Rio's favela violence spreads to tourist areas as the World Cup approaches

The death of 25-year-old Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira has sparked clashes between residents and police just weeks before the tournament begins

Rio de Janeiro

In a short film made last year, Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, 25, played a carefree, popular young man from a Rio favela overlooking the stunning vista of Copacabana.

His character, DG, plays football on the beach with his friends in the hope of fulfilling his dream of being picked up by of Rio´s major clubs and helping his family out of poverty.

On returning to his community, he is greeted warmly by family and friends. But then, without cause, he is singled out by armed police who are on an operation in the favela, which like many had recently been 'pacified' ahead of the World Cup and Olympics here.

He is pinned to a wall by two officers, bullied, smacked and then shot in the head - just another young, black, poor man killed with impunity by Brazilian police. The story, tragic but typical in this city of stunning beauty and searing cruelty, may have ended there.

But, not for the first time in Brazil, life had imitated art this week when Mr Pereira, a popular actor and dancer on the Globo television channel, was found dead in suspicious circumstances - with his family pointing the finger firmly at the police.

Officials initially suggested he had fallen to his death but medical reports have shown he died from internal hemorrhage after his chest was punctured by a sharp object.

His death, in the Pavão-Pavãozinho favela, sparked violent clashes between residents and police that spilled from the hillside and into Copacabana on Tuesday night, with angry residents hurling missiles and setting fire to cars in the middle of the city's main tourist district.

 

A main road was closed and several hotels locked their doors. Gunfire was heard as an elite police unit moved in to try to quell the violence in the favela, where drug gangsters supposedly expelled years ago have been fighting back against the police for months. A 30-year-old man was killed in the ensuing violence while a 12-year-old boy was injured.

Amid the panic, violence spreading to the heart of Rio's prosperous South Zone less than two months before the start of the World Cup, the incident again brought to the fore the brutality of Rio's police and the fragility of the city's favela pacification programme.

So far, 37 pacification units have been created in poor communities, previously controlled for decades by the drug gangs, since the programme was created in 2008. The intention was to clear the gangs from the favelas but they have recently been fighting back.

There have been repeated complaints of heavy-handed police tactics, including the high-profile case of Amarildo de Souza, a bricklayer from the Rocinha favela who was tortured and murdered by local pacifying police last year, according to prosecutors.

Such cases have done much to dent support for the police in the communities and in recent months the gangs have reestablished territory in some favelas, in some cases brazenly attacked police outposts, with deaths reported on both sides.

On Wednesday night security officials said they were sending reinforcements to Pavão-Pavãozinho and the surrounding favelas, which sit on hills above Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.

The presence will also be enhanced by the presence of BOPE and Choque, two feared police special-ops units who are renowned for their ruthlessness.

But in Pavão-Pavãozinho, emotions are still running high.

As the pitched battles in Copacabana continued the victim's mother, nursing technician Maria de Fatima da Silva Pereira, 55, is said to have fallen to the floor upon realizing her son had died. “They killed my son. They killed an innocent man!” she is said to have cried.

Johanas Mesquita, a resident of the favela, told the Associated Press: “The police beat my friend to death, just like they've tortured and killed in other communities. Pacification is a failure, the police violence is only replacing what the drug gangs carried out before.”

That anger will take a long time to fade.

And, while it is too early for the full facts to be known, many in the community suspect that Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, just like his alter ego DG, died a senseless, violent death for simply being a young, poor, black man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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