Rio police force 'prime suspect' in bricklayer's disappearance

The disappearance of the bricklayer after he was questioned by police from the area’s Police Pacification Unit (UPP) on July 14 has drawn many protests in Rio and other cities

Rio police force 'prime suspect' in bricklayer's disappearance

World Bulletin/News Desk

Brazil’s Secretary for Human Rights Maria do Rosário said on Friday that she believed the police were the “prime suspect” in the case of missing Rio bricklayer Amarildo de Souza.

The 47-year-old, from the recently “pacified” Rocinha favela (shantytown) community in the west of Rio de Janeiro, was approached and questioned by police from the area’s Police Pacification Unit (UPP) on July 14 and has not been seen since.

The human rights minister said the ongoing investigation was pointing towards the hypothesis that Amarildo had become a victim of police violence and abuse of power, and that Amarildo could not be allowed to become just another statistic among similar cases over the years.

“The investigation and inquiry should be carried out with the specific hypothesis that it was the responsibility of the public agents (police), of an abuse by the authorities, of police violence – something that we cannot live alongside,” Ms. do Rosário told reporters, adding: “The first suspicious that we should have is one of police responsibility for the disappearance.”

The minister said she was in contact with Rio de Janeiro state Governor Sérgio Cabral and with the state’s Secretary of Public Security, José Mariano Beltrame – both of which have also spoken out about the case.

The case has drawn many protests both in Rio and other cities – including the country’s biggest, São Paulo, where demonstrations demanding answers over the disappearance have spilled over into violence and led to a number of arrests in recent days.

A number of protests raised the issue using the now-famous “Cadê o Amarildo?” (“Where is Amarildo?”) call-to-action, including during Pope Francis’s recent visit to the city.

Protesters are adamant the police are behind the disappearance, and suspicions have been aroused further by the revelation that the Rocinha UPP police force involved had their GPS tracking devices switched off on the night in question, July 14.

This is in addition to information from the UPP that two closed circuit surveillance cameras were also not in operation on that night, which could have otherwise corroborated police statements that Amarildo left the police station by foot after being questioned.

Amarildo’s family, for their part, are said to have lost hope of a possible safe return, and instead have requested his body be returned to them.

Political repercussions

However, in response to Ms. do Rosário’s accusations of police involvement, Rio state Secretary of Public Security José Mariano Beltrame warned against rushing to “flippant” statements holding the police accountable, adding that the investigation was ongoing and that any comments would be “premature” at this stage.

Mr. Beltrame assured reporters that, should any police officers be found to have been involved in the bricklayer’s disappeared, they would be punished.

Rio state Governor Sérgio Cabral has also expressed his desire to clarify the case, as well as his concern over allegations that the local police force was involved.

He told Rio daily O Globo that the state would “invest in the investigation to find Amarildo and those responsible [for his disappearance].”

One favela community leader called Mr. Cabral’s response “desperate” and symbolic of a governor who was “sinking” and would “do anything” to close the case and put people’s faith back in the UPPs, as the public could now see that they “do not guarantee public safety” but are instead “a process of social cleansing.”

UPP police investigation’s ‘prime suspects’

For most the prime suspect in the case remains the police force at Amarildo’s local UPP – the specialist police stations installed in favela communities once they have been “pacified” by force – with the aim of ridding the area of armed gangs and other criminals, which ruled the once-lawless areas of Rio de Janeiro.

Since 2008, some 33 UPPs have so far been installed in Rio de Janeiro and at least another seven are planned before the Olympics Games are held in the city in 2016.

The UPPs, the concept for which was taken from a similar program in neighbouring Colombia, have been credited with reducing violence in the areas – some of which have since become tourist destinations, but others say the operations merely flush the criminal elsewhere, and that there remains an uneasy relationship between residents and police forces in many areas, and many cases of violence and killings at the hands of the police have surfaced.

Police operations in the favelas have regularly ended in the deaths of both criminals and innocent bystanders, and community-based NGOs recently questioned why rubber bullets were used in the anti-government protests on the streets of Rio, while live rounds were used on disturbances in the favelas.

Despite this, the Secretary for Human Rights was keen not to “discard” the concept of favela community pacification and said the police “had to be become history’s good guys” rather than always “going in all guns blazing” into operations.

“Brazil’s police must become less violent and work with intelligent perspective, identifying the criminals […] and not simply going in with a repressive attitude against whoever might be there,” do Rosário concluded.

Analysts say there is a post-dictatorship legacy in Brazil’s order-keeping military police forces – historically split from their more “hands-off” investigative civil and federal counterparts – which means officers treat those from the favelas as enemy by default.

This “automatic enemy” stance was also highlighted at the recent mass anti-government protests.

Favela police operations continue

Even as politicians and protesters continued to sound off over Amarildo, a sweeping anti-drugs operation was held on Friday morning in the northern Rio favela community complex of Lins de Vasconcelos, involving 300 officers from military, federal and civil police forces.

Nine favelas were targeted in all, with one criminal reportedly killed in crossfire with police, and at least five were arrested. The operation followed a months-long investigation in drugs traffickers flushed to the favela complex from other “pacified” communities.

Police are also in the throes of occupying and setting up a permanent presence in the Mangueirinha favela complex in the Duque de Caxais area to the north of the city of Rio de Janeiro, considered one of the most dangerous favela communities in the region. Many arrests have been made and guns and stolen vehicles seized.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 03 Ağustos 2013, 10:04