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"Faca na caveira, e nada na carteira."
~ popular BOPE saying

The Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais, or BOPE, is a special forces group of the Military Police from the state of Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil. Considered an "élite troop" it is comparable, to an extent, to better-known special brigades, such as the SWAT team. As far as South America is concerned, the BOPE has become somewhat of its own brand. It is not afraid to broadcast its violent nature with a logo depicting a skull with a dagger going through it and two pistols crossing each other in the background, along with their very recognizable black uniforms and black berets. The BOPE's jurisdictions extend to "special operations", which could mean strategic, prepared operations, or any other situations which the Military Police can no longer handle. They are most widely known for their recurrent interventions of drug trafficking in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.


The BOPE was first created on January 19, 1987 under the name of Núcleo da Companhia de Operações Especiais (NuCOE), and was functioning within the training center of the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro, operating under jurisdiction of the PM's chief of staff. In April 7, 1982, the unit was moved to function within the Batalhão de Polícia de Choque (a PM organization devoted exclusively to handling civilian unrest), and was renamed Companhia de Operações Especiais (COE). On March 23, 1988, the COE was renamed Companhia Independente de Operações Especiais (CIOE), so as to gain administrative sovereignty, and was handling its own missions all over the state of Rio de Janeiro. Finally, on March 1, 1991, the Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais was created as an independent PM unit, but it didn't get its own installations until the year 2000, site located in the favela Tavares.

Vou chegar na favela e vou mais adiante
entra no beco para matar os traficantes
Vamos na Fazendinha no Complexo do Alemão
tu esta ligado foi chacina e confusão
~ Funk do BOPE

The BOPE was initially created at a point where the drug cartels in the Rio favelas were growing so strong, and the connections so tight, that it became impossible for the Military Police to keep a relative "peace". From an external perspective, this could be blamed on the level of instruction possessed by Police forces, but the crucial factor was rampant corruption within the PM.

The drug cartels operating in the favelas run with a sort of social commitment as opposed to brute oppression. They work with people from the favelas (thus, employing them with "fair" remuneration) and they offer protection to their own kind. Of course, they don't necessarily do this out of benevolence or sense of community, but merely to create a sort of barrier to police force, which is no longer necessary if favela dwellers are under the protective wing of the traffickers, and so, ensuring a safe market for their merchandise. The corrupt PM is well-known for negotiating with the drug lords for bribes and weapons. The PM has access to armament they can sell on their own to cartel operatives, and they also offer safe distribution channels. Now, it is certain that not the entire PM force is corrupt; there must be a few good guys out there, right? But when an institution is corroded by corruption as much as this one is, a few good guys just doesn't cut it; an individual easily collapses under the pressure of obstacles and threats placed by those with vested interests in drug negotiation. This is where the BOPE comes in.

The BOPE has a training camp for qualified candidates who wish to join the force. The requirements are a minimum of 2 years in the PM, excellent physical condition, and passing the medical and psychological examinations. These candidates can join one of two courses; the Curso de Ações Táticas (which focuses mainly on rescuing hostages) (CAT), or the Curso de Operações Especiais (which is focused on preparation for interventions in conflictive areas). The BOPE camp is popularly known as a harsh environment where the trainers actually encourage their candidates to quit, attempting to ensure that the candidates who actually make it in the camp are willing enough to join the BOPE.

The 2007 movie Tropa de Elite directed by José Padilha attempts to give an inside glimpse to the process of two capable PM candidates transitioning to the BOPE force. The depiction of the BOPE camp in this movie shows a group of candidates being submitted to a myriad of "inhumane" conditions, such as being fed rotten food which they must eat off of the ground, or one of the camp trainers keeping a candidate awake by giving him a grenade that would detonate if he dozes off and drops it.

Os Mandamentos

Agressividade controlada
Controle emocional
Disciplina consciente
Espirito de corpo

~ The BOPE commandments

The BOPE is highly regarded for being one of the least corrupted organizations within the PM, mostly due to its isolated nature. It is said that corruption is not tolerated within the BOPE, and one of the camp's objectives is to weed out officials who are. The mere suggestion of a candidate having participated in unlawful actions makes trainers focus on them and take special measures to make them quit.

This makes them play a really interesting game of extremes in regard to their modus operandi. Knife to the skull, and nothing to the wallet.

Because of the intricate system operating within the favelas, the BOPE's objectives has nothing to do with infiltrating organizations, or trying to decrease trafficking by jailing key drug distributors. Theirs is a simple and clean one: exterminating. Systematically eliminating traffickers left and right, as if the favelas were an ant-infested colony. They employ methods of repression and torture insofar as they deem appropriate to get information, all in order to achieve the goal they are after. Amnesty International has condemned the BOPE repeatedly, for consistently violating human and civil rights.

So what we've got here is a "clean" and "honest" public institution which has no qualms about their tactics. They kill who they think deserves it (in this case drug dealers), and probably a few civilians whose lives are considered just a small price to pay for a traffic-free area, and these always appear as just a result of confrontation (of course, never started by the BOPE). Now, I know that this will spark up rage in those who give great consideration to civil rights, but it is often that people living in places with an enormous crime rate and corrupt governments prioritize their safety before their liberty. People suffering daily from the threat of insecurity call for measures that certainly don't follow any protocol or law. In a country where the judiciary system is just as corrupted as the lowest favela, where there is no punishment, the people want a better and faster resolution. Quoting what my grandfather (who lived under a dictatorship which spawned a practically crimeless third world country for 35 years of his life) once said, "civil rights and freedom just don't matter all that much if you're dead".


On the 24th, the BOPE held a commemorative ceremony in the Vila Cruzeiro favela, to celebrate the expulsion of traffickers and a lack of violent confrontations for at least two weeks. Forty soldiers standing still, in front of a raised BOPE flag with the unforgettable skull, dagger, and pistols, marked this date with their characteristic war cry: "Caveira!".

the film Tropa de Elite

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