By Nestor Bailly, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The end of 2010 was a dramatic time for Rio, preparations for the holidays and the massive Reveillon celebration was tainted by Rio’s recent city-wide violence. The favelas remain a central part of the city’s identity and a major source of many of its problems, and accordingly drew a good deal of attention from the U.S.’s Rio de Janeiro Consulate in 2009 according to WikiLeak documents.
Late 2009 saw a flurry of activity in the favelas as the Favela Pacification Program and the UPP finished their first full active year with plans to expand (singling out Complexo de Alemao as the ‘epicenter of the fight’).
However, foreshadowing the Navy APCs and marines in Zona Norte this past November and belying public confidence in the pacification efforts, retired Brazilian Army General Alvaro de Souza Pinheiro said in September 2009 that the Army was fully prepared to “occupy and maintain control of favelas,” given their experience in UN Peacekeeping operations around the world.
Acknowledging the lawlessness of the favelas in 2009, Pinherio said the Army is well suited for pacification, as “many officers and units were specifically trained and prepared to undertake operations related to public security and general policing in communities lacking state control.”
In November 2009 the Principal Officer of Rio’s U.S. Consulate met with an unnamed source in the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) in Rio. The source explained what he could not disclose publicly because of ‘Brazilian sensitivities;’ that the situation in the favelas as of November 2009 was “for all practical purposes, a full-blown ‘internal armed conflict,’” with all the implications that such a weighty characterization entails.
The Consulate tentatively agreed with the source’s assessment, noting that it describes Rio’s violence better than simple urban crime. To this extent it took special interest in the Favela Pacification Program’s ‘clear and hold’ approach, which “closely resembles U.S. counter-insurgency doctrine in Afghanistan and Iraq, and highlights the extent to which favelas have been outside state authority,” reads a diplomatic cable from November 2009.
Rio State Secretary for Public Security Jose Beltrame explained to the U.S. Consulate, “you cannot imagine what government neglect of the favelas have done to this city. It is a failure of public service” that the city is now paying for with blood. Although the beginning phases of the UPP have gone well, it is only the beginning of the fight.
Yet as of late 2009, during a visit to the pacified Dona Marta favela, U.S. representatives noted that “police officers are doing everything from assisting residents with requests for utilities to coaching sports. There is no cadre of civilian government and NGO personnel to handle those tasks, nor evidence of systematic programming for additional services…. If such a vacuum persists, it will wear down police capacity and lead to frustration among residents in pacified favelas, threatening the initial gains in those areas.”
The U.S. Consulate fully supported the Pacification Program and was enthusiastic about the results, saying they “could remake the social and economic fabric of Rio de Janeiro”. A lofty but admiral goal, with a significant price tag as indicated by 2009 data from the Rio State Secretariat for Security show operations to pacify and reintegrate favelas would cost from R$90 million to R$340 million (US$48 million to US$183 million).
Although according to José Luiz Alquéres, the president of Rio’s electric company Light, the economy of Rio de Janeiro could grow by R$38 billion (US$21 billion) through increased economic activity and new jobs, and R$90 million (US$45 million) in property and service taxes could be raised if the favelas were integrated into the rest of the city.