Rio military deployment stirs controversy in Brazil

A mother and child walk past military police on patrol near the Vila Kennedy favela in Rio de Janeiro on February 23, 2018 Image copyright AFP
Image caption While some residents have welcomed the presence of troops, others say they have been harassed

Twelve days after Brazil's President Michel Temer deployed the military to boost security in the state of Rio de Janeiro, criticism about the move continues.

Officials have so far provided little detail about what has been achieved while residents complain about harassment and intimidation.

The general in charge of the operation said Rio was a "test case" for military deployments in other parts of Brazil.

The move came after a surge of violence in the state during Rio's carnival.

President Temer issued a decree on 16 February putting the military in charge of security in Rio de Janeiro arguing that he was "taking this extreme measure because the circumstances demand it".

The presidential decree was approved by Brazil's National Congress only four days later by an overwhelming majority.

Members of the Brazilian Army continue to secure a jail where a riot on 18 February left three dead inmates in the municipality of Japeri, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 21 February 2018. Image copyright EPA
Image caption One of the first actions taken by the soldiers was to restore order at a prison where a riot had broken out
Members of the Brazilian Army continue to secure a jail where a riot on 18 February left three dead inmates in the municipality of Japeri, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 21 February 2018 Image copyright EPA
Image caption Jail riots are common in Brazil and the response by the army was welcomed by residents
Special military police shock troops patrol near the Vila Kennedy favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on February 23, 2018. Image copyright AFP
Image caption But patrols by armed soldiers in neighbourhoods such as Vila Kennedy have proven more controversial

While soldiers have been deployed to the crime-ridden neighbourhoods of Rio before and were also used to patrol the streets during the 2016 Olympic Games, the decree puts the army in charge of Rio's police force for the first time since a new constitution came into force in 1988 following the end of military rule.

About 3,000 soldiers have been sent to patrol the streets of the city. But questions have been asked about the effect of the operation.

Children watch as soldiers remove a roadblock made by drug traffickers near the Vila Kennedy favela in Rio de Janeiro, on February 23, 2018. Image copyright AFP
Image caption The soldiers have removed road blocks laid by local drug dealers

Walter Souza Braga Netto, the general in charge, said on Tuesday that Rio was a "test case" but added that it was not up to him whether the military deployment should be expanded to other parts of the country.

In his first news conference since assuming his new role, he provided little detail of how he planned to reverse the spike in violence that Rio has experienced in the past two years, saying only that "the objective is what is in the presidential decree: recover the operational capacity of public security organs and lower crime rates".

A soldier controls passers-by in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 23 February 2018. Image copyright EPA
Image caption Some residents have complained about being searched
A soldier controls passers-by in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 23 February 2018. Image copyright EPA
Image caption Others have had their commute to work interrupted

Brazilian media has been critical of some of the measures taken by the soldiers, such as photographing residents and searching their belongings.

"It seems a case of discrimination, which ignores the presumption of innocence," columnist Vinicius Torres Freire wrote in Folha de S. Paulo.

Human rights activist Leonardo Sakamoto said that photographing and retaining people was a "bizarre" move targeting the poor.

A woman carries her child as she walks past military police on patrol near the Vila Kennedy favela in Rio de Janeiro on February 23, 2018. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Parents have told local media they want their children to grow up in a safe environment
A man passes by a group of soldiers that participate in a security operation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 23 February 2018 Image copyright EPA
Image caption But some doubt the soldiers will achieve this

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