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Cablegate: Druglord Orders Rio Bus Burned

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.






1. Cariocas (Rio de Janeiro residents) awoke November 30 to a gruesome news story in the daily, O Globo, concerning the death of five passengers and wounding of fourteen others on a bus the previous night. In a city where police brutality and drug gang violence have become almost daily routine, the story that twelve drug gang members had burned the bus to seek revenge on the Military Police who had killed one of their members the same day in the same favela, Bras de Pina, was shocking. The bus was apparently chosen at random; one of the armed gang members refused to let the bus driver open the back exit while other gang members poured gasoline on the bus floor and set fire to it. Only a few people managed to escape through the windows. Given the intensity of the blaze, the victims, burned alive, can only be identified through dental records or DNA testing (which could take up to one year).

2. This incident raised the indignation about the lack of public security to a new level: talk rolled through the city, on the radio, in the elevators, on the sidewalks. While civilians are frequent victims of police and criminal behaviour, a new level of violence was achieved with this act: instead of stray bullets from raids, assaults in the home and on the street, carjackings and "lightning kidnappings" which appear random, this was an intentional act taken against innocent civilians. Julita Lemgruber, director of the Center for Safety and Citizenship Studies at the University Candido Mendes, was cited as saying that if the state did not respond promptly there would be more and/or worse violence to come. Rubem Cesar Fernandes, coordinator of the NGO Viva Rio (which works in the city's favelas), stated that never before had the city seen such a barbarous act.

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3. On December 1, police discovered four gang members shot dead, in an abandoned automobile. A 13- year old illiterate, drug-using, orphaned female, detained on December 3, confessed to being part of the gang that attacked the 350 bus on Passeio-Iraja bus line and identified the four dead males as having participated in the attack. They were reportedly ordered murdered by a gang leader named Mica, who is vying for control of the gang with the head of drug trafficking in the Morro da Fe, Lorde, who ordered the original bus attack. Police, however, are also investigating other possible explanations for these acts, such as retaliation against a crooked cop attempt to extort the gang or Brazil's most feared druglord, Fernandinho Beira-Mar of the Red Command (Comando Vermelho), ordering the hit from his maximum security seclusion in the north of Brazil for unknown reasons. An anonymous phone call to the police, ostensibly by a Red Command member, said the four dead gang members were not shot in the head, specifically so that they could be recognized both by the victims and the police.

4. On December 2, Amnesty International published a report entitled "They Come in Shooting," criticizing repression-oriented public security in Brazil, using Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo as exampla of cities where police "overkill" encourages a concentration of violence in the shantytowns (favelas) where poor people live. But poor people, as these recent events demonstrate, are just as much victims of the barbarity of drug-related violence as of police violence. The irony is that four gang members involved in the bus attack were killed within 24 hours and seven others are actively being sought by the Red Command - prompt retributive vicious justice offered to the police so that the business of drug trafficking can get back to normal in the favela and the police can return to their barracks. Letters to the Editor of O Globo are again calling for the use of the military, the same call that happened during the Easter 2004 war in Rocinha, to take back control of the city.

5. As Marcelo Itagiba, the State Secretary for Public Security, says with frequency: The police cannot address the root causes of violence in Brazilian society - lack of education, lack of housing, lack of basic infrastructure, lack of jobs, lack of hope - that make the poor particularly vulnerable to victimizing and being victimized.

6. This cable was cleared by Embassy Brasilia.

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