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De Souza is a 42-year-old construction worker with six children. He was arrested on 14th July by agents of the ‘Pacifying Police Unit’ (UPP) after being mistaken for a drug dealer operating in the Rocinha slum. The police claim that he was then released. However, there are no videos of him leaving the police station, because cameras at that location were damaged, police say.
“Where is Amarildo?” has transformed into a rallying cry for the protestors in both Rio, where at least 600 protesters have gathered in favela La Rocinha, and in in Sao Paulo where 300 have taken to major streets in solidarity. The protestors are directing their demands at the governors of both cities, Sergio Cabral, of Río de Janeiro, and Geraldo Alckmin, of Sao Paulo. The slogan has also reverberated around social networks.
“Nobody tells me where my husband is; not the police, not the government. The UPP comes to Rocinha to arrest workers. I know that my husband is dead. It was the police that killed my husband. And also his documents have disappeared as though to say that he is not dead,” said his spouse, Elizabeth Gomes.
The disappearance of De Souza was a serious blow to Cabral, who presented the UPP as the main accomplishment of his administration, which began in 2006. The leader of the movement Favela No Se Calla, André Luiz Abreu de Souza, said that the governor will “try to find the body and those responsible by whatever means because he is worried about the repercussions. He sees that the UPP, the principle program of his government, doesn’t guarantee public security.”
NGO Río de Paz organised a visual ceremony Wednesday on Copacabana beach, the most well known beach in Rio De Janeiro. They placed ten mannequins covered with white veils in front of long red pieces of red carpet. The ceremony hopes to bring awareness not only to Souzas case, but also other cases of unexplained disappearances.
The NGO calculates that there have been almost 35,000 disappearances in Río de Janiero state alone since 2007.
According to Antonio Carlos Costa, executive director of the Río de Paz, the white veils of the protest symbolised the uncertainty of the relatives of the disappeared and the carpets red blood of those who were probably victims of violence.
“The Amarildo case is emblematic. We were in Rocinha and felt that people are afraid to talk about what happened,” he said. “It absolutely true that the number of homicides is much higher than what has been officially released. Amarildo’s case points to this tragic reality, unacceptable in all respects.”