In preparation for the 2014 World Cup, Brazilian Police targeted the slums of Rio De Janeiro. With just 74 days before the international soccer tournament begins, over 1,000 police with support from the military, occupied the Favela da Mare slum complex near the Rio International Airport.
In an attempt to make the city a safer place for visitors from all over the world, police have been strategically placed around the city in gang territories where drug and gun trafficking is very high. It is the hope of city officials that the increased police presence will make Rio a safer place for not only the World Cup, but also for the 2016 Summer Olympic games.
Early Sunday morning, helicopters were flying over the Mare slum, and armored vehicles were on the ground supporting the police as they entered the district. Favela da Mare is made up of 130,000 people living in 16 neighborhoods. Most of the roads are difficult to maneuver, and the area consists of a maze of alleyways, streets, markets, and very low income homes.
While Brazil wants Rio De Janeiro safe for the World Cup, many residents of the targeted slums do not feel like the government has their well being in mind at all. Residents of the Mare slum feel at times like they are living somewhere between a rock and a hard place. With gangs on one side, and the police on the other side, many are afraid to act for one group in fear of reprisal from the other. Some residents have reported that after a police presence is established, nothing else is done to benefit those who live there.
It is something that needed to be done for a long time. For too long the gang controlled slums in Rio have been a very dangerous place for everyone. Much of the areas have been used for years for manufacturing drugs, and now that police are becoming more of a presence, gangs are starting to fight back.
A special unit was formed in 2008 to not only fight against the gangs who had control of the slums, but also reclaim the areas for the residents. This Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora or Pacifying Police Unit is a law enforcement and social services unit. The idea was that elite police force would enter a section of a slum, clear it out of gangs, drugs, and other illegal activity, and then a UPP would come in as the permanent police force for the area. It would be a place that residents could come for social services, and patrol the area in hopes of keeping gangs out.
According to some residents of the pacified slums, while gang violence is down some, police are treating residents with a heavy hand. 20 officers from a UPP in Rocinha, Rio’s largest slum are facing charges ranging from torture and the disappearance of a resident that they were questioning while looking for possible caches of guns and drugs.
The more UPP locations that are being established in the slums are also starting to be targets of attacks from the gangs that claim the territory. The slums are valuable for the gangs, and each time a police unit comes in, they lose money, guns, and drugs, and are fighting back to reclaim what they think is theirs.
Without a doubt, the slums in Rio DeJaneiro needed to be cleaned up before the World Cup and Olympics, however, many feel they should have been targeted much earlier and more services for the residents should have been offered. While it is a dangerous area, hopefully in the next two and a half months Brazil will be able to make the city a safe place, not just for the fans that will descend on Rio for the soccer games, but also for the residents all over the city.
Commentary by Carl Auer