By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With the FIFA Confederations Cup and World Youth Day (WYD 2013) set to arrive in Rio, the city has seen pacification operations in favelas at the base of Corcovado Mountain. Rio’s 33rd Police Pacification Unit (UPP) will establish a permanent presence in the area and should improve security not only for local residents, but for tourists visiting the world-famous Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue.
On Monday, 420 special forces and military police, including elite BOPE (Special Police Operations Battalion) tactical teams, entered three favelas under Corcovado, site of the thirty-meter-tall Christ statue.
Police say they occupied the Cosme Velho communities of Cerro-Corá, Guararapes and Vila Cândido quickly with no gunfire or arrests. The new UPP, with 190 military police, should be operational within a month.
Rio Governor Sérgio Cabral said the communities would no longer become a refuge for criminals and that the new UPP would “offer security and peace to residents.”
Police had monitored Cosme Velho for information about traffickers and other criminals that had been flushed there from previously-pacified favelas.
Cosme Velho is the location of the Trem do Corcovado (Corcovado Train), which takes tourists to Christ the Redeemer, and military police were at pains to show that the occupation would afford tourists visiting the statue greater safety, particularly during WYD on July 23rd-28th when Catholics from around the world will gather.
“The Pope’s visit and the increased influx of tourists are why we went in. Intelligence showed that criminals were sheltering here. Now they’ve lost the territory,” military police spokesperson Col Frederico Caldas said.
This year’s WYD will be the first major overseas mission for Pope Francis; it is the first time the event has been held in Brazil and only the second time in Latin America. Special police training exercises have been staged to represent a number of scenarios, including the well-trodden tourist route to see the statue.
In the past, the area has seen those visiting Christ the Redeemer subjected to assaults, including the globally-reported attack on German tourists in April on the Estrada das Paineiras, the vehicle route to the statue.
Police have been quick to reassure both visitors and residents of their continued efforts to improve security and have spoken of unprecedented investment, training and new equipment in the run-up to the events, including the additional training of 4,520 security staff this year.
Hettie Allison, Brazil Manager for MLA TRUE Communications, part of Vero Communications, which was heavily involved in the 2016 Olympic bid, says Rio has made significant security changes:
“Since the UPPs have been installed there has been a noticeable reduction in street crime and visibility of firearms on the streets. There has also been investment in better street lighting [and a] focus on transport infrastructure around the city,” she told The Rio Times.
Rio currently has 32 operational UPPs, with 8,000 officers serving 220 favelas. Over forty UPPs are expected to be installed by the end of 2014, manned by 12,500 officers. The first favela to be occupied by security forces was Santa Marta (aka Dona Marta), also situated near Corcovado Mountain.