Friday, April 08, 2005

Massacre in Rio Getting Little Attention

Violence is a way of life for many of the poor. In the slums of Rio de Janeiro shootings are common and death squads of former and off-duty police officers, funded by local businessmen, are known to knock off undesirables. In Mexico City, policemen shoot street children as if they were just another pest.

But even by the these brutal standards, last week's massacre of 30 people apparently by a band of rogue policemen in Nova Iguacu, Brazil was shocking.

So-called police death squads have been operating with impunity in Baixada for 25 years, locals and human rights groups say.

"Everybody knows death squads operate here, most people even know the names of the people associated with them," Lindbergh Farias, mayor of Nova Iguacu, said in a radio interview following the killings.

So far, 12 current or former police officers have been arrested and eight of them have been charged with murder. Four allegedly did the shooting; the others provided backup.

According to State Security Secretary Marcelo Itagiba, they were upset over the arrest of eight fellow officers caught on video dumping the bodies of two men, both suspected criminals, outside a police station and throwing the head of one decapitated victim over the gate.

And yet, the March 31 shootings failed to create much of a stir in Rio, partly because it was eclipsed by the pope's death partly because people are accustomed to bad news coming out of trash-strewn slums like Nova Iguacu, which is in the poor, gritty Baixada Fluminense section of the city. It is old news

Two police massacres in 1993 — the Candelaria massacre, in which police killed eight people when they opened fire on at least 40 street children sleeping in front of a cathedral, and the Vigario Geral massacre that left 21 people dead — generated far more attention because they occurred in downtown Rio.

Rio Mayor Cesar Maia said he didn't believe the brutality would harm the city's image or have any impact on its hosting of the 2007 Pan American Games because they were unprecedented and "because there is no reasonable expectation they will be repeated."

"The barbarous crimes cause indignation and revulsion but they don't create a sense of everyday risk," Maia told the Associated Press.

Unless, of course, you're poor.


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