By Patricia Maresch, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Sunday night at 10PM Rio’s Governor Sergio Cabral tweeted: “São Carlos and Santa Teresa can celebrate liberty, they are free from the rule of criminals. Viva Rio!” It took seventeen armored vehicles, 150 marine soldiers, 700 military, federal and civil police officers, one hour, forty minutes and not a single gunshot to overtake nine favelas around the hillsides of Centro’s popular neighborhood Santa Teresa.

Santa Teresa Occupation, photo by Marino Azevedo courtesy of Imprensa do Governo do Rio de Janeiro
Santa Teresa Occupation, photo by Marino Azevedo courtesy of Imprensa do Governo do Rio de Janeiro.

The operation started before dawn on Sunday morning, and by 10AM the Choque battalion declared there was a “peaceful occupation of the favelas.”

Secretary of Security José Beltrame said only two people got arrested and they had surrendered without resistance. “We had a positive result, but we just started. Rio de Janeiro is still not the city we want her to be. Much has to be done, but we are heading in the right direction,” he ended optimistically.

The operation in Santa Teresa differs significantly from the occupation of the Complexo do Alemão and Vila Cruzeiro in November last year, which took several days and cost the lives of 39 people. It might be because this operation was announced well in advance which facilitated the retreat of the drug traffickers.

According to Beltrame it’s important to arrest them, but the priority was to recover the territory from the drug gangs with as less casualties as possible. Beltrame added “We will continue investigating and arresting these persons who are now fugitives.”

Sao Carlos photo by Carlos Magno courtesy of Imprensa Governo do Rio
São Carlos favela close to Santa Teresa, photo by Carlos Magno courtesy of Imprensa Governo do Rio.

There are 26,000 people living in the favelas that are scattered over Santa Teresa’s hillsides. The communities directly effected are São Carlos, Zinco, Querosene, Mineira, Coroa, Fallet, Fogueteiro, Escondidinho and Prazeres.

The commander of the Military Police, Colonel Mario Sergio Duarte, said that the police have now begun sweeping the homes in search of hiding places, weapons and drugs. They stumbled upon a luxury home in São Carlos with three floors, a pool and a hot tub. Police say the house belonged to a drug kingpin.

They also found an illegal clinic with surgical instruments, medicines and first aid equipment. According to the police a German doctor in Rio on an expired tourist visa operates at the clinic. He was delivered into the hands of the Federal Police and it is not sure yet what his fate will be.

Morro dos Prazeres, image recreation
Morro dos Prazeres, image recreation.

At Morro dos Prazeres on the top of Santa Teresa’s hillside, life continued in its normal routine on Monday morning. Despite the shock and some damage claims, residents were relieved that the occupation of their community went rapidly and without shootings. “We knew it would happen because they gave us a heads up. It’s very good, we are happy,” a woman from Prazeres said.

As a symbolic act, the police raised the flag of the Choque Battalion right where drug traffickers used to operate. In addition, they unleashed blue smoke grenades to give visibility to the occupation. The president of the Residents Association, Eliza Rosa Brandão, said to Globo News that the police did exactly what the favela dwellers had hoped for: a peaceful occupation without gunfight.

“We expect that we will benefit from major improvements in our schools, social projects and public works,” she said. Throughout the first half of this year, the communities will receive three UPP stations (Police Pacification Units) and 630 UPP police officers.


  1. There were some shots, but very very few then, and some very few on the following day.

    Santa came back to the tranquillity from my childhood…bliss…

    Only birds tweeting, the occasional car, police has been discreet although present, if they keep it up, which I feel they will, our quality of life will get much better.

    The government only has to sort out our transport system which needs some serious TLC and better health care and we will be in paradise.

    Well paradise for whom likes fresh air, calm and a sense that time doesn’t really goes by.

