Violence in Rio de Janeiro that began Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010, continues to result in death, fires, and chaos. More than 35 have been reported dead, 174 arrested, 123 detained and hundreds of vehicles burned.
Last week, state-run Agencia Brasil reported that authorities ordered some 800 soldiers to join hundreds of police and marines and seize control of the virtually impenetrable labyrinth of slums, especially the Complexo do Alemao, or German Complex. During the military-style operation, a key drug ring leader, 24-year-old Thiago Ferreirs Faria, was shot and killed. On Nov. 29, Malaysian Digest.com reported that around 2,600 police and soldiers continued to occupy the area.
As I read the morning papers and listened to the reporters on CNN, I found myself speculating on how the Brazilian authorities might thwart the attacks from the unruly thugs, restore order, make arrests, and still manage to keep the other 85,000 low-income residents safe.
Brazil is not the first country to deal with violent criminal factions, nor will they be the last. Recently, Mexican officials have been terrorized by drug lords using deadly force in two separate border towns involving gun-toting criminals shooting innocent citizens. In October 2010, gunmen raided a drug treatment center in Tijuana, killing 13 people. Just days prior, in Cuidad Juarez, just South of El Paso, Texas, a group of young people (ages 16 to 25) attending a birthday party was violently attacked; 14 were killed.
Bangkok was recently on center stage in the Spring of 2009, when the “red-shirted” protesters’ march on the government building in the capital city brought swift reaction from the military. The movement had been ongoing since the removal of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra by a military coup in 2006. Law and order was quickly restored. Over 300 arrests were made and more than 70 were injured.
To me, it seems that many of these violent uprisings are resolved when the government swiftly reacts with force. Many times the threat of death will cause the reaction one desires. And I believe that, when necessary, the government must use all resources available to protect its citizens. While Mexican officials have not been entirely successful yet with their attempts to quell the violence in their country with military actions, it did work in Thailand, and it apparently has opened a dialogue as well. In Bangkok, the protesters had been somewhat peaceful in their demonstrations and appear to continue to be non-violent after the situation in April 2009.
In a nutshell, I believe Brazilian officials might be successful in their attempts to squash the uprising in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. It seems as though the government may have allowed the criminals to have gained too much of a stronghold on the neighborhoods. In a released statement, military officials admit that the slums were believed impenetrable.
By using deadly force to regain control, Brazilian officials have drawn criticism from various international organizations such as Amnesty International because previous attempts, namely in 2007, resulted in 19 people being killed by police and did not result in any long-term positive impact on the security of the community. Rio police have killed over 500 people so far this year, according to an Amnesty International press release dated Nov. 26.
For generations, governments have been attempting to protect its citizens from violence and threats of violence. Society demands it. We want and need to be protected from harmful forces beyond our immediate control. It’s what we elect officials to do. It’s what we pay them to do. No matter how unpopular it may be, there are times when deadly force is required. Granted, when it is used, it is almost always because other, more practical solutions were not implemented earlier.