By Patricia Maresch, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The recent pacification of favela Mangueira in Rio’s Zona Norte (North Zone) completes the process of preparing all favela complexes in the vicinity of the Maracanã Stadium for the installment of a UPP station (Police Pacification Units). Security Secretary José Beltrame said he was very proud of the achievement. “The police are here to stay, opening a window of opportunity and consolidate public safety.” The new Maracanã will be where the 2014 World Cup Finals is hosted, as well as the 2016 Olympic opening ceremony.
Zona Norte now has 28 “pacified” communities. Seventeen of them already hold UPP bases. The government of Rio intends to install UPP’s in all pacified communities throughout the rest of the year.
Favela Morro da Formiga, in Zona Norte, has just completed its first year with the UPP presence. Police captain Alessandra Carvalhaes is very positive about her experiences: “The community has exceeded my expectations in terms of acceptance of our police work. Residents and police share the same goal: to make Formiga a better place to live.”
Now that there is peace through the 24 hour presence of the community police, residents are anxiously awaiting the UPP Social: programs that help people get jobs as well as see educational, sports and arts projects. UPP Social was created in 2010 by Governor Sérgio Cabral and some feel slow to come to fruition.
Besides the positive progress in communities like Formiga, other pacified favelas still deal with violence. Just recently in the favela Andaraí (Tijuca), for example, two mototaxi drivers were reportedly killed because they refused to pay gang members a protection fee. In Morro da Coroa (Santa Teresa) a policeman lost one leg after an attack with a hand grenade.
Perhaps the case that has most media attention at the moment takes place in the Zona Oeste (West Zone) community of Nova Iguaçu – a metropolitan area of Rio. It is the eleven-year-old boy Juan who has been missing since June 20th.
Juan and his older brother Wesley witnessed, by accident, a shooting between the police and gang members in the favela Danon. Both children were shot and Wesley saw his brother taken down by a bullet, but his body has since disappeared. It has been snatched away either by the police or by gang members.
A week passed by before the police started looking for clues at the crime scene and questioning the police officers involved, most likely under pressure of a big spread in the newspaper Extra, headlining “Onde está Juan?” (Where is Juan?).
Extra reported that the police had done almost nothing to investigate the case of the missing boy. In a reaction both Beltrame and Civil Police Chief Martha Rocha denied the police have been slow in its investigation.
Congressman Marcelo Freixo (PSOL-RJ) disagrees: “Only eight days after the disappearance of Juan, the police investigated the scene of the shooting and the police cars, in which they found blood stains.” According to Freixo it’s most likely that Juan’s body has disappeared forever. His parents have entered a witness protection program.
While some critics claim the pacification of favelas, and progress of the UPP program, is focused only toward politically sensitive areas, few argue the net positive effects on the city. This, along with the reclassification of some favela communities as official municipalities are indications of improvement for the city’s underprivileged.