  2. At the entrance to Fallet, the residents association raised a banner above the street, directed at the police – asking them to respect the people and their houses and not abuse or rob from anyone. Let’s hope they (the police) did their jobs professionally and adhered to this…

  3. I’m wondering if the government has plans to offer education, skills training, and jobs to all of the “criminals” they are putting out of business or do they expect them to magically become reformed citizens or just disappear quietly in the jungles to never be seen again…

    it’s not rocket science and i’m willing to bet that Rio will begin to see an increase in robberies and violent crimes outside of the favelas since you have just thrown a bunch of well-armed youth with nothing to lose from their homes and taken away their main source of income without anything to replace it with. Brazil has a chance to do some of the right things and become the perfect model for a great modern nation, but greed and too much capitalism will turn the country into just another temporary rich nation that will eventually fall on its face…just my 2 cents :)

  4. Brazil Geek knows what’s up – very well said..!!! This is what i’m always trying to tell people… that this UPP program is nothing more than a patch-up job… makeup… to make Rio look pretty for photo-ops and presidential visits (Obama arrives next month). When in reality – without a genuine attempt at education reform… NOTHING will change in the long-term.

    And as Brazil Geek correctly points out – what are ex-trafficantes supposed to do..? They obviously cannot just magically integrate into the workforce and get regular jobs… so they will turn to other crimes. At least as trafficantes, they generally never messed with the general public. But now, that will likely change…

    And UPPs don;t just put trafficantes out of business… but also the moto-taxistas… boteco owners and barraca owners – who made money from the baile-funks and subsequent street paries. The rent will also increase… and families will have to start paying for electricity and other bills (while the government still refuses to raise the minimum wage to humane levels)…

  5. Oiiiiii Brasil (voce gringo?) Geek, and Diego, I like some of your opinions but these bad guys you care so much about are maybe the one’s that did not like to go to school or get a real job even if the job paid little. They had choices like you and everybody else to learn a skill, or learn something in “school”. So trying to train some of them may help but most want “fast” money and will take “advantage” of people they can rob, steal, or what ever they can from people who choose to work hard or go to school to learn something or the weak and old. I think people like you two guys who “care” so much about the treatment and welfare of these bad guys should bring them home with you. Yes, I see people like you two guys who are always complaining about how these bad guys are being treated but are not to take one home to care for them. And I think you guys have never been a “VICTIM’ like so many other people who the bad guys robbed or hurt or killed. So think about both sides! The VICTIMS of the bad guys, and what to do about them? I think you guys should “first be a victim” and let’s see what you think about them after that! I wish we could use the military to get rid of all these gangs in the U.S.! Good job Governor! Kick Ass!!!!

  6. @Diego I agree. You make some really great points…and @ Oakland hey I feel your frustration. As someone who grew up in a crack-infested ghetto in the US in the 1980’s I know plenty about being a victim, the streets, and making the right choices i’ve done it all my life. However the bottom line is that PEOPLE – rich, poor, trafficante, bus driver, gringo, Brasileiro, Chinese, whatever all pretty much want a good life. I care about ALL people because I understand I do not live in a bubble and everything eventually affects me. I understand that right or wrong if you kick someone from their home, take away their income and leave them heavily armed with nothing in return it’s not rocket science what they will do next to survive…It sounds like you look at the world in kind of black and white and it’s good guys vs bad guys. “Fast money” is the culture of the entire world right now and not just the mindset of young guys in the favelas. How else do you explain politicians, judges, officers, rich kids etc. with education and means still getting involved in the drug/gun/crime trade. People can continue to live behind their gated homes and be blind and act like it’s not THEIR problem or we can strive to make change and do some of the right things. Remember there is a reason why you live behind a gate so that makes it all of OUR problem

  7. Oakland – how about the 28 police (militar and civil) who were arrested yesterday on charges of corruption and stealing..? Yes… POLICE… being ARRESTED. In addition to this 28, were another 20… who are on the loose and haven’t been arrested as yet. So do you honestly think that a UPP is beneficial for the people..? Trading one type of criminal for another (one in a uniform)..?

    I do understand what you’re saying, how there will always be people wanting to take advantage and make quick money, sure. And drug dealing will never go away (look at the US’s failed ‘drug war’). However, through a serious investment in education in the long-term – the favela violence can be REDUCED…

    Brazil Geek – once again, well said. And you are right about how people here live in these prison-like apartment complexes… behind gates and security guards – ignoring the reality of the favelas and low-class Zona Norte bairros, just a short distance away…

  8. Brazil Geek and Diego, you guys seem to have great comments that all seem to favor the gangs. So If you guys where to be put in the center or Maracana Stadium with all the gangs in the seats. What would you tell them to do? Go to school? Learn a trade? Try to start a legal business? Stop robbing, killing or hurting people? I don’t really know the answer myself, although I would take the one’s that are willing and help them start a legal business small but better than robbing etc. Another thing you guys did not answer is: would you take one of these gang people home and care for them? Let’s try to come up with a answer instead of talking about how to fix this problem if possible instead of running them out of favelas. Got any ideas? AND STOP THE STUPID FAVELA TOURS!!! THIS IS NOT A ZOO WITH TWO LEGGED ANIMALS!!! How would American’s feel if we had tours of there bad areas?
    Take Care Irmaos!

