The arrest of William de Oliveira, a community leader from Rocinha, for accepting money from ex-chief Nem, raises questions about any politician working in a favela controlled by drug traffickers. This article gives an overview of the historical relationship between the Residents’ Association and drug traffic in Rocinha, and how occupation has effected this dynamic. Rocinha, one of the biggest favelas in Rio with an estimated population f 70-200,000, is a significant voting bloc in city and state level elections as well. In the past, traffickers prevented politicians from campaigning within the community; opening up the favela could have political repercussions beyond the Residents’ Association.
Translation of article “Prisão de William expõe proximidade do tráfico com lideranças na Rocinha.” Published by O Globo on December 2, 2011.
The arrest of William de Oliveira, aka William da Rocinha, for involvement with drug traffic, exposes the close connections between traffickers and community leaders in the favela, and in Rio de Janeiro.
Rocinha’s post-police occupation politics must redefine themselves to fit the new order. The fall of Antônio Francisco Bonfim Lopes, aka Nem, and his gang shifted the dynamics of partisan community politics, which were heavily influenced by criminals under his regime.
It is suspected that the drug trade used Rocinha as a base of support, bankrolling candidates and using coercion to determine the outcome of general elections, for both public office and positions in the Residents’ Association.
Connection between Residents’ Association and traffic began in the 1980s with trafficker Dênis
The relationship between the Residents’ Association and the drug trade began in the 1980s, when trafficker Dênis da Rocinha expelled the thieves who controlled the favela and assumed the role of “boss.” His girlfriend, elementary school teacher Maria Helena, defeated his rival Zé do Queijo, a sort of local “colonel,” in a Residents’ Association election. Both Zé do Queijo and Maria Helena were later assassinated, but the influence of organized crime on the association would last for decades.
In 2005, William, at that time president of the association, had already been arrested for involvement with drug traffic after being caught negotiating with chief trafficker Bem-Te-Vi (“Good to see you”).
Nem must answer for sabotaging elections, among other charges. He is suspected of funding the campaign of city alderman Claudinho da Academia (PSDC, a political party), and delivering Rocinha’s vote. Claudinho received 11,513 votes—8,235 (71.5%) from Rocinha. “It was very oppressive; Claudinho was the only candidate. That made it an easy choice,” said a moto-taxi driver.
According to the Regional Electoral Tribunal, rival politicians, and community leaders, Claudinho was the only candidate “authorized” to campaign in 2008. Local leaders could not support anyone else or register to run themselves. The other candidates for city alderman were not permitted to campaign in Rocinha, a significant voting bloc. Former regional administrator Carlinhos Brinquinho, who could have challenged Claudinho, was prevented from campaigning there. Less known, and thus less of a threat, Adelson Guedes (PMDB, another party), who worked as a doorman, said he campaigned “in absentia” but was “closely monitored.”
At the request of the Electoral Court, the Army intervened. On the day of the election, however, soldiers were stationed only at the entrances to the community. Hundreds of Claudinho’s campaign workers distributed yellow T-shirts (the candidate’s color) and put up posters with tables and chairs, indicating polling places. Though they did not use force, his supporters intimidated journalists, and ostensibly pressured voters. Rocinha was a sea of yellow shirts, possibly sponsored by drug traffic.
Claudinho was the first member of the community elected to a citywide public office. He was found dead of a heart attack in his house in São Conrado in 2010. Claudinho once said that in Rocinha he could not resist the pressure coming from all sides, including the drug trade.
Drug traffickers only permitted campaigns connected with Residents’ Association; even Cabral was denied access
Claudinho’s political legacy was disputed in 2010. The yellow shirts reappeared by the hundreds, along with the dead politician’s photo, in support of two “adopted” candidates from outside Rocinha: André Lazaroni (running for state deputy on the PMDB ticket) and Marcelo Sereno (PT, running for federal office). “Claudinho is stronger dead that he was alive,” the president of the Rocinha Residents’ Association (União Pró-Melhoramento dos Moradores da Rocinha, or UPMMR), Leonardo Rodrigues Lima, aka Léo, told reporters. Léo is the current leader of Claudinho’s faction.
Candidates from within the community—ex-association presidents William da Rocinha, Xaolin da Rocinha, and Adelson Guedes—can run for office, but outsiders can only campaign with the association’s permission. Not even Governor Sérgio Cabral (PMDB) would venture inside Rocinha when he was running for reelection; his security team warned against it. His campaign only had a presence at the bottom of the favela, away from the drug trade.
Claudinho’s legacy was divided between William and “outsider” candidate
The votes for state deputy in the 2010 election were divided between André Lazaroni (PMDB), with 5,998 votes, and William, “of the people,” with 6,013—77% of the votes he received statewide. Together, they received a quarter of the community’s votes. This proved that, even with 70,000 residents, Rocinha alone could not elect a state deputy—though it could carry a city alderman into office election, as Claudinho proved.
