The continued installation of UPPs (Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora / Police Pacification Units) in select favelas has had interesting and profound consequences in Rio de Janeiro. In recent weeks, I have visited three “pacified” communities and have come away with mixed feelings and impressions regarding the project.
UPPs are part of the state government’s response to the chronic problems of violence associated with drug traffic in Rio de Janiero’s favelas. Since the late 19th century, favelas grew in number and extent as a response to increasingly scarce and expensive housing in Rio de Janeiro. Throughout the twentieth century, and especially in the 1980s and 1990s, the ever widening gap between socio-economic classes in Brazil made it increasingly difficult for individuals and families to enter the formal housing market close to centers of employment. The topography of Rio places limits on available space which, combined with highly concentrated wealth and service sector employment, made residing in the steeply sloped favelas (especially in the Zona Sul, though not all favelas are on hillsides) choices of necessity. In the City of Rio de Janeiro there are more than 1,000 favelas with more than a million residents – one out of every six people in the City of Rio lives in a favela.
Drug trafficking and violence are essentially products of the same economic and spatial processes: a favelalógica. This favelalógica is predicated on supply and demand, competition for geographic space, and market presence. These logics were (and are) complicated the lack of a consistent or coherent public policy to deal with the intersecting vectors of poverty, inadequate public housing, drug trafficking, police corruption, international arms trading, and violence. The concentration of wealth and disposable income in Rio’s Zona Sul localized the greatest demand for drugs there. The hillsides, already occupied by working class people, were taken over by drug trafficking factions (that grew into powerful criminal organizations, ie. Comando Vermelho, Terceiro Comando) that installed martial law in the favelas in order to defend their territory from which they met the drug demands of the wealthy (or wealthier). The absence of the state facilitated the rule of the traficantes, who financed basic services for the community, cementing their role as a parallel government. The evolution and escalation of the violence has been told in so many formats and with such detail and complexity that it can’t possibly be repeated here. Suffice it to say that the problems of violence were (and are) of stunning and chronic proportions. There is an endless list of resources to further understand the evolution of and proposed “solutions” to the “problem” (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
UPP in theory and practice
The theory is that the installation of a UPP will remove the guns from the bad guys and allow communities to live in peace. The UPP maintains a very heavy military presence in the favela for an undetermined period, allowing for a freedom of movement and access that was not possible under the rule of drug traffickers. The concentration of lethal force in the hands of the state is not meant to eliminate drug trafficking, just to take illegitimate violence out of the picture. That is, “pacification” is initially secured through legitimate and state-sanctioned violence which is then maintained through long-term, military occupation. The stated goal is not to end drug trafficking but to install the state in a place where it had little or no presence.
A UPP typically consists of 200 members of the State Military Police (PM), lead by a contingent of BOPE (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especias). BOPE may be the best trained urban fighting force in the world, and is the subject of the film Tropa de Elite. Following a general announcement that a favela is going to receive a UPP, BOPE arrives in the early morning and replaces the martial law of the drug faction with the martial law of the state. From there, the police circulate through the favela in search of arms and drugs, frequently finding fistfuls of both. On several occasions there have been gun battles on the way in, though the advance notice of occupation is generally enough to convince the armed drug traffickers that the battle is already lost.
Once a UPP is installed, the favela is considered “pacified”. From there, the hard work of winning the hearts and minds of the “natives” begins. Much of this work has been made more difficult by the very police installed as pacifiers as for decades, those living in the favelas have had to deal with heavy handed incursions into their communities, which not infrequently took the form of military helicopters raining down indiscriminant bullets. The stories of police atrocities are as numerous as the alarming body count. The police who are circulating through the favelas are not necessarily well-trained for their jobs and many residents complain that anything but total subservience to the new overlords results in a beating. The UPP is an occupying force and it will take time for both sides to find ways to negotiate the complexities of a new system of governance.
There are numerous sides to the numerous stories that the UPPs involve. The government of Sergio Cabral installed the first UPP in Dona Marta in Botafogo in December of 2008. Since then, UPPs have been installed in the following communities (see map, all communities below are hotlinked to the official state UPP website):
In my conversations with residents, explorations of the Morros de Providência, Cantagalo, and Chapeu Mangueira, and in a collective interview with the State Secretary of Security José Beltrame, these are the major debates that I see driving the discussion of UPPs in Rio.
Location of UPPs
Secretary Beltrame and Governor Cabral have been strongly criticized for the installation of UPPs in wealthy areas of the city. When asked about this, Beltrame did not hesitate in responding that part of the project was to secure the wealthiest area of the city first, as the Zona Sul accounts for a staggeringly large percentage of the region’s total economic output. Protect the wealth first, secure the space for further accumulation, and then worry about the other parts of the city. It’s a cruel but coherent logic.
