The Washington Diplomat / June 2014
By Larry Luxner
With the 2014 FIFA World Cup only weeks away, police and military officials throughout Brazil are rushing to make sure all security measures are in place by the time the month-long soccer competition kicks off on June 12.
In early April, about 2,000 soldiers raided the Rio de Janeiro shantytown of Mare using helicopters and armored personnel carriers. The favela — considered one of Rio’s most dangerous — is controlled by two rival drug gangs; located near Galeão International Airport, it contains 15 separate slums and is home to about 130,000 people.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff personally authorized the raid, giving Army Gen. Ronaldo Lundgren the green light to “frisk and arrest people.” Lundgren’s troops will remain in Mare until the end of July, after which a Police Pacification Unit (UPP in Portuguese) will be established there.
Authorities have created 37 such UPPs since the program’s establishment in 2008.
Eduarda La Rocque has headed the Instituto Pereira Passos — Rio’s municipal planning agency — since August 2012. She said the UPPs will help keep the city safe for both residents and the tens of thousands of tourists who will flock to Brazil for the international soccer extravaganza.
“In order to ensure security during the World Cup, we have entered into many alliances,” said La Rocque, speaking at a recent conference at Washington’s Wilson Center. “Since 2009, we have been concentrating extensively on planning. Every week, the mayor receives a briefing on each of the projects. We’ve also implemented a system of meritocracy, where special bonuses are given to public servants that achieve their goals on time. We’ve also been working hard to reduce bureaucracy.”
La Rocque said municipal officials have invested $7.8 billion in transportation projects and enhancement of existing infrastructure with an eye towards not only the upcoming World Cup but also the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, to be hosted by Rio de Janeiro.
It also helps, she said, that Rio de Janeiro’s debt has been upgraded three times by all the major international ratings agencies even though Brazil’s debt as a whole was recently downgraded.
“The World Cup is right around the corner, but our focus is sustaining a permanent legacy for the citizens — more even than organizing the event itself,” she said.
Rio de Janeiro has 6.32 million inhabitants, of whom nearly 1.39 million — or 22 percent of the population — live in favelas.
“From 1991 to 2010, the city’s population grew 0.4 percent a year, but the favelas grew by 2.4 percent,” she said. “We need social policies that are specifically geared to favelas that will reduce crime and promote social development,” she said, noting that his agency works very closely with the private sector. “Our ultimate plan is to map out every alley and every little street. We think everybody has the right to have a specific address.”
La Rocque added: “We don’t just want to inaugurate things. I’m certain that by 2020, when we look back at the data, we’ll find that living conditions are substantially better. We must continue to attack inequality and stimulate investment. We already have the information. We know what needs to be done.”
Col. Robson Rodrigues is a senior consultant at Rio de Janeiro’s Igarapé Institute and a professor at Candido Mendes University. He’s also a former commander of the Police Shock Battalion of the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro (PMERJ), where he helped to structure and deploy UPPs throughout the state.
Rodrigues said the success of the UPPs have as much to do with a change in the general mindset of police authorities as with strategies in the favelas.
“Our police officers used to be repressive, enforcing rules the hard way. We never really utilized softer, more refined ways such as intelligence gathering, public relations or community development,” he said, noting that police effectiveness should not only be measured by statistics but thought of in cultural terms.
“We have made considerable strides. All the stakeholders in the community — not only police officers but also community leaders — have learned a great deal,” said Rodrigues, noting that some 200 areas throughout Rio are now occupied by UPP troops.
“We see peace and tranquility, but we still have to work hard to elicit the participation of the citizens,” he said. “It is up to law-enforcement agencies to show that they understand the needs of society, and this has to be reflected in their behavior.”
This will especially be true during the World Cup, said Rodrigues.
“We are going to see a large number of boots on the ground. As a result, we will be able to avert most kinds of insecurity and criminal action,” said the former cop. “It’s possible we will see some turbulence. However, it is essential that we continue with this pacification process.”
Brazilian economist and social scientist Mauricio Moura, a visiting scholar at George Washington University, agrees. He expresses little doubt that UPPs have dramatically boosted the quality of life for Rio de Janeiro’s residents.
In 2012, he said, the city reported 1,209 killings, translating into a homicide rate of 24 per 100,000 inhabitants.
“Rio is the home of three very dangerous, well-known criminal and drug organizations. However, the UPPs have been improving the situation significantly,” Moura said. “There’s been a clear reduction in homicide rates among pacified communities.”
A survey team headed by Moura conducted 3,816 interviews of residents of Rio’s favelas and surrounding communities in September 2011 and 5,200 in January 2013. Nearly 50 percent of favela respondents said life was better after the installation of the UPPs, and 61 percent of people in surrounding communities said life had improved.
“There’s still a certain degree of uncertainty and doubt, but I can state that UPPs are the best thing that’s happened in public security and the response is overwhelming,” Mauro said. “More than 80 percent of respondents think the presence of UPPs has been a positive development. Having visited over 30 areas where UPPs are in place, I can say that everyone agrees UPPs are the first step. Yet if it’s not followed up and given sustainability, it won’t work.”
Mauro said the most important legacy is that “people now realize they have a role” to play in improving security for everyone.
“For the first time, we’re openly discussing something that’s been done, and not something that should be done,” he said. “This is ultimately the greatest legacy of the project. If you walk through a community that’s been pacified, you clearly feel more secure. But we need to see if this is a lasting benefit or a passing fad. As to whether the program will ultimately blossom into a long-term project, we’re unable to answer that at this time.”