By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Today marks the sixth anniversary of Rio de Janeiro’s inaugural Police Pacification Unit (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora, or UPP), installed in the Santa Marta favela community on December 19, 2008. While the UPP still faces challenges in other areas of Rio, in Santa Marta, also known as Dona Marta, the community is benefiting from stable security and an improved socio-economic environment.
In Santa Marta, which sits above Botafogo in Zona Sul (South Zone) of Rio, the effectiveness of pacification is reflected in another important metric: from the beginning of the process, there have been no homicides according to authorities. “Our job is to help improve the quality of life of the population,” said the commander of the UPP Santa Marta, Captain Marcio Rocha.
Security also means more tourists come to visit the favela, immortalized in the 1996 Michael Jackson video for his hit single “They Don’t Care About Us”. At that time the film crew had to get permission from the local drug lord, but today the area receives about 10,000 visitors per month.
After the pacification, the state granted three hundred land titles to residents and another nine hundred properties are in the process of legalization. The Secretariat of Public Works has built thirty homes, and another benefit for residents has been the increase in real estate value of the property. According to the Union of Rio Housing, the selling price of a two bedroom apartment in Botafogo rose 213 percent.
State sponsored programs have also offered help to residents in the form of small business training, through free courses offered by the government and partner companies. The goal has been to help people in the community open their own businesses, creating jobs and income in the place where they live.
Two years ago, the couple Andreia Miranda, 33, and Paulo Roberto Lopes, 46, had only a small stand where they sold shirts and magnets. They took the entrepreneurship courses and now own the Santa Marta Souvenirs at the statue of Michael Jackson, perhaps the main tourist point of interest in Santa Marta.
With the support of AgeRio (State Development Agency) and Sebrae, they learned how to formalize and receive a business loan and credit for expansion. “Today, I am no longer afraid to leave my children alone in the community. And with the growth of tourism, my family and I have a craft we can live on,” Andreia Miranda said to the government news agency.
For the president of the Santa Marta Residents Association, José Mário, the main achievement of peace is the access to education and culture. In the community there is now a Indústria do Conhecimento (Knowledge Industry), a library with about two thousand books and nine computers with free internet access. “The entrepreneurship in Santa Marta is growing and advancing,” said José Mário.
The UPP program of Rio de Janeiro was established in 2008 but remains controversial, as many areas like Complexo do Alemão, group of favela communities in Rio’s Zona North (North Zone) – home to an estimated 120,000 residents – often lives in a state of violence.