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'Pacified' Favelas Rise Up in Fatal Protests Over Alleged Police Killings

Violence erupted over a popular TV dancer reportedly killed by Brazilian police in a favela near the Copacabana beach on Tuesday.
Photo via Reuters

With less than two months to go until the World Cup’s kicks off in Brazil, the country's favelas are heating up once again.

On Tuesday night, angry clashes broke out in Pavao-Pavaozinho, near the world-famous Copacabana beach, over the death of a popular dancer who protesters claimed was killed by police. At least one man died — reportedly after being shot in the head — during the protests, and one 12-year-old boy was also injured.


The violence erupted in response to the death of Douglas Rafael da Silva Pareira, a 25-year-old professional dancer from Pavao-Pavaozinho who regularly appeared on TV. His body was found earlier on Tuesday.

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Protesters blamed the death on police, who they said mistook him for a drug trafficker. They barricaded the slum and set tires and cars on fire, blocking traffic for more than five hours.

The footage below, from a local TV station, shows police watching the favela and angry residents — some pointing to blood on the ground — hurling insults at them.

Rio authorities said that they were investigating the incident, but suggested the dancer’s bruises seemed to be consistent with a fall — a claim rejected by reports that said da Silva Pareira died of a “transfixing wound.”

“The police killed my son. He had signs of blood all over his body,” the dancer’s mother, Maria de Fátima da Silva Pereira, told local reporters. She added that her son had gone out to buy an Easter egg for his daughter when he was caught, without an ID, by police raiding the favela. “This is not pacification,” she said.

Brazil is already fighting the war of the future. Read more here.

Pavao-Pavaozinho, which lies close to the site where swimming competitions will take place during the 2016 Olympics, is one of 40 favelas the Brazilian government claims to have “pacified” ahead of the World Cup.


Some 34 “Pacifying Police Units” — UPPs, as they are locally known — have been set up to fight crime in poor neighborhoods, but widespread allegations of abuse at their hands have drawn the scrutiny of human rights observers.

“Pacification” has been a divisive issue in Brazil’s preparation for the two global sports events.

'The poor of Rio, the favela residents, feel completely neglected.'

If you ask authorities, they will say they have cleared the slums of violent drug traffickers and other criminals.

But if you ask the residents of some of the poorest urban communities in Brazil, they will tell you that the clean-up has brought in a much worse wave of harassment, abuse, and dozens of killings by police than what they suffered under the rule of criminal gangs.

“It’s a mystery how police attempting to promote security cause even more insecurity,” a Twitter user said — reflecting a sentiment shared on the streets of Rio and on social media.

“Pacification is a real disaster,” another critic tweeted. “It’s like a war where those suffering the most are the needy.”

Difícil e complexo o processo de pacificação,é um mistério o fato da polícia ao tentar promover a segurança causar mais insegurança ainda.

— Roberto s. da costa (@rsdimy)April 23, 2014

Pacificação é um verdadeiro desastre e como uma guerra onde quem mais sofre e a população carente:(

— lidiane (@lidianeecletica)April 23, 2014


VICE News correspondent Ben Anderson reported on the “pacification” of Brazil’s favelas for the VICE on HBO documentary “The Pacification of Rio.”

“One of the biggest complaints about the pacification of the favelas is that while there’s a massive focus on getting rid of the drug traffickers, there’s no focus whatsoever on health care, sewage, schooling,” said Anderson. “I think the poor of Rio, the favela residents, feel completely neglected.”

The attention they have got has brought anything but “peace” to these impoverished communities.

The photos below — some graphic — show scenes from Tuesday night's clashes.

Photos via Reuters

“BOPE are the police special forces, their emblem is a skull with a knife through it, their motto is knife in the skull,” said Anderson, referring to the Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais, Rio de Janeiro’s state military police.

“They don’t care at all what the outside world thinks of them, or Rio, or the favelas… They are one of the most lethal forces, certainly in Latin America. All they care about is chasing, capturing, or killing the ‘bad guys.’”

So much so, he added, that many favela residents said they preferred living under the brutal control of drug gangs — “teenagers with rifles,” as Anderson dubbed them.

Tuesday’s clashes raised concerns, once again, about the upcoming World Cup. But this violence was not isolated.

Early on Tuesday morning, riots also sprung up near São Paulo, where armed men reportedly torched more than 30 buses in an unrelated attack, which police said was in retribution for the killing of a 19-year-old drug trafficker from the area.

The video below, from local TV, shows the aftermath of that riot.

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi