Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – No, we’re not talking about the ocean west of Chile, which got its name from Magellan, the Portuguese explorer who found calmer seas westward of his Strait and deemed them peaceful, hence the name Pacific. We’re talking about Rio’s UPPs, Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora, literally Units of Pacifying Police.
Calling the Pacific Ocean peaceful is simply wrong. Calling the Pacifying Police Units peaceful is likewise wrong. Why is this? Surely taking back the favelas from their drug lord gangsters is a wonderful idea whose time has come, albeit some twenty years too late. After all, why wouldn’t people who live there be happy when the police make the neighborhood safe by chasing (and chastising) criminals?
Increasingly, more and more people are not happy with UPPs. The principal reason for this problem is that the pacifying police often need pacifying themselves. Former Governor Brizola, who ordered the police out of the favelas years ago, correctly argued that, when they went after criminals, they didn’t care who got hurt.
In 2008, when the pacification process began, the authorities in Rio promised that would never occur again, that police would be well trained; they would see their objective as preserving peace and becoming neighborly, even if located in some very scary neighborhoods.
But the wheels on the pacification trains have begun to get wobbly, and there is a danger they may actually come off. There are two recent examples.
The adjoining favelas of Pavão/Pavãozinho occupy the rocky heights separating Copacabana and Ipanema, so they were well placed to receive one of the first UPP’s. They got two towers and a belvedere, served by a (free) elevator coming up from the metrô station in Ipanema.
For some time, peace and quiet remained. What also remained, of course, was the absence of any governmental services—no schools, no libraries, no sewage, no rubbish collection, no health care centers. Significantly, most of the drug culture also remained there, just without scores of teenagers on doorsteps wielding automatic weapons.
Just one week ago, Douglas Pereira (alias DG), a dancer on a popular TV Globo program, was shot and killed. At first the police said “he jumped” off the hill into a day care center, hinting he’d been pushed by someone. After the medical examiner said DG had been shot in the back, the police said he was fleeing a raid on drug dealers.
The police say they’re investigating his death. No one in this town takes them seriously, because of the other recent example.
On July 14, 2013 a hod carrier named Amarildo de Souza disappeared after leaving a UPP station in recently pacified Rocinha. The UPP police said all their surveillance cameras had simultaneously suffered defects, as did the GPS in the car they were seen taking him away in. The “Where’s Amarildo?” campaign has run into one stonewall dead end after another—no one admits knowing where Amarildo’s remains are located.
The police investigated Amarildo’s case. Some ten police were indicted months ago; they deny any guilt. Nothing has happened since. Nothing is ever going to happen.
Likewise, nothing is ever going to happen as a result of the police investigation into DG’s death.
No training program, teaching police to act peacefully, is likely to overcome the absolutely ironclad law of silence imposed on all police when their brethren kill innocent people. Ratting on your fellow police is the one unforgivable sin, in UPPs as elsewhere in Rio.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 36 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)