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.
“When we see a young man of 25 being arrested, he is a victim of economic, social and education polices. The state is to blame if he becomes a criminal,” Lula said.
In a reminder of how violent Rio’s slums remain, an eight-year-old boy was shot dead on his way to buy bread on Thursday morning only a few kilometers from where Lula spoke.
Residents of the Mare slum set fire to a car, shutting down a major road, to protest what they said was a police shooting. The police denied killing the boy, saying his death was likely the result of a shoot-out between gangs.
Depicted in movies such as “City of God” and “The Elite Squad,” Rio’s hundreds of slums are mostly controlled by cocaine-selling drug gangs, often pitted against militias made up of off-duty cops who adopt similar violent tactics.
Rio’s police killed nearly 1,300 people in 2007, up 25 percent from a year earlier, all of them classified as “resisting arrest.”
Amnesty International has criticized Rio State Governor Sergio Cabral, an ally of Lula, for “increasingly draconian” security policies. A U.N. envoy reported this year she was “overwhelmed” by human rights abuses by Brazilian police and their impunity during a mission to six states and nine cities.
“The model where the police enter, shoot, beat and leave is over,” said Justice Minister Tarso Genro, one of several ministers and state officials accompanying Lula.
Luis Carlos Silva, the vice president of one of the 13 residents’ associations in the Alemao complex of slums, said the security plan would only work if the new police force acted with “intelligence.”
“Generally they say one thing and do another,” he said.
He praised the PAC program but complained that no officials had asked him or other community leaders what they needed.
“It’s been much better than we expected but the problem we have now is with water. We are the only community in the complex without a pump.”
Editing by Todd Benson and Eric Walsh