By Maria Lopez Conde, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Residents of Vila dos Pinheiros and Vila do João, favela communities in the massive Zona Norte (North Zone) Complexo da Maré neighborhood, are preparing for the establishment of a Police Pacifying Unit (UPP), following last month’s entry of armed forces into the area.
In mid-April, the Battalion for Special Operations (BOPE) and the Federal Police led the first foray into Complexo da Maré in an operation seeking to secure the area ahead of the installation of a UPP.
Referred to as “limpeza de terreno” (terrain clearance), this initial incursion is the standard first step towards full occupation and eventual establishment of permanent police presence.
At the time, 300 members of elite police squads, including the Shock Battalion (BPChq), among others, participated in the operation that resulted in an intense gunfire exchange, two deaths, four arrests and the apprehension of guns, marijuana, cocaine, as well as various narcotics.
Complexo do Maré, a neighborhood made up of sixteen favelas totaling an estimated 110,000 inhabitants, has been reported as Rio’s current headquarters of crack, accounting for the largest number of sales and consumers of the cocaine-based drug in the state. The community has a Human Development Index (HDI) comparable to that of the poorest state in the country, Alagoas.
Complexo do Maré is densely populated and crime-ridden in some areas, due to the fact that ten out of the sixteen communities that belong to the complex are reportedly ruled by one of the city’s main criminal outfits, Comando Vermelho (Red Command). Two of the remaining four communities are controlled by rival factions of drug traffickers, and two others by urban militia, according to reports.
The pacification process in the region began in earnest last October, when security forces occupied Jacarezinho and Manguinhos, favelas in a region once referred to as the “Gaza Strip” for its violent nature, both located next to Maré and major roads that lead to Rio’s International Airport.
In March, security forces occupied Complexo do Caju and the focus soon shifted to Complexo da Maré. Government officials announced the creation of Rio’s 31st Pacifying Police Unit at Maré last March; however, authorities, citing security concerns, remain tight-lipped on the actual date of an official UPP creation.
Nevertheless, a UPP in Complexo da Maré will hopefully drive out at least some of the criminal gangs that control the complex. Placement of the UPP should also provide access to vital public services and other positive effects pacification is credited to have brought to Rocinha, in São Conrado.
According to UPP Social, the government’s social component to favela pacification program, the process of providing services begins well before the establishment of a official UPP station.
“Before the implantation of the UPP, from the moment the territory is occupied by security forces, the [government] takes advantage of the new peaceful situation to initiate an intensive effort to qualify the urban services: cleanliness, trash collection and public lighting, mobilizing various municipal agents to determine current coverage, the organ created in 2008,” UPP Social said through its Press Office.
The UPP Social then aims to create a “forum that brings together community leaders, NGOs, and other local institutions, as well as UPP members for an open dialogue in which residents express their expectations and public authorities present their future and immediate plans,” UPP Social told The Rio Times.