Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Police Take Back Favela in Rio

Sources:
Economist.com: Time's Up
Estadao.com.br: Bandidos fugiram do Alemão pelo esgoto e com uniformes do PAC, diz delegado
FT.com: Security Forces Win Control of Rio’s Favelas
Mercopress.com: Brazilian Forces Expel Criminal Gangs from Favels; Promise to Stay
NYTimes.com: Brazilian Forces Claim Victory in Gang Haven

After a week-long struggle, Brazilian police and military forces claimed victory in a fierce gun battle in the notorious Alemão favela (shantytown) in Rio de Janeiro (population 100,000). The battle was sparked by an uprising in the neighborhood by drug gangs on November 20. Brazilian officials have labeled the uprising as a response to the government’s “pacification” campaign. The campaign was started in 2008 as a strategy for making Rio’s streets safer before the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics to be held in the city.

Brazil has had a long history of problems with both gangs and the favelas generally. It is estimated that up to one-third of Rio’s population of six million resides in a favela. These favelas usually lack basic services such as running water, electricity, and banking. They have been controlled by powerful drug cartels for decades. Brazilians have long complained of the problem while their politicians have ignored the problems, thanks to hefty bribes paid by the cartels.

Only because of the international concern raised in the wake of the announcements that Brazil would be hosting the World Cup and Olympics has political support swelled to a level sufficient to attack the problem. In 2008 the state and national government announced a new plan to place “police pacification units” (known by the Portuguese acronym UPP) in Rio’s favelas to establish a permanent police presence in those areas. Many were concerned that the program would fail because residents of the favelas have historically trusted the police even less than they trusted the drug lords. Their only contact with police officers was often in situations where police entered a slum to forcefully extract someone—situations that often caused collateral casualties.

The police and military victory on November 28 is proof that the pacification plan is indeed working. The government was able to seize 40 tons of marijuana, 150 kilos of cocaine, 50 assault rifles, 50 stolen motorbikes, and 9 antiaircraft guns while making around 200 arrests. Though there have been around 40 casualties, the reaction from favela residents to the operation has been positive. The overriding fear, however, is that the newfound peace will not last, even though the government promises that the police presence will remain permanently.

Discussion Questions:
1) To the casual observer this police tactic appears to be a top-down approach to solving a problem. How might a bottom-up approach better aid development and sustainable growth in the favelas while at the same time rooting out gangs?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The article neglects to mention that 15% of all the murders committed in Rio are actually committed BY the police. The United Nations, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have all come out against the high rate of murders COMMITTED by the Brazilian police. The Brazilian government will have us believe that these murders are collateral damage in the fight against crime, however, by any measure, Rio police are not doing crime prevention, nor are they solving crimes. A statistic on the number of arrests each year by the Rio police as compared to the number of people they kill annually is graphic in demonstrating the lethality of police tactics. The United States police kill and arrest in a ratio of 1: 37,750 in Rio 1 to 23.

On May 5th, a hearing was held in the US Congress on this egregious situation, but got no press coverage. The Brazilian government has us all convinced that the violence is drug driven only and all they need to do is get tough on crime. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the UN are left to stand on the sidelines saying that the emperor is naked, and no one listens.

Indeed, Brazil is plagued by horrible crime, but policing strategies in Brazil kill citizens in unparalleled numbers. Unless Brazil implements the recommendations put forward by the United Nations and other human rights groups, no one will be safe at the World Cup and the Olympics.