Sunday, February 13, 2005

favela president's jail term questioned

When I was in Rio de Janeiro, I got to know Rumba Gabriel, head of the residents association of Jacarezinho, a large favela in Rio's tough, working class Zona Norte. He was tremendously involved in bringing city officials and the Bauhaus architectural group into his community to make major improvements in the favela. Now a Commission on Human Rights report from December 2004 reports that that he was accused of working with drug traffickers -- and convicted under fishy circumstances. I'll try to find out more through our mutual friends. In the meantime, here is the summary of the weirdness surrounding his case, taken from that Human Rights report:

"On 15 June 2004, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the
situation of human rights defenders sent an urgent appeal to the Government of Brazil in relation to the situation of Antônio Carlos Ferreira Gabriel, also known as “Rumba”, a community leader who has been particularly active in denouncing cases of police violence in the shanty town of Jacarezinho in the city of Rio de Janeiro. According to the information received, since the launch of a public campaign to denounce incidents of police kidnapping of local residents in 1999, Mr. Ferreira Gabriel has been the victim of constant acts of intimidation and harassment, including anonymous threatening phone calls and a raid on his house during which he was threatened at gunpoint by members of the police force. It is reported that his wife lodged a complaint with police station No. 25 regarding the latter in July 2001. However, following numerous anonymous threatening phone calls from the police, she was forced to withdraw it. According to the information received, on 4 April 2002, “Rumba” was requested to present himself to the police where he was arrested on charges of drug trafficking and placed in detention for four months. He was acquitted by the 34th Criminal Court on 4 February 2003. However, shortly after the visit of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to Brazil in September 2003, which included a visit to the Jacarezinho favela and during which “Rumba” was actively involved in informing the community of her visit, the decision of the 34th Criminal Court was appealed by the Public Prosecutor to the Rio de Janeiro State Court of Justice. On 11 December 2003, he was sentenced to eight years in prison without parole. The court judge reportedly made this decision without having reviewed the evidence that had led to his acquittal in the first trial. A habeas corpus appeal has been made to the Brazilian Supreme Court. Concern has been expressed that “Rumba” was targeted for his human rights work on behalf of the residents of Jacarezinho. In particular, it has been alleged that the legal proceedings for drug trafficking charges and the decision to appeal his case may be in reprisal for his work to involve the community in reporting police violence to the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and may be aimed at preventing him from carrying out his human rights work."


Anonymous said...

I don't know anyone who lives in the favela, but if it's like ghettos in the US, it's almost impossible not to "associate" with those in the drug trade. So anyone can catch a case here, I'm sure it's similar. And proving that it's harrassment for Rumba is probably impossible. The only bright spot is that he'll be royalty (relatively speaking) in prison.

rn said...

Very true, very true. There's no question that most favela leaders know and sometimes work with the traficantes. So do city officials. When I was in Rio, several high-ranking people in city agencies told me that they prefer working with the drug dealers to working with the police because the dealers are more honorable.

Sadly, I haven't been able to find out anything more about Rumba's case. Proving harassment is indeed hard. But if the report is right that the appeals judge declared him guilty without reviewing the evidence that led to his aquittal by the lower court, that is suspicious.