Amid Rising Violence Rio Continues to Implement Pacification Program

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Outbreaks of violence in one of Rio de Janeiro’s major favelas are raising questions about the long-term effectiveness of Brazil’s controversial pacification program, even as plans to expand the program continue.

On April 2, a 10-year-old boy was killed outside his home in Complexo do Alemão — a favela complex located in northern Rio de Janeiro — shot in the head by Police Pacification Unit (UPP) forces on patrol in the area, reported Euronews.

Violence has been on the rise in Complexo do Alemão, with a number of recent deadly shootouts between police and criminals; the death of the 10-year-old boy was the fourth in a two-day span. Since January, 40 people — some of them innocent bystanders — have been killed in Rio in battles between police and drug traffickers, reported El Pais

Meanwhile, on March 31, Rio de Janeiro’s Military Police (PM) started to assume control of Complexo da Mare, another favela complex, beginning the replacement of around 3,300 military personnel. The handover process, which is expected to last until the end of June, will include the establishment of four UPPs in the favela complex, reported The Rio Times.

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Despite the heavy presence of security forces, shootouts have continued in both Complexo do Alemão and Complexo da Mare. This, combined with the death of the 10-year-old boy in Complexo do Alemão, has led to skepticism over the ability of police to stabilize Rio’s security situation, as well as renewed debate and criticism of the strategies employed by the UPP program.

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The recent violence in Complexo do Alemão — where a UPP post was first installed in 2012 — suggests that the UPPs have failed to meaningfully reduce violence and gang activity. As a consequence, it appears that in this favela complex, police are reverting back to the earlier UPP phase of heavy-handed crackdowns. 

As a whole in Rio, the ability of the UPPs to reduce violence and establish security over the long term has been thrown into doubt, with gangs demonstrating an ability to reassert themselves in “pacified” areas. The move to establish UPPs in Complexo da Mare, a notoriously lawless area, will likely also provoke backlash from criminal groups who operate in the favela complex, such as the Red Command, rather than contributing to a lasting peace. 

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