Brazil: police actions protested during pope’s visit

Some 1,500 to 2,000 protesters demonstrated against the Rio de Janeiro state government and militarized police the evening of July 22, the first day of Pope Francis’ weeklong visit to Brazil. The protest, reportedly called by the anarchist groups Anonymous Rio and Anonymous Brazil, started as Francis, on his first international trip since he took office in March, was meeting with Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and Rio state governor Sérgio Cabral in the Guanabara Palace, the state’s main administrative building, in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Shortly after the pope left the meeting, someone hurled a molotov bomb at line of police agents, who responded with tear gas and water cannons. Two agents were injured by the bomb, and other people were hurt in the melee that followed, including a photographer from the Agence France-Presse wire service.

As in the massive protests that spread over Brazil in June, the much smaller July 22 demonstration addressed a variety of issues, including government corruption, LGBT rights, abortion rights, the need for better public services, and the spending of public money on stadiums for the World Cup soccer championship in 2014. As in earlier local demonstrations, there were calls for Gov. Cabral to step down. But for many the central issue was the disappearance of construction worker Amarildo de Souza Lima the night of July 14 after the state’s Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) picked him up in an anti-drug operation in Rocinha, the large favela (improvised urban settlement) where he lived in the south of the city. The police said they cleared De Souza and released him, but he hasn’t been seen since. “Where’s Amarildo?“ the protesters chanted, and a group of students projected the message on the side of a building. 

Protests demanding information on De Souza continued throughout the week, including a demonstration at the city’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue, another protest outside the Guanabara Palace on July 24 and a July 26 demonstration in the Copacabana neighbhorhood in the midst of pilgrims who had come to see the pope. Gov. Cabral met with Elizabeth Gomes da Silva, De Souza’s wife, along with three other relatives on July 24. Gomes reportedly left the meeting frustrated, although Cabral sent out a Twitter message later promising: “I’m going to mobilize the whole government to find out where Amarildo is and to identify the people responsible for his disappearance.“

A police search on July 26 in Rocinha’s Alto da Dioneia section found no evidence of De Souza’s whereabouts. Four police agents have been reassigned to administrative duties at UPP headquarters while the investigation continues. (Veja, Brazil, July 22, July 24La Nación, Argentina, July 23; Terra, Brazil, July 24; R7, Brazil, July 26; Los Angeles Times, July 26, from correspondent)

Protesters and the Rio police spent the week engaged in a controversy over who threw the molotov bomb on the night of July 22. Agents arrested Bruno Ferreira Teles, a student who they said had 20 molotov bombs in his possession. Two videos emerged later that seemed to show at least two police agents posing as protesters; some protesters said one of the apparent agents was the man who threw the bomb. On July 25 the police released a video they said showed that the bomb thrower had a tattoo; police spokespeople insisted that none of the police infiltrators had tattoos. Meanwhile, the Brazilian paper Jornal Nacional got hold of a police report saying the student Ferreira had no explosives when he was arrested, contradicting public police statements. (Global Post, July 26)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 28.