By Patricia Maresch, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Ten UPP bases (Police Pacification Units) are planned to be installed in the Complexo do Alemão and Vila Cruzeiro in the Zona Norte (North Zone). Public Security Secretary José Mariano Beltrame announced his plans last week, and according to the Secretary, it is impossible to have just one base in the large area of favelas.
The Complexo do Alemão consists of fourteen different favelas with approximately 400,000 residents. The adjacent community, Vila Cruzeiro, has 25,000 residents.
Beltrame said it hasn’t been specifically defined which of the favelas will get UPP stations: “We’ll be installing the UPPs gradually and the process should be completed in October,” he said.
He estimates that the government will probably deploy between 2,000 and 2,200 UPP officers, which are police specially trained to work in the communities. Beltrame added though, that the army is staying until all logistical and organizational issues are resolved.
Since early December, a special Peace Force has been active in Zona Norte to keep the area secure. Approximately 2,400 Army paratroopers and civil and military police are currently responsible for keeping drug traffickers out and preparing the area for the installation of the UPP bases.
The area has changed significantly since the bulk of the Comando Vermelho (Red Command), the ruling drug gang, was forced to leave after intense violence in late November. Though there are critics and charges of police and military misconduct and some traffickers still manage to sell drugs, there is a feeling of real optimism and tranquility in the area that has had a positive effect on residents.
These circumstances offer opportunities for a new range of social, cultural and educational programs. One such program in development is the English language project +Oportunidades (More Opportunities), from the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Brazil through its Agency for International Development (USAID) in partnership with the government of Rio de Janeiro, Mais Unidos Group and support from Chevron.
The objective of the +Oportunidades program is to promote youth education and capacity building to develop essential skills and enable them to seek more opportunities in the formal labor market.
Soon to be launched the program will include 1,000 students from approximately thirty schools, some of which will be in UPP communities within the Complexo do Alemão.
Edna, a 19-year-old from Vila Cruzeiro, is very eager to start learning English. “We have always waited for these kinds of opportunities in our neighborhood. And free as well…Where can I sign up?”