The “outsider” Marcelo Sereno (PT), Chief of Staff to politician José Dirceu, received 3,542 votes from Rocinha, but lost the election. Local politician Xaolin da Rocinha (PCdoB) came in fourth, with 2,087 votes—82% of the 2,543 votes he received statewide.
Xaolin witnessed the power of the drug trade firsthand. Secretary-general of the UPMMR in 2009, he inherited a leadership role in the association during Claundinho’s term in the Municipal Congress. He didn’t hold the position for long: Nem ordered him to resign after six months and appointed Léo in his place. Léo was not a member of the association, but he was close to Claudinho. Xaolin declined to comment on the episode when questioned by Último Segundo.
Election held on the eve of occupation
On October 30th, days before Nem was arrested and Rocinha was invaded, Léo was reelected as president of the Resident’s Association with 3,994 votes—more than three times more than the runner-up. Cabeça and William da Rocinha received 1,296, and Adelson Guedes 100.
A banner on Estrada da Gávea, Rocinha’s main street, illustrated the tense climate and voters’ fear of coercion. “The time is now, change is coming! The vote is secret!”, read a campaign poster for Cabeça and William, the challengers.
Léo’s opponents, including William da Rocinha, claim drug traffickers funded his reelection campaign. There are stories of traffickers going door-to-door encouraging residents to vote on the day of the election, especially in the Valão, Nem’s stronghold.
“Léo bought votes,” William charged. “His campaign spent so much money. We’re going to request a new election because the process wasn’t democratic. The disparity between the vote counts was too great. This was a crime. The community wants to choose for itself. We need new actors in this story,” he said.
Léo vehemently denied the accusations. “William says we bought votes because he lost the election. Everything we did was within the law, approved by the Federation of Rio Favelas (Federação das Favelas do Estado do Rio, or FALERJ). I was never involved with anything. He’s the one who went to prison [William served 200 days in prison for involvement with the drug trade]. I saw that guy around [Nem] playing soccer, but we were never friends. I knew him, but we weren’t close,” Léo affirmed, before William was arrested on Friday (December 2). In an interview with Último Segundo, Léo said he “couldn’t say” whether drug traffickers leaving Rocinha was a good thing.
Buying votes and creating dependence through handouts
Aside from the supposedly buying votes, drug traffickers also dominated the community through social assistance. Residents claim that UPMMR’s social projects were funded by traffickers. Criminals, working through the Residents’ Association, sponsored almost 1,500 “cestas básicas” (a form of welfare) per month, thereby winning loyalty and creating dependence, especially in poor areas like Macerga and Roupa Suja. “It’s coercion,” said a resident.
“Buying votes keeps people under control. There was no way this election could have been fair,” said the defeated Adelson Guedes, who received 100 votes. “People were scared, scared to vote for or support other candidates. Because someone could tell on them: ‘this guy is campaigning for candidate X, Y.’ The people aren’t free. Of course this doomed my campaign, because people who wanted to vote for me or speak openly about voting for me couldn’t,” Adelson added.
William condemns drug traffic’s role in Resident’s Association election
According to William and other interviewees, Léo’s campaign team drove around the neighborhood on the day of the election, taking residents to polling places with yellow voting boxes and pressuring them to vote.
William also claims Léo’s campaign hired about a thousand moto-taxi drivers to take voters to polling places. Residents were forced to wear yellow campaign shirts. “What, you’re wearing the other group’s shirt?” Léo’s supporters would ask residents. In front of William, a woman told Último Segundo she was almost assaulted. “I had to put on the yellow shirt.”
“You know who I lost to [chief trafficker Nem],” William told the woman. “The majority of residents don’t vote,” said a moto-taxi driver. “My term will last four years. Everything I did was within the law and recognized by FAFERJ,” Léo stated.
Our reporters heard from many sources that the association is considered “repressive,” partly because of its historic involvement with traffic, but also for charging moto-taxi drivers and vendors fees to use public space. “They don’t do anything for us; they’re false. Before the traffickers left, we didn’t have a voice,” said a moto-taxi driver.
According to Gama, ex-“chief” of the moto-taxi stand Largo da Macumba—one of the largest in Rocinha—half of R$13 (about $7) daily wage he paid his drivers went to the Residents’ Association, for the distribution of welfare.
After occupation, government avoids using Residents’ Association as intermediary
Moto-taxi drivers have stated that part of their wages went to drug traffickers. With the arrival of the police, wages were suspended, and the drivers reorganized. “That’s a lie. The association never took a cent of their wages. Talk to the moto-taxi association,” Léo countered.
“The association controlled everything. People don’t want the old political system, they want a new system under the occupation,” said Xaolin.
After the invasion, the government has avoided using UPMMR as an intermediary, fearing the traffic’s influence. The field is open for independent leadership.
However, the “yellow shirts” are highly organized and active. Léo’s supporters have turned out in large numbers at all public events since the invasion. Léo will run for alderman on the PMDB ticket in 2012, with the support of Andre Lazaroni.