By Cecilie Hestbæk, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Government officials have provisionally slated the pacification peacekeeping mission in Rocinha for January 2011, though police forces charged with the operation do not, it seems, expect it to happen before March. Meanwhile the inhabitants of Rocinha, Rio’s biggest favela and a city within a city, are concerned about an uncertain future.

Rocinha favela
The freshly painted façade of the Rocinha favela, photo by Cecilie Hestbaek.

Baile Funk parties attended by armed dealers and their conspicuous sale of drugs on the streets might soon become things of the past in Rocinha – as might the front doors left unlocked and absence of petty crime in the community.

The Brazilian government had recently announced that UPP forces would not occupy Rocinha until nearer 2014, but now it seems that the date set for the police forces to enter has gotten significantly closer.

In September, local columnist Anselmo Góes of the O Globo newspaper wrote that the force of one thousand specially trained police officers will be initiating the pacification in January. His speculation, however, was contradicted by sources within the Polícia Militar, who suggested that as many as two thousand would be needed for the occupation, which would therefore not be possible before March or April 2011 by which time the necessary manpower should be trained.

When the pacification will happen is one question. More important for the inhabitants of Rocinha, though, is what will become of the police presence once they are there. Zezinho, a local who runs favela tours in the community, explains that the feelings of the residents about the upcoming police takeover are mixed;

“Generally, people do not trust the police, and they are worried that petty crime will be allowed to flourish in the morro with the strict law of the drug dealers gone as opposed to now, where for example theft is punished with a shot in the hand. A lot of people consider it a situation of ‘the devil you know is better than the devil you do not know’.”

Rocinha favela
The view from inside Rocinha favela, photo by Cecilie Hestbaek.

However, crime rates in the other pacified favelas of Rio have decreased significantly, and although the drugs have not completely vanished, the combat arms certainly have.

With such great sums of money channeled daily through the favela from the on-going drug sale (the monthly amount of the Rocinha drugs market is estimated it to be in the millions of reais), the risk of severe fighting breaking out during the police take over is clear to see.

Nevertheless, these shootouts are not even the main worry of the people of Rocinha. Zezinho explains; “What people are really afraid of is what is going to happen after the Olympics. If the UPP leaves, an intense war to reclaim the drug market is going to break out.”

Whether the pacification of Rocinha will go down quietly or the drug lords will put up more staunch resistance than has been seen elsewhere will become evident in a few months. The long term effects on the community seem to be less certain.


  1. Whenever the UPP comes to Rocinha, it will also have to take over neighboring Vidigal, which is why I believe the police estimate of March or April of next year rather than January.
    The biggest social problem after it happens is, what will all the kids who are now involved in the Rocinha drug trade do for money? where will they go once they’re “unemployed”? One answer is they’ll hit the streets of the Zona Sul, looking for tourists, elderly citizens, beach-goers and other easy targets. Another answer is they’ll go to the slums in the Zona Norte, the Baixada, and across the bay to São Gonçalo and NIteroi.

  2. Excellent article..! Seriously, much more informative and neutral than anything Globo or the other tabloids report. You have clearly outlined BOTH sides of the story, as opposed to cheerleading for the UPP like Globo does on a daily basis. The fact that is, that as you pointed out, people do not trust the police.

    I’m a middle-class looking guy and even i fear the police far more than the traficantes – i have been stopped a couple of times by the police and harassed without justification – so imagine how often the average favela youth will be abused by the police (i have entered numerous favelas and have never been harassed by any traficante).

    Michael here also makes a valid point – this is exactly what is currently happening and will only get worse, if Rocinha gets ‘pacified…

  3. I have friends who live in Vidigal, and they all know the police will avoid occupying Rocinha and Vidigal for as long as they can, because the fact as everybody knows, is that BOP is partner of ADA. When comando vermelho tried to take over Vidigal in August 2006, ADA called their mates from BOP and they killed sixteen members of comando vermelho in an joint operation with the bandits from ADA, who acctually went into Vidigal as all the residents saw it, INSIDE the CAVEIRAO! So after two failed atempts and heavy losses caused by BOP police, Comando Vermelho gave up ever taking over Vidigal again. They share the profits from drugs, gas bottle sales as well the lucrative moto taxi service running more than 1500 motos paying around R$ 20 reais each per day to work! Unless this is tackled as well, the drug dealers will always have money to finance wholesale purchase of drugs and weapons!

  4. Interesting. But if BOPE and ADA are friends – how did the UPP happen in Morro dos Macacos, which was dominated by ADA..?

  5. But regardless of whether this ADA + BOPE connection is true or not, i agree that the government will delay for as long as possible, trying to install a UPP in Rociinha and Vidigal.

    If Dona Marta, population 5000, requires 125 police 24 hours per day… then Rocinha, with population 250000, would require 6250 – way more than the ‘2000’ the government has stated. And that’s just Rocinha… and doesn’t include Vidigal.

    The other rumor is simply that the government will just ask (or pay) ADA to keep things calm and not show their weapons so much, when the tourists are in town for the Olympics and World Cup – i.e. the government just accepting that they cannot control Rocinha / Vidigal.

  6. I hope the UPP does not go in. I spent time there before when the UPP went in about 10 years ago it was very bad as law and order broke down. When you have corrupt police things go downhill fast as everyone is out for themselves.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

5 × two =