The geography of UPPs has generally followed along the Olympic ring linking the International Airport with the Center, the Center with Copacabana and Ipanema, and those regions with Barra de Tijuca. Also included are the Maracanã / Tijuca region and the stretch along the Linha Amarela running north from Barra de Tijuca to the Airport. The occupation of Morro da Providência can be seen as an attempt to secure the Zona Portuária for the massive urban interventions being cogitated with the Porto Maravilha. While the counter argument is that the UPPs are benefitting huge numbers of people throughout the city, it is impossible to accurately measure such things. For instance, the installation of an UPP in the Cidade de Deus does not necessarily benefit all of the neighborhood’s 38,000+ residents.
The reality is that the UPPs are part of a larger security imperative for the City and State of Rio de Janeiro ahead of the scheduled mega-events. No one wants to or can afford a repeat of the disastrous gun battle that occurred just before the 2007 Pan American Games where 44 people were killed in the Complexo do Alemão. Following this massacre, 17,000 extra police occupied the streets of Rio for three weeks. Not that erecting an even stronger police state to assure the free flow of people and capital doesn’t happen everywhere a mega-event occurs but in the case of the Brazilian World Cup and Rio Olympics, it is imperative that there be longer term solutions. Securing the Zona Sul and the mega-event transportation lines is the first priority for the State. The larger favelas of Maré and the Complexo de Alemão will receive UPPs in the coming months. These projects are more complicated but are also intended to secure the Linha Amarelha which connects the International Airport to the Centro and Zona Sul (also to prevent the threat of RPGs downing airplanes on their final approach).
Secondary effects: In addition to changing the control, flows, laws, and daily life in a favela, the installation of an UPP has had numerous secondary effects. The most alarming effect has been that real-estate values have increased 400% in the favelas where UPPs have been installed (according to OGlobo, which proclaimed this fact in celebratory terms). This may eventually have the effect of pricing the poorest people out of the favelas in the Zona Sul to even more marginalized parts of the city. With an increase in rents, there will likely be indirect dislocation as well as direct dislocation as tenants are forced out of their businesses and homes to make way for a wealthier clientele. For the moment, this has not happened in significant numbers, but it is a distinct possibility.
If the goal of the UPP is to take the arms out of the hands of drug traffickers, there should be many more arms apprehended than has been the case. The drug traffickers have simply moved on to other parts of the city, taking their guns with them. There is a general consensus, supported by media reports, that other parts of the city are becoming more violent as traficantes are expelled from their Zona Sul redoubts towards the Zona Norte and the far western suburbs. There is no apparent effort to reduce demand, only to reduce supply, concentrating exchange value in the hands of increasingly fewer drug traffickers. This will likely increase the armed capacity of the traficantes in the Zona Norte who will be able to extend their rule of law in a part of the metropolis that is largely ignored by the government. The impression left by the state’s strategy of selective implementation is that relative location and relative wealth are more important than a general concern for the population at large. This is consistent with the development of an urban planning regime that is driven by mega-event production and consumption.
Pacification has brought about opportunities for those who are of an entrepreneurial mind. On the Morro da Babilônia, it is now possible for the middle-class to shoot at each other with paint-ball guns, where just months before the police were battling traficantes with live ammo. The fetishization of violence in a place that was so recently the site of real violence is an indication of the direction that the “market opportunity” of pacification will begin to provide.
There has been a rapid increase in tourism in these communities, which until very recently had almost no tourism of any kind (save for the jeep tours in Rocinha). The difference between tourism in a neighborhood like Ipanema or Botafogo, with wide streets, sidewalks, and apartment buildings that provide a degree of privacy is completely different from tourism in a favela where the streets and alleys are used as extensions of lived space. Notions of privacy and public life are completely different and negotiating the sudden arrival of picture-taking strangers into one’s midst is complicated. There is no indication that the various educational programs associated with the UPPs (limited as they are) will address these concerns.
If the opening of favelas to “outsiders” is an inevitable result of “pacification” then the state should be obliged to prepare residents for the change as well as prepare them to take advantage of emerging economic opportunities. However, it should not be incumbent upon residents to re-imagine themselves as entrepreneurs, tour guides, hoteliers, or restaurateurs. Entering into the service economy is not something that every citizen should aspire to. If the only presence of the state is behind the barrel of a gun then the UPP project will fail, just as the rule of the drug traffickers failed.
