By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – It has been ten years since the public security program that gave rise to the Unidade de Policia Pacificadora (Pacifying Police Unit), or just plain UPP, began operating in some of Rio’s largest favela communities.
The UPPs were the promise of a safer, more inclusive life in one of Brazil’s largest cities, but for many the units just brought more violence.
“The UPP has failed massively. Broken promises and increased violence is not a success in the eyes of the favelas,” says English expatriate Jody King.
King arrived in Rio in May of 2013 and went to live directly in the Vidigal favela. “The UPP had been in place for only a year and a half in Vidigal and Rocinha,” remembers King.
“Initially, the UPP programs were welcomed as social projects; [people] welcomed the idea of living in a community without drug trafficking,” King tells The Rio Times.
King eventually settled down in the Rocinha community, opening up Favela Phoenix, an English school for the residents of the favela.
According to King, the Rocinha community turned against the police unit which theoretically was there to help, after the ‘Amarildo incident’, where a local construction worker was snatched, tortured and killed by UPP police officers, seeking information about a drug gang.
“I remember it well, the chaos and anger that followed resulting in riots and the shutting down of the Dois Irmãos Tunnel beside Rocinha,” he says, adding, “I know that it was that moment that changed the communities’ outlook on the UPP’s.”
The UPP program was conceived in contrast to the traditional police operations in the city, in which the officers enter the favelas, exchange gunfire with criminals, and then withdraw without significantly changing the situation within the community.
The first unit was installed in Morro Santa Marta, in the Botafogo. At the beginning of the year there were 38 UPPs in place, but with the state security intervention, nineteen were scheduled to be closed by the end of the year.
King says that over the years the social programs promised by the local government were not put into place and drug traffickers continued to roam the community, causing increased gunfights and deaths.
“The residents certainly see the effect of the UPP as negative,” notes King, adding that the UPP remain purely as a government propaganda for tourists.
“Tourists who don’t know any better think that seeing police with guns on the streets of the favelas make it safer. However, it is quite the contrary in reality. They are making it more dangerous,” summarizes King.
For King government authorities have not understood that to change the communities what is needed is better education.
“As long as there is a lack of decent education in the public schools, there will always be people struggling for work, and turning to selling drugs to make a living,” he says.