By Eliza Preston, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With the apparent success of Police Pacification Units (UPPs) in nineteen favelas communities in Rio, there has been much speculation over what steps the government will take to integrate these newly liberated communities within the State. The announcement on January 5th to establish centers for ‘The Prevention of Violence and Promotion of Security’ in the these communities, will interest both skeptics and enthusiasts of the pacification process.
The Secretary for Social Work and Human Rights in Rio State, Rodrigo Neves, described the planned centers as catalysts for interaction and coordination between governmental and non-governmental organizations within communities.
Each center will be installed with a multidisciplinary team assigned with the management and mediation of social conflict in the communities, and the promotion of human rights and citizenship.
In his statement, Secretary Neves outlined aspirations that this initiative will foster greater citizen participation and mobilize community groups in the fight for peace and security within pacified favelas. The program will be piloted in Rio de Janeiro, with plans to replicate it in other regions in Brazil, if successful.
The Federal Government has committed R$20 million to the project, the first installment of which (R$12 million) will be released next week. Integral to the program is the installment of local community managers.
These specialists in social sciences and human rights, selected by UERJ (Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro), will be responsible for mediating the demands of the communities, public organizations and private initiatives and for outlining and facilitating new public services available to residents.
These community managers are already active within five pacified favelas and it is hoped that managers will be installed within the remaining communities over the next month.
“We are making great progress in the consolidation of the process of pacification.”, announced Secretary Neves, “In the favelas which have already been installed with managers, they have been extremely important in the dialog with social organizations, the mediation of conflicts, the integration of human rights and in issues of public security.”
The improvement in public safety and the reduction of crime rates since the introduction of the UPPs has been significant.
An investigation of police reports by O Globo newspaper in November found that the number of homicides in pacified favelas halved since the installation of the UPP units. Within the three years covered in the study, the reports record an average reduction or 11,000 in the number of reported assaults in the communities.
Fatal robberies fell by an average of 48 percent, household robberies by 56 percent and robberies of shops and businesses was down by an average of thirty percent.
However, critics of the pacification strategy argue that the increased police presence has not been accompanied by other forms of State presence. There has been little effort to improve public services and infrastructure.
“I definitely feel that it is safer, for me and for my children,” acknowledges Cantagalo’s resident Paula Villa, “…and maybe in the future there will be better opportunities for them. But we have not seen other changes that they said would happen. We still don’t have buses, there are men fixing every street down in Copacabana and here it takes months for things to be fixed.”
The hope is this new initiative will offer residents a powerful platform to voice their concerns and demands rather then simply a grand gesture aimed at the international community. With the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics planned for Rio, certainly the world is watching.