By Sofia Sünden
The Police Pacification Unit (UPP) have seized control of the slums of Rio de Janeiro. The goal is the return of territories held by drug cartels for the state, and the consequent reduction of violence in the city. Initially, the program was praised for its positive impacts on communities, but recently the same police unit has been criticized for not being effective.
There has been an increase in violence in the pacified favelas, events that raise questions about whether the program is a temporary solution, merely “for show” – put in place for the duration of world sporting events – or if the solution is a long-term change made by a police force that is now embedded in the community.
The UPP was created and implemented in Rio in 2008 by the Secretary of Public Security José Mariano Beltrame. Since then, thirty-eight favelas have been pacified, containing a total of 1.5 million affected citizens. Most pacified favelas are located near where the Olympic Games were held, in addition to the area around the airport and in areas of the South Zone, which are tourist-attractive areas.
What is peace?
The program’s goals are to regain control of territory previously dominated by the armed factions, establish democracy and ensure peace for the communities. The goal is to regain the confidence of citizens through permanent police presence in the slums.
The installation of the UPP also allowed the establishment of public services, companies and organizations in the slums, giving the state and civil actors the opportunity to bring needed social improvements, including electricity, bank machines and allow the establishment of small businesses. Pacification made the slums more accessible, and saw an increase in tourism and new businesses such as hotels and restaurants.
For some residents, the downside is that the property values, rents and the cost of living in general have increased. In some slums there was curiosity and cash from foreign investors, which resulted in a dramatic increase in property prices. Some homes had to be removed from the community.
Initially praised for its positive impacts, the UPP has also received much criticism, including the fact that a reform in strategic places seems to suggest that the state has dealt with the drug trafficking problem. However, only a small number of all slums were pacified. In hundreds, drug trafficking and drug cartels continue to act with impunity beyond their own ways of life, and the police presence only through sporadic visits is often violent.
Furthermore, there was official announcement before the pacifying police facilities, and drug cartels had time to plan an exit strategy. Few involved in the world of drugs were captured or detained. There are doubts whether the violence has actually been reduced or just shifted to new areas of the city.
Due to the high maintenance cost of the UPP, the program never aspired to reach all slums. This results in questioning that in some favelas the state promotes a peaceful solution based on alleged mediation and communication, but in others it retains the tactics that seem to wage war, with police violence and distrust of citizens as a result.
There are drastic decreases in reports of violence in the pacified favelas, according to a survey among citizens residing in these places. People feel freer to discuss topics previously considered taboo, such as street violence and activity of illegal drugs.
However, many fear that the UPP presence is only temporary and that when the police suddenly withdraw, the status quo will return to the situation. So far there are no concrete plans or financing beyond 2016 and the concern of residents is that in the near future drug cartels will re-take command.
Social Police Pacification
In order to reduce the mistrust between citizens and the police force, the government created the Social UPP. It was a parallel program of social integration. The idea was to create discussion forums in the community, stimulating leisure activities and cultural and conducting training programs for young people.
However, many who live in pacified communities did not even know about the program and never participated in its activities. The Social UPP had promised high levels of participation of slum dwellers, but in most cases the suggestions and demands of the community were never implemented. Because of the failure, the activities were closed.