25 de septiembre de 2020
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Hispanic World

Indignation, fear in Paraisopolis, the Brazilian shantytown where 9 died

By Alba Santandreu

By Alba Santandreu

Sao Paulo, Dec 2 (efe-epa).- On the streets of Paraisopolis, the second-largest "favela," or shantytown, in Sao Paulo, indignation and fear permeate the atmosphere of this poor Brazilian neighborhood where on the weekend nine young people were trampled to death when the crowd at a massive street dance party panicked during a police operation.

Few want to comment on the tragedy that hit the neighborhood on Sunday and those who do whisper their remarks or ask to talk inside out of fear of reprisals from the police or groups of drug traffickers, who control almost the entire favela and the big street party known as DZ7, an outdoor "funk" dance fest that attracts thousands each weekend along Ernest Renan Street.

Just a short distance from the scene of the tragedy, in a humble house on one of the favela's hundreds of narrow cul-de-sacs, Maria (not her real name) woke up Sunday morning to cries for help and the sound of gunfire.

It was just a little after 5 am and the police had just moved in firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd at the "funk party" where more than 5,000 young people had been dancing. The crowd bolted and nine people - none of them over age 23 - were trampled to death, including four minors.

"Not everyone who was at the dance is from Paraisopolis. The people didn't know where the way out was and were like seasick cockroaches, not knowing which way to run," she told EFE.

When dawn broke and she left her house to go to work, she came upon a "scene of terror." There were bloodstains on the street, along with dozens of shoes, caps, pieces of jewelry, ID cards and other belongings dropped in the melee, along with assorted pepper-spray cans used by the police during their operation.

According to the police version, the stampede came when officers tried to move into the crowd in pursuit of two suspects who had disappeared in the throng after opening fire at police who had been pursuing them.

Police said that people in the crowd hurled bottles and stones at them, so they deployed tear gas and fired rubber bullets to protect themselves.

But Carlos, a bar owner on Ernest Renan Street who was present when the confusion broke out, told a different story.

"The police were not pursuing anyone. Their version is a lie. And the young people were not trampled. Some of them were killed by the police," he told EFE at the door of his business, the revenue from which depends largely on the funk dances that run from Thursday through Sunday in that part of the favela.

Cellphone videos shot by local residents and posted on the social networks show hundreds of young people being cornered in narrow streets by police, who then set upon them with truncheons and beat them savagely.

Everyone, however, agrees that the police operations in this community, where more than 55,000 people live in marginal conditions, have increased in recent months, a type of "reprisal" - they say - after a police officer was killed in a shootout with criminals.

The police say that the street dances are a facade for criminal activity of all kinds, including rape and drug trafficking.

"There are drugs, young girls are made pregnant, there's sex, they also rob people ..." said Military Police commissioner Emiliano da Silva Neto, who called for the "uniting" of all security forces to "resolve that problem."

The Paraisopolis Neighborhood Association, meanwhile, said that the funk dances are a place where people can enjoy themselves given "the lack of cultural opportunities" in the favelas.

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