By Melissa Rossi, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The official withdrawal of the Brazilian Armed Forces from the Complexo do Alemão, in Rio’s Zona Norte (North Zone), is scheduled to take place this Thursday, June 28th. It represents a further step towards the pacification of an extended geographic area, and one of the former enclaves of Rio’s organized drug gangs.
The army will be replaced by Rio’s BOPE (Special Operations Battalion) in the Vila Cruzeiro and Penha communities following a broad transfer of power operation that began with the implementation of four UPPs (Police Pacification Units) in strategic locations within the area starting in April.
In total, eight UPPs and 2,000 police-force representatives are expected to be operative by the end of the process, patrolling a community of approximately 70,000 residents.
It appears a process that started about nineteen months ago, when Brazil’s Armed Forces entered the area under heavy gun-fire, closes with a positive outcome even though many challenges still lie ahead.
In the almost two years that have followed the army’s occupation of the Complexo do Alemão, the images of urban warfare broadcasted throughout the world on November 2010 have been slowly but surely replaced by images of the everyday lives of community residents.
One of the most iconic examples of the progress towards peace is represented in Complexo do Alemão’s teleférico (gondola cable-car) that connects several communities and transports thousands of residents daily, including tourists.
The gondola opened to the public in July 2011, as part of the PAC, Brazil’s Growth Acceleration program, and an urban revitalization program started under former President Lula da Silva, a R$210 million project.
Governor Sérgio Cabral announced last week that the gondola opening hours would be extended on Sundays until 7PM as part of an initiative to ensure further well-being for residents in their leisure time.
“We have a partnership with the federal government in a community that was absolutely hostile as a consequence of the parallel control of organized crime. We went in and invested in sanitation, housing, urbanization and public transportation with the cable-car, which has already transported 2.5 million people, more than 13,000 a day,” he explained.
News about part of the Complexo do Alemão’s renewed safety had impressed many foreign delegation representatives present in the city for the Rio+20 UN Earth Summit. Last Tuesday, Brazilian Secretary of Transportation Julio Lopes together with the French Minister for Social Economy, Benoit Hamon, visited the community’s gondola to witness first-hand the advances that the community now enjoys.
According to Secretary Lopes, the service “has awakened the curiosity of international delegations. Because of this, we have returned almost daily to accompany these authorities. The [French] Minister was very enthusiastic about the social rescue work of the Alemão. His reaction was that of great surprise with the enormous social rescue that the State has accomplished.”
The withdraw of the army forces was originally planned for October 2011, but in March of this year it was decided to keep the added security in place longer. Certainly the community still faces many challenges ahead, but although the UPP and police forces have fallen under criticism after several corruption cases, the removal of the army is a sign of progress for the city.