Exterminating the poor in Brazil

Publié le par hort

: Public Security Policy or Genocide?

by Maria Helena Moreira Alves PhD in Political Science MIT (Massachussetts Institute of Technology) Professor of Political Science and Economics (State University of Rio de Janeiro, UERJ) Author of 43 articles on human rights, social movements, authoritarianism and democracy. Her book State and Opposition in Military Brazil (Texas University Press, 1984) is a classic for the period. She lectures frequently in US universities and has been a Visiting Professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison, University of New Mexico, Amherst College, Notre Dame University.

The "War" in the community "Complexo do Alemao" and in "Penha", completes today 54 days. By the government's own official record 24 people have been killed by stray bullets in the frequent shootouts and 76 people were severely wounded. Among those at least 19 children. A little two-year old girl died in her step-fathers arms while being rocked to sleep in the living room of her home. A bullet in the head. Another child, only three years old, died while playing at the doorstep of his home. Such tragedies, and many testimonies of desperate mothers are multiplying. Some describe how they sleep on top of their children, in the hope of protecting them from bullets with their own bodies. The Military Police comes up the hills frequently, using the armoured vehicle dubbed "Big Skull". They come in shooting. For this, and other reasons, there are so many victims of stray bullets. Until when?

This is happening in communities where, between 76.000 (government statistics) and 150.000 (community leaders estimate) people live. All these people have been without garbage collection and many times without electricity and even water. On the 12th of May the electric company Light came into the "Complexo do Alemao". They came in under the protection of community leaders to turn the electricity back on because it had been disconnected for six days. Military Police of the BOPE (a special police battalion) partially destroyed the company car with mallets. And the electric company was told that they could not re-connect the electricity. Withot water, without light, without garbage collection, the communities are at the verge of a true humanitarian crisis with possible serious consequences for public health.

Schools are closed. A total of 4.800 children are impeded from studying. Schools are closed for reasons of "security". The "Big Skull" vehicles come in shooting at any time, including during the hours that children are to coming and returning from their public schools. The children are suffering, are terrorized by the shootouts, and their parents have now hidden them in their homes, with the hope of saving them from the never-ending confrontation between criminals and police. Veritable hostages of this uncontrollable violence within their own homes. And the solution employed by the state government of Rio de Janeiro? To close all schools and forcibly transfer 4.800 children to only one public school that has been kept open in a "secure" place.

In what country do we live in? South Africa? Are we describing Soweto? In reality it is worth remembering Soweto. It was partly because of this community, which was encircled by the military police of South Africa, that helped spur the international campaign that eventually ended Apartheid. It is also important to ask, as Julita Lemgruber did in her article of O Globo , on June 7, 2007, if this military siege, this policy of impeding basic services to the population, of making survival difficult for residents, if this was occurring in a middle class district, how would Brazilian society react? If this was happening, for example, in Copacabana. This policy would be highly repelled by the population of Brazil and even of the world. If this is the case, then, one may ask, why has this continued to be carried out and enforced as a state public policy, for over 50 days, in the communities of "Complexo do Alemao" and "Penha"? The answer is inevitable: Because these are communities with a socially excluded population, of poor people, with a black majority. It is impossible to avoid and disguise the racism behind a public policy of "security" that attacks poor black communities in such a disproportionate manner and with a level of police violence and brutality that would be totally unacceptable in middle class and mostly white neighborhoods.

Amnesty International, and other international organizations, have published serious denunciations
about police violence in Brazil. In December of 2005, Amnesty International published an important report about the question of security in Brazil. With the suggestive title "They Come in Shooting: Policing Socially Excluded Communities", this report describes in detail the workings of a "security" policy based upon repression and force in poor communities of Rio de Janeiro. The report describes each incident of invasion of the communities by the Military Police, with numbers of dead and wounded by stray bullets during shootouts. A new report of Amnesty International, recently made public, cites a community leader who, in a meeting with Coronel Ubiratan Angelo, Chief of Police "of the state of Rio de Janeiro, expressed the despair of his community: " we have reached a point in which we must scream for help. We cannot stand anymore to lose our friends, family members and children to the armed violence. It is urgent to change this general scenario."(See Amnesty International report "Brazil: They come in Shooting: Policing Socially Excluded Communities AMR 19/025/2005.http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR1902520905)Also see the 2007 report "Brazil:From burning buses to caveiroes: searching for human security" at http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/engamr190102007 )

