everything has to be integrated.

In reality, 80% of residents are satisfied with the occupation. There are few who have the courage to say this, they are afraid. But I don’t fear because I am doing this for my son. This improvement isn’t for me, it is for my son.

It began with militarization. After that, we will adjust things so they change. When people are more aware, when there isn’t a corrupt police force–I believe this can happen one day. But it had to start some way. It couldn’t have stayed the way it was.

Truth be told, only through total integration will this change be able to happen in Maré and maybe even all of Rio de Janeiro.

“It began with militarization. After that, we will adjust things so they change. When people are more aware, when there isn’t a corrupt police force–I believe this can happen one day. But it had to start some way. It couldn’t have stayed the way it was.”

Osmar on Tuesday of last week.