In the past several months, drug traffickers and organised criminal gangs have re-established a visible presence in several of the so-called pacified favelas, one of which (the famous Cidade de Deus) US President Barack Obama visited in March.
There are questions as to the limits of the socalled pacification process, first successfully trialled in 2008-2009 before being rolled out in 11 favelas from January 2010.
The reported (but not officially confirmed) death from a stray bullet earlier this week of an innocent 15-year old girl, named as Ana Lúcia da Silva, in the favela Grota do Alemão, in northern Rio, during three nights of intense confrontations between rival drug gangs and military officers from the pacification force that has occupied the notorious Complexo do Alemão (aka ‘the Gaza Strip’) and the neighbouring Vila Cruzeiro since November 2010 has refocused attention on the progress of the flagship ‘pacification’ schemes being implemented by Rio’s governor, Sérgio Cabral, and his state security secretary, José Mariano Beltrame.
The tactic is to first send in heavy state military police forces, the Special Police Operations Battalion (BOPE), or more recently the military, to take over a favela and rout the criminal leaders. After a transition period, the BOPE/military ‘pacification force’ hands over to permanent community police (police pacification units, or UPPs), which are then meant to provide permanent security and integrate into the local communities. Social services and public goods are then supposed to follow. Security experts say it’s a classic counterinsurgency strategy. Rio’s 900 favelas are home to about 2.0m people (a third of the city’s population of 6.2m). So far, there are UPPs on the ground in 17 of the most violent ghettos and the aim is to gradually pacify about 40 in all by 2014. The looming 2013-2016 international sporting events in Rio have concentrated official minds, and Cabral has the full support of the federal government in Brasília for his efforts. Beltrame says that the process is slow but steady. However on more than one occasion (most recently in June), the normally unflappable gaucho has appealed for the faster delivery of social investment and infrastructure to reinforce the security efforts. It’s worth noting that overall crime and homicide levels in the thriving Rio have fallen steadily in the past decade, according to the state institute for public security (though its statistics are disputed by several NGOs).
The military, which is due to remain in the Complexo do Alemão and Vila Cruzeiro until June 2012 before handing over to a UPP, says that returning drug gangs are deliberately inciting violence. Brazil’s main organised urban gangs, Comando Vermelho (CV), Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) and Amigos dos Amigos (ADA) have deep roots in the favelas and are not easily deterred. Following the latest unrest in Alemão (a complex of 15 favelas), the military force was reinforced with 100 marines, taking the total troop number in the area to 1,800, while Secretary Beltrame confirmed that 120 state military police officers (from Bope and the Batalhão de Choque [BPChoque]) have been dispatched “indefinitely” to the Adeus and Baiana favelas, where the military has no presence. Some 50 heavily armed men from these areas reportedly fired on the military during the unrest. (Military police officers must seek army permission to enter the Complexo do Alemão.) The military reported the discovery early on 7 September of five homemade bombs in the area.