Opinion, by Samantha Barthelemy

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The news is hardly surprising. But that does not mean they are not upsetting. While authorities celebrate the São Carlos Complex operation’s success, on February 6th, Cariocas seem divided over the pacification plan as traffickers flee occupied or soon to be occupied territories to terrorize residents of other, neglected, areas.

Samantha Barthelemy, Carioca in New York specializing in International Security Policy, Brazilian Studies and Communications.

How do we bring criminals to justice if we are granting them a 48-hour head start? Favela resident’s safety is an undeniable priority, but are we creating excuses to cover up symptoms while ignoring the root causes of crime in our city? Is it possible to advance with the pacification ideal without dealing, simultaneously, with the many bad apples rotting our security forces?
According to the Military Police Chief, Álvaro Garcia, the next step in São Carlos is a thorough search of all houses and corners of the nine occupied slums for hiding places, weapons and drugs. While logistically sound, the measure is greeted with wariness by some Cariocas as evidence of corrupt practices abound.
On February 11th, the Federal Police launched Operation Guillotine to crack down on gangs formed by civil and military police officers accused of selling weapons to drug traffickers, controlling militias and clandestine games and leaking information of police operations to criminals.

One group reportedly received up to US$60,000 a month to protect Antonio Bonfim Lopes, known as Nem, the leader of drug trafficking activities in Rocinha, Brazil’s largest and most notorious slum.
The investigation, initiated in September 2009, revealed that instead of arresting drug traffickers, the accused police officers often robbed them. At least nine military and civil policemen were caught stealing from residents and drug traffickers of the Penha and Alemão Complexes, pacified by security forces in November 2010. Others were caught on tape negotiating with drug traffickers the transfer of weapons and drugs to be left behind in Alemão. We now know the same occurred in the São Carlos operation.
Among the thirty officers currently under custody is the Civil Police’s former undersecretary, Carlos Antônio de Oliveira. The head of the Civil Police, Allan Turnowski – cited by a witness as being involved in a corruption scheme – was asked to testify. Turnowski asserted that while the “situation” is embarrassing to the institution, a gross understatement, it is also strengthening it.
While we ponder on what exactly the chief of police meant and wait impatiently for this drama’s unfolding episodes, here is what we want to ask Rio de Janeiro’s government: please clean this up, otherwise we risk effectively transforming the delicate and intricate pacification dream into a half-plan, doomed to failure.

A Belgian-Brazilian native of Rio de Janeiro and former United Nations journalist, Samantha Barthelemy is a dual degree Masters of International Affairs student with Columbia University and the Paris Institute of Political Studies, specializing in International Security Policy, Brazilian Studies and Communications. http://samanthabarthelemy.blogspot.com


  1. The police here are a disgrace… and you are correct – this is totally undermining the UPP program…

    In regards to your other point about giving the trafficanes a 48 hour head start to flee the favelas before a UPP moves in – this is not the core of the problem. If, hypothetically, you arrest 100 trafficantes in a favela – 100 new trafficantes will take their place (either from the same faction, or a different faction will take over the favela)…

    R$500 / month minimum wage… or R$2000+ (tax-free) selling drugs..? It’s an easy choice for most undereducated youth without life opportunities…

  2. Dear Diego,

    Thank you for your comment!

    By no means do I imply that the “main problem” is warning two days before an incursion – especially if that is preventing the probable deaths of innocents. However I do believe the strategy is flawed.

    Yes, we have thousands of youngsters (as young as 11-years-old) involved in drug trafficking activities. But this does not tell the complete picture. Here’s where intelligent work is necessary…

    You make a good point about R$500 minimum wage or R$2000+ from drug related activities. Indeed one of the most cited reasons for children to be entering drug trafficking activities is economics. But I believe that, as a society, we have spent too much time coming up with excuses as to “why something is…”

  3. Well… i feel that sociological analysis is more effective than brute force and trying to fight violence with violence…

    Another solution, which i believe would help things… is removing the influence of the church… and (1) legalizing abortion… and (2) improving sex-education amongst youths, without the church interfering…

    It’s not an exaggeration to say that most trafficantes and violent criminals were ‘accidents’ and have had no father in their childhood…

  4. Well Gunner, that’s what the police have been doing for the past few decades… so you tell me how successful that policy is…

  5. Dear Diego,

    By no means did I intend to say that brute force would be more effective in this case – or in any case for that matter. We have ample evidence from all corners of the world that violence never effectively fights violence.

    However we can certainly benefit from stronger and better designed security/intelligence strategies which would allow us to identify and arrest the “real enemies.”

    I do not necessarily agree that drug traffickers shouldn’t have been “born in the first place,” but rather cared for better by the state before and after their coming into the world. I guess this brings us back to basic questions of health and education services and offering everyone in our society a decent alternative to a life of marginalization and crime: http://riotimesonline.com/brazil-news/opinion-editorial/opinion/caring-for-rio%E2%80%99s-most-vulnerable/

  6. how can we in favela trust a long corrupt police force who is working for both sides? I have more fear of the police becase they really dont care about us in favelas. If an innocent dies here, its one less favelado innocent or not, yet this would never happen on the rich are high up in those condos in Leblon snorting their cocaine.

    Most people in favela want nothing to do with any of this. We just want peace and to raise our families with dignity and have chance to improve tour lives.

    this UPP thing the media makes it sound like a saviour to all problems but it is not. What will come of my favela after the world cup and olympic games are over? Will the UPP stay or abandon and allow a fight for territory by the drug gangs?

  7. Dear Zezinho,

    Thank you for your comment!

    You make a very good point in asking: what will happen to the pacification ideal once the World Cup and Olympic Games are over? This is a question our government need to take seriously and plan for now!

    You are also right in noting that the UPP model is portrayed as the “savior” of Rio de Janeiro while, in reality, this very positive step is just one of the many we need to take to “fix our evils” (i.e. infrastructure, health and education services, access to labor market, transportation, basic sanitation, corruption and the list goes on and on).

  8. What will happen after 2016 depends upon what happens until then. If the UPP works, people will be able to lead ordinary lives, much needed infrastructure can be installed, without fear of running afoul of drug lords or having to pay them. If the UPP works, crooked cops in the favelas will have no more benefactors paying them to look the other way. If the crooked cops, particularly the ones at the top of the food chain, are arrested, tried, and jailed (a very big “if”, that one) those lower down will, one hopes, learn that crime doesn’t pay. If we really truly do have 5 full years of pacification and infrastructure growth, and training of policemen to be community protectors rather than gangsters in uniform, there is hope. The US military has been trying to create this atmosphere in Iraq, i.e. real policing rather than looting and worse. It takes time and good will. And money. If the other 26 Brazilian states gang up on Rio and take away its pré-sal windfall, there won’t be enough money.

  9. Pre-sal is irrelevant. RJ has such a massive federal investment, because of the Cup / Olympics. Cabral is more concerned about his presidential ambitions than the well-being of the people who actually live in the favelas…


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