Rio de Janeiro has officially inaugurated an elite pacifying police force (UPP) in Rocinha favela, the site of a power struggle by rival traffickers, just a week after a police officer was shot dead there.
Rocinha’s UPP unit will be the city’s 28th and its biggest, with 700 officers deployed to keep the peace in the neighborhood of 100,000 residents. There are plans to install 100 security cameras around the favela, to support the work of the police, O Globo reported. Most of Rocinha cannot be patrolled in car, and so police will move on foot or by motorbike.
The inauguration ceremony was held in the morning of September 20, with state Governor Sergio Cabral and Security Secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame in attendance. Both made speeches praising the security gains in the neighborhood so far, and warning that peace and security remain a work in progress. “Occupation is the easy part. It is settling that is more complicated,” said Beltrame, as Jornal do Brasil reported.
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Rocinha has been occupied by the security forces since November, as part of Rio’s scheme to take control of neighborhoods controlled by drug traffickers and militia groups, one by one. Once a neighborhood is judged to be under control, a police unit is installed, specially trained in community policing methods, and meant to establish a permanent state presence.
In November, a force of 3,000 police, military police and navy officers invaded the favela before dawn. The operation had been announced well in advance, and no shots were fired. Since March, it has been patrolled by some 400 officers from the military police, including the BOPE special forces. They have carried out a series of operations in the last few days to “clean” the area in preparation for the inauguration of the UPP.
The UPP officers have been slowly moving into place since April, when a group of the program’s graduates were sent there for a month to train. The current UPP officers have been in the neighborhood for the last two months, though the neighborhood had remained under the control of the special forces.
However, the security situation in Rocinha remains troubled, with 13 murders since the occupation began. Two of these were police shot dead by drug traffickers, one of whom was killed only a week before the inauguration. Indeed, during the ceremony, snipers from the BOPE special forces were positioned on nearby roofs, as Veja reported.
This continued insecurity, worse than in some other “pacified” favelas, has been attributed to struggles to control the neighborhood after the arrest of local boss Antonio Bonfim Lopes, or “Nem,” who was captured while trying to flee Rocinha hidden in the trunk of a car days before the military occupation. This triggered a struggle for control of his old territory, with the Red Comman (Comando Vermelho) gang moving in to the favela, and battling with Nem’s group Amigos dos Amigos.
Meanwhile, two of Nem’s former right-hand-men are reportedly battling to inherit his position; Amaro Pereira da Silva, alias “Neto,” and Inacio de Castro Silva.
Rocinha was also the scene for accusations that occupying military police officers had been taking bribes from traffickers. However, the commander of Rocinha’s UPP Edson Santos told the press that the people were behind the force: “The population supports us. Proof of this is that is was through them that we found out who was behind the crimes committed here in this period.”
Rocinha is a highly important neighborhood for the authorities, sitting close to the Olympics site, and holding it would allow them to close a security ring around the areas that will host most of the events for that and the World Cup in 2014. However, it is also a strategic neighborhood for drug traffickers, that will take time to bring completely under control.