Assault on UPP Base Sign of Cracks in Rio’s ‘Pacification’ Program

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Brazil’s military police have killed six people in response to a gang assault against a Rio de Janeiro Police Pacification Unit, as the city’s “pacification” program wavers in the face of regrouping gangs and a lack of progress in resolving social problems.

On February 2, several cars of armed men pulled up in front of the Police Pacification Unit (UPP) base in a favela in north Rio, reported Estadao. Men in one of the cars opened fire, shooting two police officers, one of which later died. Two passersby were also wounded in the assault.

In the aftermath, military police retaliated with an operation against alleged members of the Red Command drug trafficking organization, who authorities are blaming for the UPP base attack, according to Estadao.

In the shootouts that followed police killed six alleged gang members. A total of ten people have been reported shot so far, among them two police. In the raids, police seized four AK-47 rifles, two pistols, grenades and drugs, reported O Globo.

Rio Public Safety Secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame said orders for recent assaults against the UPP had been issued by gang leaders in the country’s prisons.

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The assault against the UPP base is the latest in a series of worrying signs that the pacification program — Rio’s flagship security policy for the last seven years — is now facing serious problems.

The program, which involves military police temporarily occupying gang ridden favelas, then the installation of a UPP unit, has now been installed in 36 zones, with over 9,000 police operating in areas populated by over half a million people. One recent study showed murders dropped by 65 percent in 22 of these areas between 2008 and 2012.

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However, there have been signs of a resurgence in gang activity and attacks against UPPs in several areas, including reports that one favela had been essentially retaken by traffickers. Since 2012, eight police have been killed in “pacified” areas, according to O Globo.

Resurgent violence is not the only problem the UPP program faces. The program has been heavily criticized for failing to follow up on security improvements with promised social investments. It has also been undermined by allegations of police heavy handedness, brutality and even extra-judicial killings in UPP areas.

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