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A year after Olympics, Brazil’s army called to quell violence in Rio


A year after Olympics, Brazil’s army called to quell violence in Rio

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RIO DE JANEIRO – The deployment of 8 500 soldiers to Rio de Janeiro last week and the funeral on Monday for an unborn baby killed in one of numerous shootouts there were not part of Brazil’s plan for marking the one-year anniversary of the Olympic Games held in the city.

Escalating violence, fuelled by a deep economic crisis and a shrinking state budget, shows how far Rio has fallen since international athletes flocked to its stadiums, many now vacant, in August 2016. Growing allegations of graft involving Olympic projects are also tarnishing memories of the Games.

Official data shows murders in Rio de Janeiro state rose 14 per cent to 3 755 in the first half of 2017 from a year earlier. The number of people killed by Rio’s police, long criticised for their tactics, spiked more than 45 per cent to 581.

“We see clearly that the Olympic promise of a safe city has not been fulfilled,” Amnesty International research coordinator Renata Neder said at an event on Thursday. “Public safety in Rio de Janeiro has deteriorated dramatically.”

The situation is a stark reversal of gains made after police began a “pacification” programme in 2008 for some of the city’s more than 1 000 slums.

Police pushed drug gangs out of those favelas, where they held sway with impunity for decades, and then set up permanent posts in the communities for the first time. 

That programme was meant to increase security in Rio ahead of the 2014 World Cup and last year’s Olympics, and it temporarily succeeded in doing that.

But the economic crisis dried up funding to expand the programme, and critics say the government did not make good on promised social advances for the slums. As a result, near-daily shootouts roil the areas as gangs battle each other and openly attack the police outposts to try to regain full control. 

The Hospital da Posse on Rio’s violent northern outskirts has treated 410 patients for bullet wounds so far this year, compared with 480 for all of 2016, surgeon Alessandry Bastos said.

“This thing is growing in such a way that we can never say we’ve reached the peak,” Bastos said. “The peak will be tomorrow.” 

The situation is unlikely to improve anytime soon, with Rio state facing a 21-billion-real ($6.73 billion) deficit this year. (Reuters)

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