Brazil holiday capital sees sun, sea and shootouts

Clashes between police and slum-dwellers turn Rio de Janerio's world-famous beach neighbourhood of Copacabana into a war zone.

Local businesses were forced to close last week as hundreds of residents from a nearby favela took to the streets in protest after three men were killed in the community.


Residents of the Pavão-Pavãozinho favela are accusing the police of executing the victims.

Locals claim one of those killed – identified by police as 26-year-old Alexandro Firmiano de Souza – was a cleaner.

Sources close to the family of another victim also deny his involvement in drug trafficking, as police at the scene alleged.

The eight police officers on duty at the time will be held in custody for 30 days whilst an investigation is carried out.

The deaths followed an attack by traffickers on a police post in the favela of Pavão-Pavãozinho. Conflicting reports have since emerged about how the men came to die.

Human rights groups have expressed growing concern at the number of civilians killed by Rio police in recent years.

According to Global Justice, a São Paulo NGO, the number grew from 289 deaths in 1999 to 900 in 2002. Last year’s figure is thought to be even higher.

“There is a tendency in the intention to kill,” said Global Justice’s Marcelo Freixo earlier this year.

According to police, the favela – sandwiched between the wealthy southern districts of Copacbana and Ipanema - is one of the main points of drug trafficking in Rio.

Founded early last century, it is now home to more than 12,000 people.

Locals took to the streets at around 1930 on Wednesday.

Soon after, the normally busy roads were transformed into a running battle between police and protestors.

Students at one local university stayed behind after class fearful of the shootout.

During the night police invaded the favela. The next day residents spoke of their reluctance to leave home. “It’s absolutely barbarous,” one man told local television. We’ve locked all the doors.”

Today the president of the favela’s residents association, Alzira Barros do Amaral, said the killings were revenge for complaints made about police abuses.

In May 2000 the community witnessed similar scenes.

About one hundred residents from the favela pelted buses with stones, after five were killed in battles between police and drug traffickers.

“While the rival gangs of drugs and arms traffickers use the city’s squatter settlements as their base, those who suffer most from this illegal trade are the favela residents,” wrote academic Elizabeth Riley in her recent study of the community.

“Not only do they suffer from violent disputes between rival gangs, but also from police persecution and repression, which is especially felt by young black males living in favelas.

"They are… the victims of stigma, fear and prejudice,” she said.

The disturbances threaten to damage a pioneering community policing scheme (GPAE), introduced to the community in 2001.

The project – designed to bring security to the area – involved the training of officers in human rights and revolved around three basic principles: zero-tolerance of arms, of the involvement of minors in trafficking and of human rights abuses by the police.

Though initially hailed as a success and subsequently introduced in other Rio favelas, the minister for public security Anthony Garotinho has been forced to admit potential shortcomings.

Mr Garotinho has ordered an inquiry into the causes of the violence, to be headed by police chief João Carlos Ferreira.