  9. My long-term solution..? Invest in education, as i mentioned – to give hope to today’s favela kids and offer an alternative to trafficking. Legalization of (most) drugs would help also…

    My short-term solution (to deal with today’s current trafficantes)..? I don’t have the answer. But the UPP program is not a good solution…

    I totally agree though about these damn favela tours – really invasive and disrespectful to the locals. In Santa Marta last week, there was a guy… slaving away in the 40*C heat – transporting eggs and fruit from his old van to his old table… trying to make a living. And there were like ten gringos on a ‘Jeep Tour’ taking photos of him as though he was a zoo exhibit. I wanted to break all their cameras (but obviously i didn’t)…

  10. I agree with the above comments that pacification does not go far enough…..

    But as long as there is a profit to be made from sale of drugs, someone will always step up to provide this service to users. What is missing, in addition to job training, is something to help users stop using. Legalization or decriminalization (at least of marijuana) would provide revenue for drug treatment for cocaine. Tax the sale of marijuana would provide significant revenue. These pacification efforts seem to have no effect on the price and availability of cocaine. Cheap as ever.

  11. Crack is a bigger problem than cocaine… far more addictive. If the price does increase, the the addicts will just adopt more desperate measures to get their fix. At least Zona Sul will be ‘cleaner’, which is what the government wants – so everything looks pretty in time for the Cup / Olympics. The addicts will just migrate to the train tracks alongside Jacarezinho and elsewhere…

  12. (And then the government can install another wall… umm… ‘sound barrier’… to block these addicts from the view of the Metro passengers)…

  13. This article seemed quite biased toward the side of the police and government. At one stage during the article a side story was thrown in about a german doctor operating a clinic in the favelas it being an official clinic. Can anyone elaborate more on this story? Surely everything in the favelas is like this, surely this doc was just contributing something to an area of need where the government had neglected to provide sufficient health services. Let me know what you guys think?

  14. I heard that the German doctor was employed by the trafficantes… but that’s just Globo’s version (i.e. lacking credibility). It’s possible that he was also serving other members of the community also…

  15. Ok, it seems that the real estate around Santa Teresa will start to make money, as the first statement of neo liberalism states. Where all those will live from now on?

    Who cares!

  16. It is important to note tha ABERT and ANJ are afraid of a law similar to that applied in Argentina in favour of comunicational democracy. Let’s wait, for the change. It will take some time.

  17. Having been to Rio several times, and having even met some of the locals involved in the drug trade, I can say without doubt that little has been done

    I stayed in Sao Carlos, a region of Estacio which was once a notorious favela, which has now been “cleansed”- there is still a drug trade, though far less obvious than before, no doubt the trafficantes made new deals with the police, on the proviso they keep everything safe for the period during the games and world cup. The drug trade isn’t going to disappear, eventually the only way worldwide to legislate for this, is to stop prohibiting them, or at the least, decriminalise them. In the U.S some of the U.S states that have legalised and taxed production of cannabis are making an absolute killing, allowing them to divert funds into alcohol and drug rehab programmes. You can’t make drug taking disappear, it’s always going to be around.

    Education in Brasil, free education, is abysmal, if you want a good education you have to pay for it, state schools are very poor, and there aren’t enough of them. The rich send their kids to private schooling, or send them abroad. Some people don’t even go to school, their parents have to get them to work to help provide for the family, I know people in this situation. My friend in Rio rides a mototaxi, he does work for some of the local drug dealers, because he has little choice, and also because it makes him more money. His father drove a moto taxi on Morro Sao carlos, as did his grandfather. The cycle of poverty, and lack of education, means it is very hard to escape.

    There need to be huge changes in brasil, but those changes will upset some very powerful people with vested interests, because there are plenty of people getting rich.


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