Protest after Pope Francis’ visit to Rio slum centers on missing man

People greet and take pictures of Pope Francis as he visits the Varginha favela in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday.
People greet and take pictures of Pope Francis as he visits the Varginha favela in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday.
(Victor R. Caivano / Associated Press)

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Hours after Pope Francis spoke in the Varginha slum, or favela, on Thursday and said society must not abandon those on its margins, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the governor’s home and demanded to know what police had done with a resident from another slum.

“Where’s Amarildo?” has become a new rallying cry since the 42-year-old father and construction worker disappeared after, residents say, military police took him away from the Rocinha favela on July 14.

Many fear the worst for Amarildo de Souza, and his case has focused attention on the activities of military police seeking to curb drug gang activity in favelas.

Residents of the Varginha community complain of police abuse, and the wave of demonstrations that spread across the country last month was set off by a heavy police crackdown.

“The protests in this country exploded because of the way the police treated the early demonstrators. But the way [the police] act in favelas is much, much worse,” said Luiz Phelippe Garcia Goes de Abreu, a 20-year-old student, as he stood in cold rain outside Gov. Sergio Cabral’s beachfront home, facing a line of police officers and a huge tank. “This has absolutely nothing to do with the pope. In fact, he said this morning that we have to struggle against corruption.”

Cabral is in charge of Rio’s police, and the small group of protesters also wants him to account for money spent on preparations for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, and Cabral’s use of state helicopters for personal use. Cabral said there is nothing unusual about the practice.

Witnesses and family members of De Souza say he is not a criminal, but that police took him away unexpectedly on a Sunday night, and told local press that police at the local station said he’d been released. Yet no one has heard from him since, residents say.


The press office of Rio’s military police did not respond to email queries or phone calls Thursday.

Favela residents say they are used to hearing stories about police abuse or even summary executions. In May, a video was released of police firing on a moving car in a heavily populated favela in an apparently successful attempt to kill a suspect.

According to the local press, Cabral met with De Souza’s wife, Elisabeth Gomes Silva, on Thursday, but that she left the meeting “frustrated” that she saw no solution in sight.


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