In this context it is important to emphasize that the new policy that is being implemented by the government of Rio de Janeiro, that is, the military siege of specific communities, geographically defined, with a majority black population, elicits an international debate about genocide. The question to consider is if what is happening in Rio de Janeiro, for more than 50 days, can be considered, within international law, as a "pattern that can lead to genocide". This question is well defined in international law. That is, actions that are deliberate and continued, and a public policy that brings about death, serious injury, impediments to general conditions of survival, mass transfers of children, of a specific human group. A human group in a particular geographical area, easily encircled by a military siege, vulnerable to police repression, with a specific identity, be it a religious, an ethnic or a racial identity. The international legal definition of the crime of genocide is included in Articles II and III of the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, of 1948. Article II describes what constitutes a crime of genocide:

1. The mental element, meaning the "intent to  destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such". 2. The physical element, which includes five acts described in sections a, b, c, d and e. To be called a crime of genocide both elements must be present.

Article III of the Convention describes five punishable forms of the crime of genocide: i.e., genocide; conspiracy, incitement, attempt and complicity.

To cite directly from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide:

"Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

a) Killing members of the group;
b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:

a) Genocide;
b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
d) Attempt to commit genocide;
e) Complicity in genocide."

According to the subsequent agreements and interpretations to further define these acts, the following are genocidal acts when committed as part of a policy:

1. Killing members of the group, including direct killing and actions causing death.
2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm, which includes inflicting trauma on members of the group
through widespread torture, rape, sexual violence, forced or coerced use of drugs, and mutilation.
3. Deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to destroy a group, which includes the deliberate deprivation of resources needed for the group's physical survival, such as clean water, food, clothing, shelter or medical services.
4. Forcible transfer of children, may be imposed by direct force or by fear of violence, duress, detention, psychological oppression or other methods of coercion. The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines children as persons under the age of 18 years.

In addition it is important to analyze what groups are rotected under the law:

A national group is a set of individuals whose identity is defined by a common country or nationality, or national origin. An ethnical group is a set of individuals whose identity is defined by common cultural traditions, language, heritage. And finally, a racial group is a set of individuals whose identity is defined by physical characteristics.

Brazil has signed and ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Brazil has also signed and ratified other international legislation pertaining to human rights and genocide, as is the case of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which in its Article 6 includes the entirety of Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Because Brazil has signed and ratified international agreements on human rights, that include the recognition of the crime of genocide, t may also be denounced by other nations that are signatories and members of the international system, including in the United Nations. Any Human Rights organization, and even any group of victims, could potentially formalize a denunciation against a country that is considered to be carrying out serious crimes against human rights.

It is extremely important that authorities seriously consider this international debate as to whether or not Brazil is establishing a "pattern that may lead to genocide". The consequences of a formal denunciation are extremely serious for the country and also for the individuals, be they government officials or not, who may be included in the denunciations. It is time for the government of the state of Rio de Janeiro to sit down with community leaders, with human rights specialists, with representative of human rights organizations and with NGOs that work on the question of human security in order to draft a long term public security policy that can in fact provide safety to all Brazilian citizens.

A good beginning would be to consider and follow the recommendations of Amnesty International in its two reports about security in Brazil . 

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Inside Rio's violent favelas

Brazil's government has pledged $1.7bn (£850m) to improve conditions in Rio de Janeiro's huge shantytowns, or favelas, in an effort to beat organised crime.

More than one million people live in the city's sprawling slums. The BBC News website and BBCBrasil.com spoke to some of its inhabitants about life in the favelas and whether they think the government's proposals will improve their lives.

