Opinion by Samantha Barthelemy

“The government wants to make the favelas safer for tourists because the view up here is amazing. […] Everyone here is focused on the World Cup and the Olympics,” Patricia Correia Capistrano, a 28-year-old resident of Rocinha told the BBC News. Is that the logic behind all the fuss about the Police Pacifying Units (UPPs)?

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

Outgoing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva attended the inauguration of Rio Top Tours: Rio de Janeiro in a Different Perspective at favela Dona Marta, on August 30th. The initiative has its merits, namely providing favela residents with a sense of ownership of the pacification projects, offering access to employment opportunities and spurring the local economy.

I have driven past numerous groups of adventurous gringos packed in the back of a jeep, with their cameras, backpacks and safari hats ready to embark in the “fabulous world of Rocinha” (the more traditional “sustainable tourism” destination). Some may argue such episodes represent more of an insult to the local communities than a sign of real progress.

However, the pressing issue here is not about our personal opinions on how the tours are organized and carried out. Rather, we should worry about why the authorities are so concerned with the reputation of Rio de Janeiro instead of devoting more attention to how its terrified citizens are living. Does the government honestly believe to have improved the city’s security situation?

In early November, a head (yes, a head) was thrown in the main avenue of Madureira, Ministro Edgar Romero, in the North Zone of Rio de Janeiro. The body part allegedly belonged to Valmir Bernardo da Silva, a drug trafficker known as Parazão, who would have been assassinated by leading members of the Terceiro Comando Puro (TCP), in control of Morro da Serrinha.

Around 9PM on November 4th, William da Silva Castro Alves, a 54-year-old rheumatologist, was shot in the head by assailants at Avenida Marechal Rondon, in the suburbs of Rio. The doctor was found alive by firefighters from Vila Isabel, but succumbed to his injuries shortly before undergoing surgery at Hospital Souza Aguiar.

At 9M on November 10th, firefighter sergeant Antônio Carlos Macedo was shot to death while riding his R$70 thousand Harley-Davidson by Reserva Beach, in the West Zone of Rio. According to the police, three men fusilladed Macedo then set their car on fire so as to erase any trace. Macedo was Rogério de Andadre’s chief of security (a slot machines tycoon), and was himself implicated in a corruption scheme involving the military police.

This past week, at least six cars were set on fire in the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Early on November 12th, an incinerated car was found by Morro da Serrinha, only this time, four carbonized bodies were also in it.

Rio’s citizens have been the victims of a wave of arrastões – mass robberies of cars and personal belongings conducted by heavily armed criminals, often carrying machine guns and hand grenades – which occasionally led to short hostage takings.

Early on September 29th, robbers acted on Jardim Botânico’s Rua Faro, stealing four cars. That was the city’s fourth incident in less than 24 hours. The night before, drivers were subdued in the neighborhoods of Jacaré, Joá, and Anchieta. On November 1st, Rua Faro was again under siege. Since January, at least 145 people were victim in 33 similar incidents.

If these aren’t clear signs of defiance against often powerless public authorities, then what are they? Everyone seems to have an opinion. It’s the “parallel power’s” revenge for a loss in revenues from drug trade, in an attempt to expose the weaknesses of the preventive police planning.

For Governor Cabral, it’s a sign of criminals’ desperation with the “overly successful pacifying efforts” or a possible retaliation to his reelection on October 3th.

Cariocas, this isn’t normal, nor should it ever be tolerated. Be frightened, react and rise up. Criminals are showing, again, loud, violently and clear, that they can “terrorize the asphalt”, in the middle of the night or in bright daylight. It is your responsibly to remind the authorities not to get too cozy with the still limited achievements of the UPPs. It is your responsibility to hold the government accountable for the promise of pacifying the city for all of its residents.

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 Policy, Brazilian Studies and Communications. 


  1. As i wrote before in response to another article on this site – the ONLY long-term solution is a serious investment in education – schools… universities… trainee programs… etc. And also family education – women’s rights… how to raise kids… how to prevent kids (basic contraception)…

    It’s obvious that the violence in the streets in recent months, is a reaction to the UPPs. Either (a) ‘unemployed’ trafficantes are randomly seeking other options of making money; or (b) it’s a coordinated effort by the trafficantes to ‘bring the terror to the streets’ as a show of power.

    Either way, if people living in the favelas – trafficantes or otherwise, had more options in life such as better schools and job opportunities – then obviously, crime would diminish. What are kids supposed to do..? Earn a ridiculously low minimum wage..? Or earn at least four times that amount by selling drugs..?

    However, no politician wants to make this investment… because they only think about themselves and their political careers. And so, everything they do is within a four year span (i.e. their political term)… to try and gain reelection…

    A serious investment in education would be a project of at least ten years… and no politician has a decent enough conscience to make this commitment…

    So why the UPP project..? Obviously, it’s only because of the World Cup and Olympics. If the government really cared about the people – then why is there no UPP in Madueira, where as the author pointed out, a head was thrown onto the street..? All the UPPs are in Zona Sul on the rich side of town… and Tijuca / Vila Isabel, where Maracana Stadium is located and where the World Cup and Olympic opening ceremonies will be held. And Cidade de Deus was chosen for a UPP (a) because of the film; and (b) because it’s near Barra / Jacarepagua, where Olympic events will be held…

  2. Dear Diego,

    Thank you, once again, for posting your reflection.

    Again, I agree with you that the only long term solution to many of Brazil’s problems is a real allocation of resources for education (for children, adolescents and adults).

    Unfortunately, as our newly elected president has publicly declared, education reform is not at the top of her agenda – what a shame.

    If you are interested in the issue, there is a very interesting report recently launched by FGV on “Desigualdades e Favelas Cariocas”. The documents shows, amongst numerous interesting findings, that (1) children aged 11-14 years old enter a “life of drug trafficking” largely due to a lack of educational and professional perspective and; (2) when granted a real alternative, these children gladly abandon their criminal endeavors to pursue schooling, cultural programs and the like.

    Unfortunately, hundreds of them die before their 17th birthday.

    Projects such as Rio Top Tours aren’t bad in and of themselves (i.e. if organized by and for the community, can help stimulate the local economies). However, as you pointed out and as I hope the article makes clear, if efforts are concentrated on projects that “show” at the expense of measures that promote concrete transformations on the ground, tourists tours won’t get us far.

    Again, thank you for your posting and please do continue to comment on the pieces on The Rio Times.

  3. I’m glad to see thoughtful attention to Rio’s public safety policy and situation here, Samantha. This is a transition period and the effects of the UPPs and the Social UPP are still uneven. But I hope you agree that the state government is moving, for the first time in decades, in the right direction. Crime is down month after month, including September, when the arrastões began, though you may want to argue with the statistics’ validity (http://www.isp.rj.gov.br/).
    Manpower is the biggest bottleneck for the police and they are working hard on this; vide page 39 of today’s Globo.
    Riorealblog covers carioca public safety on an ongoing basis in English and Portuguese.

  4. Crime is down..? What about this series of arrastoes and cars being set on fire..?
    Those statistics about ‘crime being down’ were later discarded, because the incorrect population information was used – which gave the illusion that the city is becoming safer…


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

fourteen − eleven =