In Rio slum, Brazil's Lula pledges end to neglect

Thu Dec 4, 2008 3:36pm EST
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By Stuart Grudgings

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva pledged to Rio de Janeiro slum residents on Thursday that new social and security projects would mark the end of years of state neglect and violent policing.

In a rare visit to one of Rio's violence-plagued slums, the popular president hugged construction workers building new apartments and received a rock-star welcome from several thousands of residents in the Alemao shantytown.

The slum, mostly controlled by the Red Command drug gang, is one of a handful in Rio receiving new apartments, health centers, and transport links under the Lula government's Accelerated Growth Program, or PAC.

The community of about 100,000 people is also the focus of a new police strategy that officials say marks a departure from the common practice of raiding, battling drug gangs, and retreating, which often results in innocent victims being killed or wounded.

Some 450 police officers trained in human rights and nonlethal combat will be stationed in the slum, emulating a policy used successfully by police in Medellin, Colombia.

"We don't want police anymore who enter from time to time without knowing who is good and who is bad, treating everyone as if they were the enemy," Lula said, blaming previous governments for what he said was 30 years of neglect of slums.

"The issue of violence is not just about the police, it's about the presence of the state with the education, jobs, training, culture, and leisure that we are doing here."

The PAC, the government's flagship infrastructure program, is expected to create about 5,000 jobs in Rio's slums, drawing youth away from the drug trade.   Continued...