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The Army Serves For Everything, Except To Protect Those Who Live In Rocinha

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For the original article in Portuguese by Geovani Martins published in Folha de São Paulo click here.

RioOnWatch Editor’s note: On Sunday, September 17, shootouts between drug traffickers broke out in Rocinha, initiating a week of police operations before Armed Forces were sent to occupy the community on Friday, September 22, with further shootouts involving traffickers and soldiers. Many Rocinha residents were stranded in their homes with businesses, health centers, and schools shut for days, while the conflict dominated Brazilian media and drew international headlines. For English-language coverage that contextualizes these events in the broader failures of Rio’s public security policies, we recommend the news report in The Guardian and analysis in The Intercept.

When I saw war tanks climbing the hill, I couldn’t stop thinking about the summer, 40ºC in the shade, being without water for more than a week, often arriving from work and having to find the strength to search for water in the well or at the source to bathe, cook, wash the dishes. On the days without electricity, that heat, that sweat, the fan stopped, the fear of food spoiling in the refrigerator. That ten-year-old boy who starts flirting with drug-trafficking while his mom is at work. That project—offering soccer, surfing, judo, theater, music, among others—interrupted due to a lack of resources. I kept thinking. In these moments, where was the state government of Rio de Janeiro?

One thing is certain, we are already used to taking care of ourselves. The hill’s architecture, from the lanes, alleys, and stairs to the houses, churches, and markets, is the biggest proof of this. That neighbor who loans you a plug so you can turn on the refrigerator and preserve your food, that neighbor who lets you know water is dripping and makes a point of reminding you that you can’t forget to fill the buckets. They show that despite everything, we are not alone.

The war tanks climbing, the armored trucks passing, I kept thinking: what really motivated this sudden military action? Many answers came to mind: the fact that Rocinha is between Gávea and São Conrado, between São Conrado and Barra da Tijuca, Rock in Rio, students from the [elite] American, Teresiano and Escola Parque schools without classes, the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio (PUC-Rio) closed, the televised circus baptized by the journalists themselves who gave it full coverage. Ultimately, many things. But at no moment did I think it could be in defense of the Rocinha resident.

Because anyone with a little bit of good will can see that a military action conducted this way–from one moment to the next, without any developed strategy, and which uses as its personell armed soldiers who do not know the geography of the place nor the dimensions of the conflict they are getting into–can serve for anything, except to protect the resident.

In these moments, it is impossible to forget the Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) occupying the hill. The Special Operations Battalion (BOPE) invading our homes, knocking over everything, asking where we got the money to buy our things, demanding receipts. All this for nothing, because the quantity of weapons and drugs seized during this period was low, and it didn’t take long before drug traffickers recovered the same force they had before.

This movie is repeating itself again. With the 13-year-old boy who recently arrived from the northeast, who had his house invaded by police shortly after his mother left for work, and who, not knowing how to answer all their questions, ended up with a broken arm. With the many residents who sent photos to the community website Rocinha em Foco, denouncing the police actions, showing their doors broken down, their houses turned upside down.

And in the midst of all this, we were forced to witness, in the virtual spaces we use to stay updated and, in a way, to care for each other, people (the great majority using a fake profile) cursing Rocinha residents, saying we want to denounce the Military Police but not the drug traffickers. Yes, we have arrived at a point where a large portion of the population thinks it’s completely natural to compare public security with organized crime. Nobody pointing the finger has any idea of how it hurts to have our rights violated, to pass days hearing shots ringing out, to carry this sense of impotence, and on top of it all, end up blamed.

Now that I’ve begun to talk about the commentaries that we received from outside, I can’t ignore the ostensive televised coverage, which manages to go the whole day without giving us any relevant information and yet makes a point of constantly remembering how much Rio residents who had to pass by that part of the city were suffering. Our part of the city.

On that same day that war tanks entered Rocinha, I saw on the Internet an article in a Portuguese newspaper about the Cia Marginal, a theater group formed in Complexo do Maré, where they highlighted the following point: Violence is in the world. Not in the favelas. Nothing can be simpler: it is impossible to separate the favelas from the world, forget that they are part of the city, state, or country. It is impossible to ignore their contexts and all that got us here. However, keeping in mind all that was said by the governor, the head of public security, the journalists on television, and the fakes with images of military personnel, I concluded that it is exactly this that they have been trying to do forever. To separate the favela from the world.

Geovani Martins, age 26, is a writer and a resident of Rocinha.