By Benjamin Parkin, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Recent violence has left almost as many police officers dead this year as in the entire year of 2013. In the state of Rio de Janeiro, fifteen police officers have already died, compared to eighteen in 2013. The latest deaths were two UPP (Pacifying Police Unit) officers, Rodrigo de Souza Paes Leme and Wagner Viera da Costa, killed in the Complexo do Alemão and Complexo da Penha, both Zona Norte (North Zone) of Rio, last Thursday.
Another UPP officer, Alda Rafael Castilho, was killed in the beginning of February in Penha. Ten UPP officers have been killed since the inauguration of the program in 2008, and alarmingly half of these were in Alemão and Penha, first occupied in 2010.
The recent violence led the State Security Secretary, José Mariano Beltrame, to contemplate a potential “reoccupation” of Alemão by the Armed Forces, “Reoccupation with 500 or 600 officers has not been discarded. […] We have open doors in all institutions: the Navy, Army, Air Force, Federal Police, as well as our people.”
This most recent casualties and increase in city-wide violence has complicated the image of the UPP program, widely praised in its early stages. The first UPP was set up in Santa Marta favela in late 2008, and this has now expanded to 37 UPPs across 257 favelas, reaching an estimated 1.5 million people.
Born and raised in the Complexo do Alemão, Adimilson Domingos, 45, said of the pacification, “Since the pacification, we as residents are have more opportunities to fulfill our roles as citizens, and live better quality lives. For me, as a father, I like the pacification. Sometimes, however, policemen come and treat you aggressively, but I think this says more about their education. On Monday, for example, I was stopped on the way to work and they treated me very respectfully.”
Speaking about the drug traffic, he continued, “There have been many changes in the behavior of the traffic, but it continues. It’s a cancer that is rooted in our community. In some places there are still sales points but the style has changed – you don’t see the firearms that you used to. Only a divine intervention will get rid of it.”
The expansion of the UPPs into areas such as Rocinha, in 2011, and Complexo do Alemão, both large population centers (both estimated at around 70,000 residents), represented a significant new challenge, when compared to previous favelas communities. Santa Marta and Chapeu Mangueira/Babilônia, for example, have populations of 6,000 and 5,000 respectively, and have been widely hailed as success stories – Santa Marta, for one, has not had a murder since the UPP began.
Shootouts have been regular occurrences in the past months across numerous pacified favelas. In the last week of January in Rocinha, for example, 33 year-old Edilson Rodrigues da Silva Cardoso and 16 year-old Thales Ribeiro de Souza, neither of whom had any involvement in the drug trade, were both killed in shootouts between police and drug gangs.
After the death of UPP Officer Castilho on February 2nd, a police mission in Parque Proletário, Penha, left six dead, with an image of the corpses circulated on an unofficial Military Police Facebook page, proclaiming it a “response” to Castilho’s killing. Some experts suggested the deliberate positioning of the corpses was evidence of their execution.
On the future of the pacification program, Secretary Beltrame stated, “We need to proceed with the process of pacification, and no one will impede us. If we see that we need something more solid in the occupation, we will go ahead. I don’t think anyone wishes that the drug trade comes back to regulate the price of drugs and people’s lives, as it used to.”