In two instances (Cantagalo and Dona Marta) investments in transportation infrastructure have aided access to communities. In the case of Dona Marta, a funicular carries tourists and locals to the top of the community. In the case of Cantagalo, a massive elevator opened in July 2010, eliminating the need to climb hundreds of stairs. Both of these interventions have accelerated the flows of tourists into the communities, something that has been welcomed by many residents, but not all. A similar project is underway for multiple favelas in the Zona Norte (telefêrico). However, without educational and training programs to accompany these sudden changes, residents will not be able to determine the conditions by which their communities are integrated into the city.
Negative elements of UPP installation
A UPP is a top-down response to a bottom-up problem. Brazil has one of the worst GINI coefficients in the world, indicating abnormally high levels of socio-economic disparity. There is a chronic lack of investment in education and public health in Rio de Janeiro. There is real poverty in the favelas, and while many have magnificent views of the city, the lack of infrastructure and access is a serious problem. These are tightly knit communities, however, and there are myriad creative solutions to the systemic failures of Brazilian capitalism. The state needs to spend as much money on obligatory education as it does on forceful occupation.
The Military Police are aggressive and/or uncommunicative. In both Cantagalo and Providência I heard stories of police beating up people without due cause. When I was in Chapéu Mangueira, the police were all smiles, but carried big, big guns. There is no question that these are military occupations but as part of the process of gaining trust, the Military Police needs to train better their forces so that residents can live with the same rights and privileges as those who live in the “regularized” parts of the city (asfalto).
The symbolic economy of the UPP is stronger than the real economy of the favelas. The UPP in the Morro da Providência was installed on the first day of the UN’s World Urban Forum, held in the Zona Portuaria. This kind of strategic media show does little to increase the credibility of the government, which has come under repeated criticism for creating urban and social interventions that are “for the English to see”. That is, the government is keen to show an international audience that something, anything is happening in preparation for mega-events. These interventions range from the installation of walls along the highway to the megalomaniacal idea of a R$50 billion bullet-train linking Rio, São Paulo, and Campinas.
Positive elements of UPP installation
Peace and personal security have arrived for tens of thousands of residents. This cannot be underestimated. In Cantagalo, residents were marveling at the ability of their children to play in the streets without having to avoid heavily armed drug traffickers zipping by on their motorcycles. The military presence was light there and residents hoped that a multitude of positive changes and opportunities were opening. Residents are happy with the expulsion of armed drug traffickers, but have a long way to go before they begin to trust the police more fully.
There are educational programs and installations associated with the UPPs. In Cantagalo, Criança Esperança is a massive complex that is used by hundreds of children per week (though it could use a bit of maintenance). Senac Rio has begun educational programs in the Morro da Providência, though the UPP has centralized all of the activities forcing resident to go to the police to sign up for courses. Extending the course offerings to the community’s cultural center would facilitate access.
The pacification of favelas has begun a long desired process of integration between two very different worlds. The opening of dialogue and exchange provided by the UPPs, as well as increased opportunities for social, economic, and political interaction is something that will have positive effects for the city as a whole.
How long will the UPPs stay in place? The UPPs are very much linked to the tenure of Sergio Cabral as Governor of Rio de Janeiro State. If Cabral were to lose the October elections, would his successor maintain the UPPs? If he wins the election, will his commitment to the UPPs remain the same? There is wide-spread sentiment that after the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics that all of the investments in security and infrastructure will fade, that maintenance costs will not be paid, and that the drug traffickers will be able to retake their territories. One of the fears expressed by several residents was that those who make an attempt to use the UPPs to their advantage, or who form partnerships or undertake projects with the Military Police, will be targeted for reprisal by the drug traffickers in the future. There is a long history of broken promises in regards to state-sponsored initiatives in favelas. While the UPPs have met with some early successes, their permanence is far from guaranteed.
Will other state-led projects arrive with the same kind of force? If not, why not? The drug traffickers filled a void left by the state. The sudden arrival of the state in the form of an occupying military force raises the same kinds of questions that the USAmerican invasion of Iraq did. If we assume that the destruction of infrastructure can be compared to its absence through neglect, the Brazilian state faces the same situation in rebuilding the favelas as the USAmericans did in rebuilding Iraq. Sending in troops is relatively easy, rebuilding infrastructure and community self-governance, while providing education and training in order to (re) produce a self-sustaining community (very different from “sustainable” which has lost all signification), is a much more complicated and expensive task. Once the UPPs have settled in, will there be a shock and awe campaign focused on education? Will the government install, quickly and expertly, health clinics throughout these communities in the same way they have placed the Military Police?
At this early stage there are more questions than answers. Nearly all of the candidates for public office think that the UPPs are a good idea, and it is true that something drastic had to be done to break the cycles of violence, to interrupt the terrifying game of cat and mouse played out among innocents, and to assert the presence of the state where it had no authority. One can only hope that those responsible for the installation of the UPPs have thought through their project more clearly than the organizers of the mega-events that precipitated their invention.