RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Commitment like all human concepts is subject to wide swings of interpretation and consistency, and even in the most fortified of intentions, can stumble or stop. The city of Rio de Janerio is facing the biggest setback to the UPP policy yet, and people of Rocinha have everything on the line as the resolve of the police and policy makers is put to the test.
For the city, and the country, the public relations challenge of managing the macroeconomic oil politics at the same time as the spotlight on domestic security and wealth distribution has never been greater.
Yet here on the ground in Rio, and those with ties or interest in Rocinha (the most famous favela community in Brazil), the focus is on the looming questions underpinning the UPP (Police Pacification Unit) program. Can the police be trusted to a) stay, and b) not extort the community worse then the drug gangs?
The UPP program started over three years ago and there are a handful of success stories, favela communities thriving under the peace and security of the full-time presence of non-threatening police coupled with social services and programs.
It was November 2010 when the stakes increased exponentially when the armed resistance of drug gangs forced the city to bring in the Brazilian military to Complexo do Alemão in a very public war for the streets. The government won, and since then had pressed forward with little opposition into areas around Santa Teresa and in November 2011, Rocinha and Vidigal.
However, Complexo do Alemão is not yet fully “pacified” enough to bring in the UPP, even with the army still there, and neither is Complexo da Maré and now the Rocinha pacification effort has run into trouble.
The authorities have stepped forward with some impressive action though, first re-enforcing the favela police presence by doubling the amount of Shock Battalion (although they probably need to quadruple it), then committing to make Rocinha part of its police training ground, despite or in reaction to, the string if murders and evidence of new gang conflicts.
Unfortunately the ugly face of corruption has also turned up on this stage of civil strife. Police bribes payoffs are not unique to Rio, but in a such a sensitive state it is the embodiment of all the doubts inherent in the effort. It is fear that has been voiced the loudest by the civilians that live there.
Fortunately the government appears to be making steps to follow through with promise. Dealing with low police pay (which was the cause of a police strike the week before Carnival) and monitoring itself to call out obvious discrepancies in police lifestyles and pay scale.
It is time to show commitment to the cause, and show the people of Rocinha, and the world, Rio is not just putting lipstick on a pig. The commitment to not just security, but social change, inside the government (and police), as well as on the streets of the most neglected communities.