Brazil has sent 3,000 troops to occupy favelas in Rio de Janeiro which were not included in the government’s “pacification” program, a move aimed at protecting candidates and voters from interference by drug gangs and militia groups during Sunday’s local elections.
The plan, which was initiated in response to reported threats from drug traffickers, involves reinforcing security in at least 28 Rio localities in the run up to Sunday’s elections, reported EFE. The operation began on October 1 in Gardena Azul, a favela located in Jacarepagua, a neighborhood in the western part of Rio de Janeiro, and will end on Sunday.
According to O Jornal do Brasil, the military will only operate between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Two thousand soldiers will patrol neighborhoods in the western part of the city with a high presence of vigilante groups comprised of former and current police, known as “militias.” Favelas which are predominantly controlled by drug gangs will be occupied by 1,000 Navy troops, according to EFE.
The president of the Regional Electoral Tribunal of Rio, Luiz Zveiter, told Veja that the armed forces will not enforce public security, but will help election officials deal with possible threats to free and fair elections, particularly illegal propaganda. Zveiter also stated that cell phones will be prohibited inside voting booths to help cut down on militia or gang intimidation of voters.
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Since 2008, Brazilian authorities have been attempting to “pacify” Rio’s favelas, in order to reduce crime ahead of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. This process has involved first “invading” favelas with large numbers of police and military troops, then installing Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) who are trained in community policing techniques.
Besides cutting down on crime, the goal of pacification has been to break the control of militias and drug gangs, who often virtually run the favelas. In the absence of state authority and services, criminal groups often serve as the de-facto government. These groups, along with community organizations, also often serve as the go-between for politicians wishing to essentially buy the votes of favela residents.
This latest move shows that, despite successes in UPP areas, the government still has an enormous amount of work to do in order to fully implement state control in Rio’s favelas. The favelas that have received soldiers this week may not be violent enough to warrant a UPP unit, but the fact that militias and drug gangs pose a serious threat to elections there raises questions about how the government will address these areas in the long term.