By Anna Kaiser, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In Rio the Police Pacifying Unit (UPP) program has made notable strides in improving security in favela communities, removing the visibility of powerful drug gangs, as well as helping local businesses grow in some cases. In addition, new research shows a reduction of “gatos” – illegal ‘high-jacking’ of power – from 70 to 5 percent in pacified favelas.
The news is good for the power company “Light”, who published the report, and apparently saw 70,000 new customers regularized.
The company’s web site states: “[Gatos] can compromise the supply of electricity in different regions, increase the risk of short circuits (and even fires), breaking equipment, and increase about seventeen percent the cost of bills.”
Brazilian and U.S. duel citizen, David Huffard, has worked in Rio’s favela communities bringing television access for ten years, and shared with The Rio Times:
“It has been a smooth process so far as I have seen. Once the favela is ‘pacified’ it becomes easier for the electric company workers to get in and do the work they need to do.”
“Though installing meters for most houses is a long journey in a favela, one home at a time gets it done and relatively rapidly as deeds to property are also sorted out amongst other operations undertaken by the city once the favela is under formal [government] control.”
The company has several initiatives, known as “Comunidade Eficiente” and “Light Legal” to promote legal power usage, which provide discounts for low-income areas, energy efficient light bulbs and appliances and general information on energy efficiency and maintaining a low bill.
However, some favela residents resent Light report’s statistics and believe it to be unfair or untrue. Felipe Paiva, a resident of Vidigal explained that there has been no changes at all in the manner residents receive electricity since pacification.
He said that, “there are families who have electricity, but it’s the same as before pacification, they never pay the bill. It’s not because they are highjacking electricity, but because the bill never comes to their homes.”
Furthermore, Rocinha resident, Zezinho, expressed frustration that people think everyone in the favela steals their electricity when he has paid his electricity bill properly his entire life.
He questioned the claims of Light, “I have seen very few of the ‘Light’ company around trying to regulate things. They say they want to better regulate the poor here and get people off the gatos [electricity highjacking] but saying is one thing and doing is another.”
Another concern for social advocates is the increase in cost of living for residents of favela communities. In essence, the pacification is the beginning of gentrification in some cases, forcing long-time residents out.
Speaking at a conference in Rio in October, economist Marcelo Neri said “The UPP is a good thing, but it also bring secondary effects. In the case of increased rents for houses in these areas, this generates a reduction in income for many inhabitants,” he said.
However Mr. Huffard shared, “I have yet to hear anyone complain loudly about having a meter installed on their newly legalized house with a formal deed to it. Incomes for the lower classes have had huge advances over the past fifteen years and this has eased the burden.”
“By and large the people who inhabit the favelas are hard working, honest people: they like being legal in their homes at long last and get a sense of accomplishment when able to pay their bills for services rendered.”