Archive article from The Socialist Issue 442
Brazil: Hundreds killed by brutal military police
BRAZIL'S HATED Military Police (PM) had a brutal response to the violence unleashed by the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) in São Paulo on 12 May (see last week's the socialist).
Tony Saunois, CWI, Brazil
In just 12 hours on 15-16 May, the PM gunned down 33 "suspects". Over the next few days over 100 were killed, many with no links with the PCC or any other group linked to organised crime and drug dealing, kidnapping etc.
Ricardo Flauzino, a 22 year-old worker executed in a working class district north of São Paulo by a PM tactical response unit, had no link with PCC. More than 300 participated in a spontaneous protest.
The youth were so enraged that they copied some PCC methods, stopping a bus, getting passengers and driver off it then setting it alight to get publicity for their protest.
For days São Paulo was awash with heavily armed road blocks. PM officers stood at checkpoints often with pistols drawn. On a journey to Rio de Janeiro the police stopped the bus twice while an unfortunate passenger, an older black worker, had his luggage searched.
The PM's renowned brutality against young people and the horrific poverty in São Paulo's favelas ('shanty towns') ensured that some sympathy developed for the PCC. Most people blame either the state or government for the violence.
In one poll, 55% of people held the justice system responsible, over 39% blamed Lula while 37% blame the former São Paulo governor.
These events terrify part of the ruling class who fear that neo-liberal policies have gone too far and now threaten their interests.
São Paulo's current governor Claudio Lembo, a member of the right-wing Liberal Front Party (PFL) warned "the white elite is responsible... if it does not open its hands and distribute some of its wealth then Brazil faces the threat of barbarism".
Violence and crime
Violence and early death are part of daily life in Brazil's favelas where millions live. The favelas in greater São Paulo are usually on the periphery of this mega-city of 20 million people.
In Rio de Janeiro the reality of divided society is evident in the heart of the city. Here massive favelas exist side by side with plush, spacious houses of the wealthy middle class who live imprisoned in gated estates, protected by armed guards to keep out the poor.
Violence, crime, drugs are endemic. Rio is a living hell, a city of grinding poverty where 60% of the population is herded into more than 700 favelas.
Even the middle class cannot escape as they are caught in the crossfire of gun battles where bullets penetrate houses and cars behind gated estates next to the favelas.
Life and death in the favelas
WITH TWO members of Socialismo Revoluccionario (SR - Brazilian section of the CWI), we visited a favela in Acari, north of the city. The train passes what look like derelict, windowless factories and other buildings with clothes hanging from bits of string. This is home for the youth hanging around on top of these multi-storey blocks.
Another SR member, Deley de Acari, with a long history of struggle in the Workers' Party (PT) and workers' movement in the 1970s has lived at Acari for over 30 years. Without him it would be impossible to enter. At the favela entrance are groups of youth with walkie-talkies and guns, controlling who goes in and out.
Walking up the "street" with shacks, some wood, some concrete, youth are either on foot or motorcycles. Many have pistols either in holsters or just brandish them in their hands. These "soldiers" are the drug dealers' foot soldiers. With guns, motorcycles and some money in their pockets they are drawn into drug trafficking and can sometimes win "respect" in an otherwise hopeless situation.
Deley says only a small minority of favela youth become "soldiers". But once in, there is no escape. Here, as in other favelas, the violence is endless. Most of it however comes not from the "soldiers" but as vicious repression meted out by Rio's Military Police (PM) who are even more brutal than in São Paulo.
In Acari, where about 50,000 live, at least two people are killed every week. Rio's police were trained by other state machines with experience of brutal repression. PM officers went to Israel to learn techniques used to repress the Palestinian people.
Deley arranged for us to meet one of many mothers whose children were murdered by the police. Many victims are innocent youth and children caught in the crossfire between the PM and "soldiers". The police are also involved in drug trafficking and take kick-backs. For a fee, the "soldiers" can be left with a free hand.
Creuza says the PM see all favela youth as drug traffickers or violent criminals.
With tears running down her face, she tells us how the police shot Rafael, her 16-year-old son. Clutching a bag containing mementos of his short life, she explains what has happened since her son died. Rafael was black. He had got a job as a bus conductor and could give her some money for the first time towards food.
A few weeks after his death the press lost interest and they could get not press coverage. With Deley's help she organised an heroic campaign and managed to get witness statements, resulting in the prosecution of two policemen.
But judgment can take up to a year. Any prosecution of the police is rare especially given police threats and intimidation against witnesses. The trauma of these events trigger panic attacks in Creuza, but there is no medical support for these in the favela. This is one issue that Deley and the network of families against violence are now fighting to win.
Creuza wanted to know what happened when London police shot Brazilian worker Jean Charles on the pretext of being a 'terrorist suspect' and about France where the repression of immigrant youth triggered the social explosions in 2005.
Rafael was not the only youth killed in Acari. An eight year old was shot by the police running down the street. Later an older worker, Ze Luis, told of the hunger strike he held outside Rio's town hall in protest at his two year old son's death.
The swing to the right and collapse of the PT and other working-class organisations and social movements in many favelas have left a massive vacuum. P-SOL (Party of Socialism and Liberty - the new broad socialist party that SR is helping to build in Brazil) still has to prove that it can fill it.
P-SOL will need to campaign for a real socialist alternative and also build a base of activists in workplaces and communities like Acari. SR members are beginning to do this.
Part of this is linking struggles in favelas like Acari with workers' struggles in Brazil and internationally. Deley and other SR members distribute reports on the battles of the homeless in Kazakhstan and recent movements in France, Germany, Britain and other countries to activists in the favela for discussion.
City homeless get organised
IN SÃO Paulo members of SR, which leads the APEOESP teachers union in Taboao, organised solidarity with the homeless people's camp called "Chico Mendes". At its peak this camp organised a land occupation and built temporary homes for over 1,000 people.
MTST, the homeless organisation linked to the MST rural landless movement, organised this battle and incorporated some of the methods of struggle in the countryside into the city homeless movement.
The camp built homes, meeting rooms, kitchens and even a crèche. It is broken down into "brigades" that discuss the common problems of running the camp, like lighting, water supply and security. These "brigade" meetings then elect representatives to a committee to run the camp.
A 12-day protest outside Sao Paulo's city hall forced the city government to agree some concessions and offer some houses and flats to some involved. Over 250 people are currently on the camp and waiting for houses. Political education meetings have been held, including discussions on the history of the workers' movement.
One of the Chico Mendes organisers, Marcos, explained that they kept drug traffickers out of the camp. However, the threat of violent attack has been ever-present, mainly from the police. The PM regularly swoops and illuminates the entire camp with spotlights to try to intimidate activists. Shots are fired indiscriminately into the camp.
The neo-liberal polices implemented by Lula and the PT-led government have been a disaster for Brazil's working class.
To ensure that the poverty and misery blighting the lives of millions are ended, a mass socialist alternative must be built.
P-SOL has the opportunity to build such a force. The SR is fighting for this party to adopt a genuine socialist programme and build such an alternative.