As we dive into wars in this course, I’ll tell you about the war we, “cariocas” (natives of Rio de Janeiro), have learned to deal with in our daily lives. If you’ve been following the world news, you’ve probably read about or heard of what is going on in Rio de Janeiro right now.
To provide you with a brief context, Rio de Janeiro has around 1,000 slums, called “favelas”, and they’re located both in the suburbs and within rich neighborhoods, such as Leblon, Ipanema, and São Conrado, among others. Drug traffickers live in slums – as well as poor, innocent people – and they keep their drug traffic headquarters equipped with war weapons, such as grenades and Russian rifles. The BOPE (Squad for Special Operations) also has these type of armament, but, while BOPE has 100 rifles, traffickers have, only in Complexo do Alemão, the most dangerous slum, 300 rifles shooting 150 bullets per minute (data from 2007).
Rio’s current war, in which several cars and buses were burned, is happening in the suburbs, but drug traffickers have planned terror actions throughout the city, sending out messages for people not leave their homes. As if ruling slums were not enough, drug traffickers want to take over the city, and this is when BOPE, the Elite Squad, comes into play. Last Sunday was a milestone in Rio de Janeiro’s history. It was the day BOPE, together with the National Army, invaded the Complexo do Alemão after two decades of unsuccessful attempts. They seized tons of drugs, arrested some of the traffickers, and killed others. BOPE will remain in Complexo do Alemão for almost one year.
Rio’s drama against drug trafficking was featured on the screen in City of God (2002), a film by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund. City of God received four Academy Award nominations in 2004. In 2007, José Padilha launched The Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite), about the history of BOPE, which was awarded a Golden Bear at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival, among others. The Elite Squad is going to be a trilogy, and the number two is playing now in Brazilian theaters. I strongly recommend these movies.
This is a topic that obviously upsets me because I’ve lived my life afraid of being robbed and hurt, and every time I face my city’s scary reality I get sad and worried about my mom, relatives, and friends there. Here in the U.S. at least I feel safe and happy to be away from that chaos. I’m not optimistic in regards to Rio de Janeiro’s challenges, but I can’t stop hoping that this war will be over someday.