Leonardo (not his real name), 23, lives in the Complexo do Alemao slum, where street battles between traffickers and police killed 19 people last week. Things are not getting better here, but I don't think they are getting worse.

Only now the press and the television make it sound much bigger. They sell violence to sell newspapers. There were police operations here before last week and only our community newspaper reported them. The police enter the community and threaten people, but I don't see how you can enter the favela without shooting. Gangs are even better armed than the police, so police have to shoot. But gangs enjoy community support because they improve people's lives. Drug trafficking brings money into the community. So there's no use in coming to the favela, killing a bunch of gang members and leaving.

The governments thinks it's smashing crime, but it's just smashing today's leaders. As soon as police leave, more traffickers come to power.  Governments come and go, but nobody does anything. There are no projects to urbanise the favela, or to improve water and sanitation. They promise to enlarge roads and move people to safer areas, but nothing is done. I know people I grew up with who are drug dealers. Since police give you no security against the gangs, you must stay neutral. I don't believe that the community supports trafficking, but no one wants to run the risk.

Ricardo (not his real name) lives in Rocinha, one of the biggest favelas in Rio de Janeiro, situated near the well-know tourist area of Copacabana.

We're all hostages of violence and the criminals who rule the favelas. Violence is a topic of conversation everywhere, in bars and on the streets. It's impossible not to talk about it or fear it. We see the news of violence in the Alemao favela and it makes people angry, because we know many of thepeople who die in the conflicts are reported as being criminals, but we know they are not. Police call them criminals but they are innocent people. The government has said that after Alemao, they will come to Rocinha.  It makes us anxious about when they will come and invade our favela. Here the conflict will be worse than in Alemao, because the government is determined to fight the gangs, and there many different gangs here. The police will launch operations here without warning. They will come with the Caveirao, an armoured vehicle they call the "pacifier". Kids here don't fear the bogeyman, they fear the Caveirao. Police shoot at you without asking who you are.

We have heard about the measures promised by the government, including building better roads. We think this is to give police easier access to the favela. Roads are too narrow for the Caveirao. So, every improvement for us is also an improvement for them. No one really believes that they will really develop infrastructure properly, even though the money has
apparently already been made available.

Luana da Silva, 27, is a street artist who was born and lives in Rocinha. She says life has already improved in her area, partly due to the growing number of tourists attracted to the district in a bid to get a taste of the "real Brazil".  This area has changed a lot over the years, mostly for the better. We have everything we need now.  There have been improvements to the infrastructure with roads being built throughout the favela. There's tourism here, here too. Thankfully there is not much violence at the moment.  There were lots of problems around 10 years ago, with drug gangs ruling the area, but it has calmed down a lot since. There's been a lot of investment, which has created jobs, money, and made life much better than before. There are still some problems with drug dealers and criminal gangs, however. So hopefully the planned investment by the government can help change things even further.
Straight talk from Hort
One of the most depressing moments of my visit to Brazil was at a conference in Bahia when a black policemen stood up and asked us, the visitors, what he could do to stop his colleagues from murdering black people. When he described what was going on in the favelas, we understood that the  Brazilian police periodically exterminate their black population. These are the questions that we need to ask. “Are the Brazilian favelas (slums) going to be used as models for the rest of the world? Why are the poor being systematically criminalized all around the globe today? (see article entitled Poverty or Unbridled Capitalism on this site), Is it to make it easy to remove them from the planet without any form of protest from the ordinary citizen? As people of African descent we should be very concerned by what is taking place in Brazil, because behind these military pogroms lies white supremacy and eugenics. Eugenics aims to improve mankind by limiting or reducing the populations of those considered as “inferior and useless” while working to increase the populations of those considered “superior and intelligent”. In other words, Eugenics is selective breeding. Here we are in the 21st century with the most advanced technology ever, but this recurring racist ideology is still firmly entrenched in our modern society. Isn’t there a saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same?” Need I remind you that Katrina happened not in Brazil but  in the richest country on the planet. We had better wake up before we find ourselves back in a 17th, 18th century world. 


Publié dans African diaspora

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