By Zoë Roller, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Last week local media R7 reported that Rocinha, considered the largest favela in Brazil, is next in line to receive a Police Pacifying Unit (UPP).  It was reported that BOPE will invade Rocinha and Vidigal on November 13th in preparation for pacification, although no official confirmation has been made.

Rocinha may be next for the UPP, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rocinha may be next for the UPP, photo by matteo0702/Flickr Creative Commons License.

Located between the wealthy Zona Sul (South Zone) neighborhoods of São Conrado, Gávea, and Leblon, and home to 70-100,000 people (the exact population is unknown, due to the difficulty of conducting a census), Rocinha is consider crucial to the drug trade in Rio.

According to Dcod (Delegacia de Combate às Drogas) estimates, traffickers move R$2 million a week, primarily from cocaine sales. Rocinha and neighboring favela Vidigal are reported to be controlled by Amigos dos Amigos, one of the major factions in the city.

On November 3rd, 65 police officers entered Rocinha in an operation determined to combat piracy. The Civil Police closed an abortion clinic, a gatonet (illegal cable television) office, and counterfeit CD factory.

They confiscated 34 stolen motorcycles, 21,000 pieces of pirate media, 43,000 articles of clothing, and counterfeit toys, watches, and sneakers. Twelve people were arrested.

Police also discovered a stockpile of ninety rockets thought to be able to fire on aircraft, hidden next to a pile of tires. Traffickers allegedly planned to set fire to the tires in the event of a police helicopter attack: the smoke reduces visibility, forcing the helicopter to fly lower, into the range of the missiles.

Top Military Police officials met with State Security Secretary José Mariano Beltrame last week to determine the date of the BOPE invasion, though the secretary has yet to release a statement.

BOPE forces normally plan to occupy favelas for 45-60 days in preparation for the installation of a UPP, although in Mangueira they stayed for four months. Officials decided to invade Vidigal as well as Rocinha to prevent traffickers from escaping to the neighboring community.

The view from above Rocinha, looking down over São Conrado, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, News
The view from above Rocinha, looking down over São Conrado, photo by chensiyuan/Flickr Creative Commons License.

Last year’s invasion of the Complexo do Alemão established a precedent for giving the population advance warning to avoid armed conflict. The government is especially concerned about entering Rocinha with as little shooting as possible, because the community is located on thoroughfares connecting Zona Sul to Barra.

This approach has an obvious flaw: Rocinha’s residents have been expecting pacification since March, giving traffickers ample time to escape. Traffickers from Mangueira were apprehended in Duque de Caxias after BOPE invaded, predicting a criminal migration to the Baixada Fluminense.

While few doubt the progress of the UPP program in theory, not all residents in the community are optimistic. Zezinho, who grew up in Rocinha and has operated a favela tour business there explains there is still a legacy of fear and distrust of police.

“People don’t want them here and they have fears because of the ongoing problems with police abuse in places like Complexo do Alemão … nobody has trust for the police and [they are seen] as just corrupt oppressors.” he says.

Regarding the imminent police operations, Zezinho shares: “Most people think that the drug dealers will leave without a shot being fired as the last three times the police came here, not one shot was fired … this really depends on the police and how they go about entering.”


  1. Zezinho is 100% correct.

    The police abuse of the citizens along with the greater social unrest that has not been addressed is the main problem right now in Brazil and in the favelas. Until the main powers to be in the country accept this no amount of police will fix the problem.

    In reality it will only make it worse.

  2. I am astonished by the attitude that the police should not enter Rocinha or any other slum, which means we carry on as Brizola wished, crime flourishes, the drug lords impose peace and quiet, cops and politicians get paid off to maintain the status quo, etc. I’m willing to bet Zezinho has to pay off Nem to be allowed to take tourists up through Rocinha. This is good?

    Police abuse has to be contested, as it does everywhere, remember Rodney King, but there is no justification for the any government’s total abdication of its responsibilities to citizens to keep public order.

  3. Zezinho doesn’t have to pay off anyone in order to conduct his tours, although for some reason people make assumptions otherwise.

  4. That there is no other solution than for the police to invade and occupy the favellas of Rio is a tragedy for this great and growing country. How can we reconcile the booming economic growth on the one hand and the total disregard for humanity and lack of personal security on the other? True, the police are brutal, but they are up against a force that is often times better armed than they are. It’s like a war, not like a police situation.

    And the main powers of this country are as corrupt and brutal as the police. Why did they let favellas develop in the first place? There are no easy answers. And what’s going to happen after the Cup and the Olympics are over? Back to the status quo, I imagine. Really, the favella situation is out of control. Have you traveled from Galeo Airport to the city of Rio? What do you see and smell most of the way? Sewage and favellas.

    If the people don’t raise up their voice, the government will just continue to do what they do. Rob and pillage the country and the people.

  5. One day I was in Rocinha where we bought very good plumbing fixtures from a retailer. He is eager to grow his business and have a life outside. How many of these honest retailers will the police put out of their home-grown and legitimate businesses? How many police will die? This invasion will be a disgrace and a tragedy. In Vietnam. Iraq and Afghanistan, pacification has been a proven failure causing more death with no solution in sight. The soldiers come back saying: “We had to destroy it to save it.”

  6. I LIVE IN ROCINHA…please tell me..why would I have to pay anyone for my work…but then would you know…you dont live here in have obviously never been to Rocinha, otherwise you would not be making that comment..

  7. My host in Rio is a builder who has built several houses in Rio. She commonly goes to favelas to buy unique building materials she can find nowhere else, even in the City of God. She hires craftspeople who come to help her during her construction. She would prefer to purchase her building materials from Rocinha and give craftspeople and tradesmen who live there her business out of a strong social conscience. Further, she is a woman who often goes there alone and in my case brought me along for a trip to help her carry the materials she could not find on the weekend. When we were there the tradesmen were treated respectfully. A young entrepreneur assisted us to our car and helped us find our way out of the tiny alleys. She paid fair market value for the products. It was not charity. If there were more citizens in Rio who acted like this courageous woman over the years there would not be the need for police to put their lives at risk. THE ONLY SOLUTION is to build trust between the communities through diplomacy and patience between the citizens. What is happening now is the opposite. Cariocas who have never stepped foot in a favela are at the beach or in the bars supporting the police to go in shooting. This is the tragedy. Vá com o Deus.

  8. Beltrame said that they are dealing with the problem of corruption inside the police, but he thinks it’s unfair to let people of Rocinha on their own, controlled by the traffickers, while they do that.
    Therefore, they are couting with the army’s help while training new (and, hopefully most ethical) cops.
    I agree with him… it’s a begin.

  9. Dear Rio Times readers, its great reading your comments from all angles but the situation has groan so far and now you expect the result of the UPP in 04 years after generations and generation in control of these communities (laws of the drug lord) – my be with the help of other Police corporations whom get payed salaries considerable high for Brazilian standards and involving Brazil’s Ministry of Defense…. starting the first ring of country borders control, second ring state borders, by air, land and sea and third ring city “Favela” borders UPP…The Military Police are not the main blame or the solution for this shamble operation, just a couple of points.
    Lack of training and equipment for this specific ongoing operation, its very easy to blame the PMERJ – nobody talks about Government who allows and breaks the laws prevailing in favor of the crime world…
    Its a pity that in such a beautiful city, warm population, Rio is probably heading for its worst days.
    We need hospitals and education urgently….
    Cada povo tem o governo e policia que merece, disse um francês no século XIX


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