Rising Attacks on Rio Police Bad Sign as Brazil World Cup Nears

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Attacks on police units in Rio de Janeiro’s “pacified” slums have increased amid some apparently coordinated efforts, in what represents a major concern for ongoing preparations ahead of Brazil’s World Cup in June.

Veja reported that 25 members of Police Pacification Units (UPPs) have been shot so far this year, compared to a total of 24 in all of 2013. Four have died, compared to three last year, while in 2012, five police were killed and nine others injured.

The latest attack (see Floha’s map below) occurred April 30 in the north Rio Complexo do Alemão, where four military police were shot, three of them members of the special operations unit BOPE, reported Folha.

“Our police are being attacked in a cowardly way. We are victims of sabotage,” said state Security Secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame.

On April 21, police arrested two men allegedly responsible for coordinating attacks on UPPs in various favelas, as well as attacks on buses and cars during protests. One of the suspects formed part of a criminal group charged with organizing attacks on UPPs, reported Terra.

In the face of this growing insecurity, Rio state Governor Luiz Fernando Pezão promised to implement emergency measures to strengthen the pacification program, bringing in more security and creating an ombudsman’s office where people could report transgressions by the military police, reported Estadao.

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InSight Crime Analysis

There have been signs for some time that Rio’s internationally acclaimed pacification program — which involves military police entering favelas, clearing them of criminal activity, and a UPP unit then being installed — is in trouble. Gangs like the Red Command have allegedly returned to some pacified areas. A UPP base was directly attacked in February, while attacks on UPPs in March triggered the government to send federal forces into one of the city’s biggest slums in an attempt to ramp up security.

The problem is particularly grave for the government in the run-up to the World Cup, as all eyes are on the country. The gangs know this, and it is quite plausible the apparently coordinated attacks are indeed an attempt to “sabotage” the event. Last year, the powerful São Paulo-based prison gang the First Capital Command (PCC) threatened a “World Cup of terror” in retaliation to police actions against them.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of PCC

Rising attacks are also an indication of the shortcomings of Rio’s pacification program, which, despite its successes in lowering homicide levels, has been criticized for failing to address wider socioeconomic issues or produce sustainable results. Members of UPPs have also been accused of abuses. 

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