Six months after Brazil's military was deployed in Rio de Janeiro under the guise of improving public safety, crime continues to be a problem. Critics say the operation is nothing but "a show for Brazil's middle class."
"For the people outside the favela, it's an action movie," said Eric Martins. "But for us, it's a circus. And one that sometimes turns into hell."
Martins is a 29-year-old English teacher and member of Rocinha Resiste, a group of young people who banded together in opposition to the military intervention in the Brazil's second largest city, Rio de Janeiro. The group discusses security issues and tries to draw attention to abuses of power by the police and military in Rocinha, one of Rio's largest slums, known in Brazil as favelas.
Since the military took command of Rio's security apparatus six months ago, Rocinha has repeatedly been the target of army operations. The government justifies the move by arguing that crime in the megacity has increased dramatically and that the Rio police, poorly equipped and corrupt, continue to lose control. It has spent roughly €280 million ($319 million) to fund the military intervention.
Explosions and shots at dawn
When tanks initially advanced along Rio's streets, accompanied by soldiers armed with rifles at the ready, they tore through drug gang barricades, raided houses and indiscriminately checked residents' IDs. Checkpoints were also set up in Rocinha and gun fire was exchanged with gang members.
"But nothing has changed," said Martins. "It's just a show for Brazil's middle class with no respect for us residents."
Martins says the operations are carried out without any prior warning. "We wake up at dawn bathed in sweat from helicopter noise, explosions and gunfire," he explained. "We can't get to work or school."
A 15-year-old cousin of Martins has developed a panic attacks. "We are the victims of a failed policy that for 30 years has been dealt with simply by unleashing force onto complex problems," he said.
'No progress on security'
The statistics confirm Martins' point of view. Six months after the intervention began, the Security and Citizenship Studies Center (CESeC), an academic institution focusing on public security in Brazil, presented its first assessment of the military operation, and the results are damning.
"The most important indicators of public safety remain unacceptable," the report found. "The number of murders and massacres remains high. We are also seeing an increase in police killings and gunfire. The conflicts between gangs and militias remain out of control."
The experts behind the study determined that a security policy based on bullets, troops and military equipment would not be successful in bringing about the necessary changes in Rio.
High costs, unsolved murders
The CESeC report also noted a lack of transparency in how the military is working to reduce crime. "After six months, it remains difficult to follow the money trails," the report said. "The dozens of military operations, with an average of 5,000 troops deployed, have uncovered few illegal weapons and hardly affected the gangs."
According to the report, each individual operation costs the equivalent of €230,000. For the most part, homicides remain unsolved and there have been a high number of deaths resulting from clashes with security forces.
In addition, there have been documented incidents of extreme brutality on the part of the authorities over the past six months. Examples include soldiers and police firing into favelas from helicopters and a student who was shot by soldiers from an infantry fighting vehicle, despite the fact he was wearing a school uniform. In Rocinha, police executed eight men during an operation.
Brazilian government calling for patience
Despite the heavy criticism, Brazilian Public Security Minister Raul Jungmann continues to support the military intervention. "Of course things could be better in Rio. But most people are not aware of how deeply organized crime has penetrated Rio and how corrupt the police force was," he said during a visit to Argentina. The minister has called for patience, arguing that six months is not a long enough period of time to yield positive results.
But the dominant public opinion in Rio so far is that the intervention has been a failure. That is also a view apparently shared by some soldiers and members of the police. Authorities have complained that there is no intelligence to determine the whereabouts of certain criminals.
"The intervention is a lie. There have been no big arrests, nothing. It's a waste of time, a publicity stunt," one soldier commented in the CESeC report.
In the view of Rocinha resident Martins, the intervention is a maneuver by Brazilian President Michel Temer to distract public attention away from his government's failings. "They send soldiers from the periphery into battle in the favela," he said. "In the end, it's always the poor who have to pay."