Summer in Rio — not only are the temperatures rising, but the crime is heating up, as well. Barely a day goes by when the local papers don't have a front page story of the latest security operations in one of the city's many "favelas," or shanty towns, of civilians killed in the crossfire between police and drug traffickers, or of stray bullets injuring, and even causing death to ill-fated passers-by.
Such is the state of Rio de Janeiro, a city with an almost schizophrenic environment, all at once beautiful and wretched, immensely wealthy, and drowning in poverty. The city — known in Portuguese as A Cidade Maravilhosa — or The Marvelous City — bears the marks of its contradictory nature everywhere. The shanty towns dot the hillsides, which, from the distance and even at night, lends a curiously bucolic air to these lush, rainforest-covered hills. The reality, however, is far from the romantic illusion.
The favelas embody the outcast nature of the city. They are enclaves of poverty, symbolizing illegality and, in turn, exclusion, and by all means, not just restricted to Rio de Janeiro — take a look at any city here in Brazil, and within the city, you find the favelas.
At their most innocent, they are neighborhoods where the poorer communities gather to scrape a living, earning their chance in society. At their most sinister, they are sanctuaries of utter lawlessness, where the drug trafficker rules with a heavy, bloody hand.
In the past few days, incidents of gang violence have been heavily reported, as well as ongoing police raids in the favelas. On Friday, police mounted an anti-drug operation in Jacarezinho, a shanty town, which cascaded into a fierce gun battle. Seven people were killed, including a 3-year-old boy caught in the crossfire between police and traffickers.
Over the weekend, more violence precipitated throughout the city — one of the main highways from the suburbs to the city had to be closed because of gun battles from ongoing raids.
Also, along the main Rio-Sao Paulo highway, outbreaks of violence caused more death and injury — a 15-year-old boy lay in grave condition in a hospital after being caught up in a gun battle between traffickers and police, who were engaged in a shootout with four men.
On that same highway, two other men were also shot and killed during an armed altercation with authorities.
Camilla Ribeiro, project coordinator from the Global Justice NGO questions the tactics used by the police during such raids.
"In the summer, when the city receives more tourists, there is marked rise in police raids," Ribeiro told ABC News. "This rise in police operations is allegedly conducted to guarantee more security, but in reality, this has not had an effect on the violence or drug trafficking in the city.
"As Rio becomes more internationally visible, the government has to be seen to be doing something, but these operations are extremely violent, and they generate more violence, more homicide — it's not an efficient policy."
The local government feels the strain here in Rio. With high summer and the famous Carnival festivities just around the corner, officials are under great public pressure to provide a more secure environment.
The governor of Rio, Sergio Cabral, has requested that the national security force — a 7,700-strong unit of armed personnel — be deployed throughout the state, securing the borders, and preventing the movement of drug dealers and gang members.