RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Years ago I first heard someone say; “how do you make God laugh?, make a plan” – which struck me as odd as my brain seems to work incessantly on tangential scenario evaluations. The counter of course is the proverb, “luck, is when opportunity meets preparation”.
It is hard to imagine our leaders in government have not tried to plan for all the contingencies, as the UPP (Police Pacification Units) program has been conceived and rolled out in Rio de Janeiro.
Since 2008 the some 25 UPP units have been installed across Rio’s most dangerous and lawless places, in the illegal-squatter communities called favelas (translates to slums).
I write that last part knowing it is a controversial issue, how the government allowed so many impoverished citizens (22 percent of Rio de Janeiro) to have no better option.
Without going into the full history of how that happened, it seems the decision to just let favelas grow and self-regulate has run its course. Yet turning into an icon in itself of the Cidade Maravilhosa, they certainly are not going away overnight, perhaps not for 15-20 years.
Only in the last five years the government has decided to try to govern these areas. Many question the motives, the hosting of the 2016 Olympics being named as the motivation for a superficial policy of perception.
Someone wrote a comment on my last editorial titled “We Like the UPP” that it is “easy to be an optimist when you don’t live there” … and this true of course. My optimism is hopefully well placed in the desire to have a “plan” though.
I hate to draw any analogy to the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, as for so many it was seen as an epic failure. But, on the flip side it signals a focus and dialogue on a scale that never existed before.
Is it too late, too slow, not enough, not actionable, not realistic, not being followed, not going to succeed … maybe. But back to the proverbs, if first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
This is all to the point of evaluating the progress of the UPP program. A fellow journalist in Rio recently published a great article about it. The net result in my mind is, it is doing okay, but needs to be better.
As a UPP officer in Vidigal told one of our reporters a couple weeks ago, “It’s a different reality for different favelas in Rio. You cannot put them all in the same bracket.”
It comes as no surprise that Zona Norte (North Zone) strong-hold Complexo do Alemão (estimated 70,000 residents) and the Zona Sul (South Zone) infamous Rocinha (also estimated between 70,000-100,000) have been much more volatile and resistant to the “pacification” process.
What Rio needs is a UPP policy committed to the social security and improvement of these favela communities, but also with the capacity for continuous evaluation and improvement to the policy.
Somehow balancing progress in the present, with planning and solving for all the challenges that arise. Not flying by the seat of our pants though, carefully, measure twice and cut once.