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INSIGHT - BRAZIL - Rio favela crackdowns

Released on 2012-03-26 13:00 GMT

Email-ID 397418
Date 2011-01-03 22:52:52
Will elaborate on a lot of this later, but here are just some initial
thoughts on what I've observed here so far. Have some *awesome* pics,
video and audio recordings from this favela trip that we'll be able to use
for a report.
Yesterday, I visited the favela, Santa Marta, with 3 of my local contacts.
Santa Marta was the first Rio favela to have been pacified under the UPP
strategy (where the army and police go in first, drive out the drug
traffickers and the police occupy the favela for the long-term while
promoting social, economic development, providing services, etc.)
You seriously cannot help but be impressed by this model. I not only had
my own reaction to what we saw, but also saw the reactions of the three
Cariocas (from Rio) I was with. They had never thought it would be
possible to enter a favela like this. The Rio government is actively
trying to get more locals to come and see the favela for themselves and
take a tour. Literally, they have a tourist - style kiosk at the bottom of
the favela hill with a glossy guide in Portuguese and English of the
favela with a map pointing out all the main areas. They have a cable car
that takes you to the top of the hill as well. It is completely bizarre.
We went up to the top of the hill where the UPP police command is located
(strategically, you can see why the first step of the favela pacification
campaigns is to establish the command at the top of the hill. From the top
of the command, a bright yellow church in the favela is in clear line of
sight. The church was the primary watch point for the drug traffickers. In
going through the maze of the favela, you can see how this is tactical
nightmare for anyone on the other side of the guerrilla campaign. So many
chokepoints, easy jumping access, blind spots, etc.
UPP pacification started 4 years ago in this favela, but there were still
big shootouts up to a year ago. The owner of the apartment i am staying at
was just telling me how her nieces go to a school nearby (many of the
nicest places in Rio have a perfect view of this favela next door) and how
the school had to be evacuated, a perimeter set up, etc. when the
shootouts were still happening a year ago. What I saw yesterday was
complete tranquility in this favela. We went up to the top of the UPP
command and started chatting with the chief of police there and his
assistant. They, like pretty much all Brazilians I've met, had no issues
in chatting, having a beer with us, showing us the entire police command
and answering whatever questions we had. It was extremely laid back (have
recordings of those conversations that I'll transcribe later.)
He basically described how previous attempts at pacification didn't work,
no one had trust in the police that they would stay, police weren't
trained in dealing with the population, social development, etc. The
police would leave an escape route through the back for the traffickers to
escape and got paid in the end. Police militias rapidly developed,
corruption grew, it was a mess. There was no comprehensive strategy. The
police that came in used a lot of violence, they were hated by the favela
dwellers and then once the army left, the drug traffickers just came back
in. Under the UPP campaign (the one being followed now for all favelas,)
they come in by force with the army, marines, special forces, helicopters,
etc., drive out the drug traffickers and then establish a police command.
The police conduct regular patrols, provide services, set up electricity,
sewage, dish networks, employments, free tuition at local schools for the
kids, etc. You can see the effect. In walking through the police command,
I saw all these pictures and chair rankings for violin and cello classes
that were being held there. Kids all over the favela looked totally
relaxed, completely unfazed by our presence and by me taking pictures of
them, generally quite happy, playing soccer, painting walls, flying kites,
etc. You still see a lot of crazy wiring around the favela, but also brand
new light installations, electricity meters, HDTV satellite dishes, etc.
All the dwellings in Santa Marta have their own number and address so
they're integrated with the state. Kids in the favela get to go to school
for free in some of the really nice schools in Rio, all part of the
integration effort.
The policeman we talked to said the locals in Santa Marta play a 'symbolic
tax' for the services, but he laughed and said they still complain. Just
as an example of the trust i could see between the police and the locals
there, when we climbed to the top of the favela around this insanely
bullet-ridden wall, I saw the chief of the police command at the top
helping a kid fly a kite. There's pretty much complete integration, very
laid back feeling throughout.
Ironically, I felt safer in this favela than I have anywhere else in Rio,
including the richest parts, where petty theft is rampant
the police commander explained how their biggest problem moving forward is
training and resources. To give an idea of scale, Rocinha (where most of
the most wanted drug traffickers are and/or have fled) is seven times the
size of Santa Marta. They acknowledge they don't have nearly enough police
recruits to go in an occupy like they've done here (in Santa Marta, the
police command is staying for a minimum of 25 years - it's an occupation.)
The police we talked to all think the head of CV (Red Command is in
Rocinha.) I've been asking around a lot to see what the next favela target
will be for the police... the two military generals I met with this
morning (more insight on that meeting later) are saying Rocinha and the
main favelas in the west part of Rio, where most of the construction for
the WC and Olympics is taking place (there's more land there for
development.) They don't want to announce the next target of course,
since that would deny them whatever strategic surprise they can retain.
Salaries are the biggest issue, according to the UPP commander. The
state needs to raise the pay to motivate more police recruits to do this
work. I asked him what the pay of the kite watcher boy was (the boys who
would fly a certain color kite to alert the drug traffickers when the
police were coming) versus the patrol soldiers. The kite watcher made -
50-1000 Rs per month. Pay of patrol officer, about 1,500-2000 Rs per
CV (Red Command) lost their command hq with the pacification of Santa
Marta. You can still see remnants of violence everywhere - giant bullet
holes, faded CV graffiti, stories from the locals there. We had a beer at
a small bar midway down the favela overlooking all of Rio. He was telling
us how much better things are now.. before the before the drug dealers
would come force him to make food for them without paying, and there was
nothing he could do to resist or force payment. All the kids hang out
there to watch the new flat screen tv he has set up when the electricity
goes out.
As far as the supply chain goes, most of the marijuana comes from the
northeast, cocaine and marijuana from colombia, bolivia, paraguay. Brazil
primarily is dealing iwth sales, production is on an extremely limited
scale. Everyone acknowledges the market isn't going away.
I am following up this visit with visits to unpacified favelas as well,
both in Rio and Sao Paulo. I won't be able to get the pictures and videos
i want from those trips for security reasons, but I do want to get that
perspective to compare the two. This UPP project is extremely important
for the government's social development needs. They need to show that they
control large swathes of urban territory that were previously conceded to
the drug traffickers (in the 1980s you had situations where the governor
in Rio prevented the police from even entering the favela.) The Brig-Gen
i was speaking to this morning was saying how they need to keep the
momentum going. Brazilians are seeing that the model is working and they
have to follow through. The biggest problem is still time and resource
constraints. Resources, because they simply don't have enough police, much
less well-trained police, to go into the more massive favelas and occupy
them. Time, because with the Olympics and WC coming up, the last thing
Brazil wants is the world watching shootouts with drug traffickers on TV
in Rio. I'm not sure how they're going to do it, and i'm not sure they
know either. My impression is that they are going to keep going ahead with
this for this year at least -- with Rocinha favela being a major target.
My question then is what are teh drug trafficking groups going to do?
They're already aligning with each other in the face of a common enemy
(the state and the UPP campaign.) The most effective way to hit back at
the state and get them to back off is to threaten civilian targets that
would tarnish brazil's image when it's in the global spotlight. The
general i spoke to said a lot of officials in the govt don't like to
acknowledge this threat, but it is definitely there. At that point, I
suspect they'd have to reach some sort of accommodation, even if it's a
temporary one. What we need to watching for is the Rocinha crackdown and
expansion to the favelas in the western sector of Rio and the reaction of
the drug groups.