From what I can judge, by scanning European and American newspapers on the internet, the coverage of the violence in Rio de Janeiro this week has been pretty extensive.
But I do have something to add, something you are unlikely to have heard about unless you live in Brazil. First, though, for those of you who might have skimmed over the press coverage, here’s a résumé of the situation:
The great favelas of Rio de Janeiro, home to hundreds of thousands of the underprivileged, have long been infested by drug gangs. So numerous and powerful are these gangs that they’ve assumed virtual control of their neighborhoods. Until now, the law-enforcement establishment has lacked the manpower to suppress them.
And not all of the residents want them to.
The drug gangs support crèches, community activities and samba schools. They pay kids to act as lookouts and offer (illegal) employment opportunities to many.
But now, finally, an operation is underway to break their stranglehold on their communities.
SWAT units from the civil, military and federal police forces, working together with elite units from the Brazilian military have launched an all-out attack.
The photo above shows the arrival of more ammunition. In the last week, they’ve fired a lot of it
Some folks say the government has been compelled to act because Brazil will play host to both the Football World Cup, in 2014, and the Olympics in 2016. And, if tourists stay away, the investments currently being made won’t be recouped.
Others say the politicians took the initiative because violence has begun spilling out of the favelas and into the neighborhoods populated by the privileged and influential. And the privileged and influential aren’t about to stand for that.
And then there are those who think it’s been done to benefit the folks who live in the favelas. (They’re few and far between – and I’m not one of them. The politicians have had years to better the lot of the innocent in those favelas - and it’s not just coincidence that they’ve chosen to do it now.)
Okay, so much for the situation. Now, for what I wanted to tell you about.
It’s this, a statement issued by a joint committee representing the three principal (and rival) drug syndicates. It begins by asking that Rio’s poor join with them in their struggle against “police repression” and the “cowardly spilling of blood”. They ask that people take up arms and show their support by shooting at buildings and imported automobiles and by looting businesses, shops and markets.
They decree that “for every innocent poor person who dies at the hands of the police, two rich people will die.”
They further decree that “for every member of a drug syndicate who dies, two policemen and their families will be executed.”
They go on to blame the “middle classes” and the “rich” as the root causes of the troubles “because they’re the ones who buy the drugs.”
And call for a revolution against those “who wear suits and neckties.”
It remains to be seen whether the gangs are going to be able to recruit enough people to make good on their threats.
But this document is nothing less than a declaration of class warfare.
And it’s scary.
Leighton - Monday