RawFeed: A Push for Peace in Rio de Janeiro

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A blogger in Rio de Janeiro gives an on-the-ground view of some of the security advances in the the city’s favelas, even as other problems – a still-powerful drug trafficker allegedly pulling the strings from prison and the avaliabilty of crack on the streets – lurk in the background.

The “Favela Pacification Program” has been Rio’s official policy since December 2008. Under the program, the city sent in an elite police squad to “clear” a favela from gang rule. A new arm of the police, known as the Pacification Police Units (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora), are then deployed to provide security services previously absent from slum towns like City of God and Santa Marta, among the first neighborhoods to be occuppied. The UPP, made up entirely of new recruits, were supposed to win the trust of favela residents, conducting street patrols and controlling the wild block parties once subsidized by local drug gangs. 

Blogger Julia Michaels, a freelance journalist who has worked for the Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor, notes that there are currently 17 UPPs present in Rio, the goal being to create 40 by the 2014 Olympics. The program is popular in the favelas: as Michaels points out, the arrival of the UPP is usually accompanied by other state services, including electric and sewage companies, trash collectors, and so on.

But Rio’s security policy has also created something like the “domino” effect: the military and police chase the drug gangs out of one neighborhood, only to have them regroup and consolidate in another. This is what happened in Complexo Alemão, where many of the city’s drug traffickers were believed to have found refuge, before the security forces launched a mass offensive last November to clear the favela. There is little UPP presence in Alemão right now and instead the “much despised” military police are in charge, according to Adam Isacson at Just the Facts.

Meanwhile, Michaels observes that despite the UPP “surge” in Rio’s slums, Brazil’s prisons remain a point of concern. Drug trafficker Fernandinho Beira-Mar, incarcerated since 2002, still wields influence in the city’s criminal underworld, she writes. Organizations like the First Command of the Capital (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) and Comando Vermelho also have their powerbase in Brazil’s overcrowded prisons

InSight publishes the February 6 post, “Pay no attention to the little man behind the curtain” with permission from Michaels.

From the blog: 

It took an hour and a half for 846 men, 17 armored vehicles and an armored helicopter to occupy the nine hills of the Complexo São Carlos grouping of favelas this morning, without a shot fired. Home to 26,000 residents, the area will house three new UPPs, or police pacification units, by June.

That will put the total number of UPPs in Rio up to 17. By 2016, 40 UPPs are scheduled to be in place. The state’s occupation and pacification policy for territories controlled by drug traffickers, begun in late 2008, has energized the surprising turnaround Rio is experiencing, which is also fueled by Brazil’s ongoing economic boom.

The UPPs are so popular that the Salgueiro samba school is dressing some of its participants in elite squad BOPE costumes for the early March carnival parade – and U.S. President Barack Obama, set to visit Rio March 20, will visit one, according to today’s Ancelmo Gois column in O Globo. RioRealblog wouldn’t be surprised if it’sthe UPP on the Morro da Providência, a hill close to downtown. This is the oldest favela in Rio and probably Brazil, dating back to a makeshift settlement created in the late 1890s by soldiers returning from the Canudos War in northeastern Brazil.

While the BOPE and the pacification police do their work and Rio also prepares for what might be the most civilized carnival celebration in many years (City hall is organizing public bathrooms and regulating street parades like never before), Vejamagazine’s cover story this week (not online) reminds us of a truth it would be more convenient to forget: carioca drug trafficker Fernandinho Beira Mar is reportedly still running the show in Rio, from a federal jail cell in the southern state of Paraná.

Yesterday, he was transferred to a federal prison in Rio Grande do Norte but it wasn’t clear if this was related to publication of the cover story.

According to Veja, Beira Mar sends his orders home by way of conversations with other inmates during the daily common sunbath hours, and with visitors. He may have been responsible for the vehicle torchings that set off the police invasion and occupations last November. Sources for the story appear to be prison workers. Since 2002 Beira Mar has been serving a 120-year jail sentence for international arms and drug trafficking, homicide, money laundering and other crimes. But Brazilian law protects his right to the sunbath and the visitors.

If Veja is correct, Beira Mar is also responsible for the crack epidemic in Rio; his men reportedly introduced the drug here, once prison companions from São Paulo convinced him of its marketability.

Sounds like some time and money spent on changing the law could be as beneficial as the multimillion-dollar new Bell Huey Two armored helicopter used in today’s campaign.”

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