This weekend I saw a documentary (twice) called "News on a Private War," a documentary made about 10 years ago by Walter Salles' brother. It is about the evolution of the drug trafficking business in Rio and the drug-related violence that plagues the city.
I'm going to highlight some of the most important parts.
- According to the film, between 200 kilograms and 4 tons of drugs are apprehended each MONTH in the city of Rio de Janeiro (this was in 1998).
- One person dies every half hour in the city of Rio de Janeiro, and 90% of these deaths are at the hands of large caliber weapons.
- The police estimate that up to 100,000 people are employed by the drug business in Rio de Janeiro, the same number of people employed by the city government.
- The movie included interviews with 2 BOPE (SWAT) officers. One said that he decided to join BOPE instead of the army because he wanted to enter into real combat, and that he was fighting in a real war.
- The movie also included an interview with a mom who lives in a favela, who gets up at 2:30am each day to sell newspapers and then takes care of her children and husband and only goes to sleep after 10pm each night. (Her daughter participates in a ballet program, but it was 10 years ago and I'm not sure it exists anymore).
- A historian discussed the evolution of the popularization of drugs in Rio and the evolution of drug-related violence. He points out that the "democratization of cocaine," when cocaine started to be used by the poor and sold by the poor, was the turning point in the history of trafficking here. That is when the violence spilled out of the favelas and into the rest of the city (in the 70s and 80s) with muggings, kidnappings, and armed violence.
- The evolution of organized crime, aka the drug gangs, evolved during the era of the military dictatorship, between the 1960s and 80s, when middle-class political prisoners mixed with common prisoners in Ilha Grande prison and established a socialist prison gang to ensure peace and fairness among prisoners. Once people got out of prison, this group, the Comando Vermelho, became one of the largest drug gangs in the city. Originally, it sought to fill in the social gaps that the government was failing to do in the favelas like providing medicine for children, gas for those who couldn't afford it, paying for burials etc. This is still done today.
- The drug war of Rio is between the police and the traffickers but also the traffickers of one gang with traffickers of another.
- Drug trafficking becomes an attractive option for poor boys and men since people from the favelas who have "real" jobs are paid around R$120 a month, which is barely enough to live on, where as traffickers are paid around R$300-400 a week.
- The police of Rio support a policy of fear in the favelas by spreading fear among residents to try to control violence. (Clearly, this policy is not working)
- The director of the civil police of Rio at the time defended police corruption by saying, "This is an unfair society. We are here to protect his unfair society." He claims that the rich demand a corrupt police so they can buy and snort coke and be above the law.
- Police and traffickers alike use advanced weapons sometimes found nowhere else in the world. Sometimes the traffickers have more advanced weapons than the police, like infrared night vision equipment. But many times, it is corrupt police who sell drugs to the traffickers.
- Sometimes when the police invade, they bring traffickers to the top of the favela instead of bringing them down to their cars to book them. In these cases, the female relatives and friends of the accused follow the cops around so they can't be alone with the accused, who will usually be tortured or killed if brought to the top of the favela. It is a victory when the cops actually arrest the accused.
- The police chief pointed to arms trafficking as a fundamental part of the war, and called for the closing of American and Swiss gun factories in a line of political thought close to American drug policy of destroying crops and intervening in producing countries.
- The documentary shows how the young are even more attracted to violence than older people, and as older traffickers die, new ones move up to take their place. They start as young as 10 or 11 in the business, and prove their bravery by going on missions to kill informers or rob people.
- When asked about killing people, both the police and traffickers showed no remorse, and commented that it is business as usual. However, due to ongoing violence between police and traffickers has given the war a revenge aspect, like in the Israel-Palestine conflict, that makes the situation even more complicated.
- One of the BOPE officers classifies the conflict as "a war without end."
- The end of the film goes to a white screen and names in black appear who are victims of violence in Rio: traffickers, innocent citizens living in favelas, policemen, BOPE, street kids, everyone. They appear one by one, clouding the screen with names, until it goes completely black.
If you can find this film, get it.