By Eliza Preston, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The 19th Police Pacification Unit (UPP) is to officially come into operation in the favela communities of Vidigal and Chácara do Céu today, Wednesday, January 18th, 2012. An inauguration ceremony will take place at 10AM in the Olympic village in Vidigal on Avenida João Goulart with vehicle access to the area restricted throughout the morning.
The UPP station will be situated in the old Posto de Orientação Social e Urbanística (POSU) on Travessa São Pedro (n° 2). Three other support stations will be in operation, one at the entrance to Vidigal on Avenida Neimeyer, another at the top of Morro do Vidigal, at the point known as Sobradinho, and a third in Chácara do Céu.
In total 246 police officers will operate between these stations under the leadership of Captain Fábio Pereira. He will be assisted by his Deputy Commander, 33-year-old Lieutenant Jairo Dantas who was born and raised within Vidigal.
“Returning to Vidigal is the same as returning home” he said, confirming the special significance of the post for him,” I know every corner of Vidigal and have followed the innumerable social transformations since childhood.”
In the original plans drawn up by the State Bureau of Public Security, Vidigal and Chácara do Céu were to fall within the administration of the UPP to be installed in Rocina. However, following the occupation on the 13th of November, and having subsequently developed a greater appreciation for the needs of these two communities, the Secretary of Security decided on two separate UPP Units.
Last Tuesday, as part of their three-day visit to Rio de Janeiro, a delegation from the United States House of Representatives, including speaker, John Boehner, visited the community of Vidigal. Their visit to the favela, once considered by many to be a den for some of Rio’s most dangerous drug gangs, was highly symbolic and evidence of the considerable progress which has been made to secure safety in these communities.
However the government program to ‘reclaim’ the favela communities from the drug lords and establish peace, law and order through the installation of civil police, has not been entirely without complication. In September police corruption schemes were unveiled amongst UPP commanders and officers in the favelas of Coroa, Fallet and Fogueteiro in central Rio.
Amongst residents of Vidigal, corruption is a concern as a long-standing fear of police in many areas of the city will not be easily overcome. Zezinho, of Favela Tours, has lived in Rocinha all his life and is skeptical.
“After a history of police abuse of favela residents, we don’t trust them. Many times we hear the government making promises but they never follow through.”
However, according to expatiate and current Vidigal resident, Stewart Alsop, sentiment amongst local residents regarding the UPP is generally positive.
“When the drug traffickers were still in control there was most definitely security, but what lacked was a clear sense of what would happen in the medium to long term. Now that the UPP are starting to arrive, people have a sense of things to come.”
Alsop feels a a similar sense exists in most pacified favelas, including the favela of Santa Marta which just celebrated its third anniversary with a UPP. In Santa Marta Alsop operates a tour company, Off The Track Rio, which even offers paintball tours.
Alsop warns however that many residents throughout the pacified favela communities question the government’s willpower to maintain their efforts beyond the Olympic Games in 2016.
“The people are afraid that the government will abandon them after the games are over and the drug traffickers will return, taking revenge on those who collaborated with the UPP. The UPP will have to work hard to convince people that they are indeed a permanent presence.”