By Anna Fitzpatrick, Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – With the eyes of the world on Rocinha for the past week, many in Brazil are now also looking at what’s going on in the favela communities in the country’s biggest city, São Paulo. Not only does SP have the largest number of favelas, it also has the largest number of people living in them – a surprise to those who associate favela life with the Cidade Maravilhosa.

Paraisópolis favela in São Paulo, Brazil News
Paraisópolis favela in São Paulo, photo by Jatobb/Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

Exact data is difficult to come by, but five years ago a UN report predicted that by 2020 there would be 55 million people living in favelas in Brazil. Another report ascertains that nearly twenty percent of the territory of the Municipality of São Paulo is occupied by “irregular settlements” or favelas.

Whereas favelas in Rio are easy to identify and locate, the geographical and historical development of São Paulo differs greatly as almost all favelas skirt around the edge of the city – way less visible to those living in the city.

While the UPP (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora) program has been taking place in Rio and is being deemed in many quarters as a successful policy, it is specific to the state of Rio de Janeiro. Last week’s operation in Rocinha has sparked discussions over whether a similar policy should be adopted in SP.

According to the head of the DENARC (Department of Narcotics Investigations) Wagner Giudice, a policy similar to UPP is not necessarily the best idea for dealing with the organized crime and drug trafficking that takes place in São Paulo.

“There are no areas of São Paulo where the police do not go. That’s the major difference between here and Rio de Janeiro” says Giudice, who also pointed out the geography of the city makes controlling drug trafficking more difficult.

Cracôlandia in downtown São Paulo, Brazil News
Cracôlandia in downtown São Paulo, photo by Lucas lg54/Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

Therefore the issue of control here is different, resulting in the need for other strategies. According to the PM (Military Police) in SP the best approach is to use intelligence, specialized raids and specific operations where there is increased violence.

Operação Saturação, a policy started in 2005, is similar to the UPP program in that the police are present within certain neighborhoods. Indeed, one of SP’s largest, inner-city favelas, Pariasópolis, was ‘occupied’ in 2009 for 82 days.

The favela is close to the very salubrious neighborhood of Morumbi, where residents complain that there is not enough police presence in the area and there are an average of nine robberies a day in the area – eighty percent of which are thought by police to be committed by people living in the area.

The policy was also used in an area with well documented drug problems – nicknamed Cracolândia – in 2009 in the center of the city of São Paulo, near Avenida Duque de Caxias, Ipiranga, Rio Branco, Cásper Líbero and on Rua Mauá.

There are plenty in the city who would like to see a more uniform and visible program at work in SP, and there are quiet accusations that the state government and the organized crime group PCC (Primeiro Comando da Capital), who openly fought with police in 2006, struck some sort of bargain and thus prevented such a policy.


  1. Corruption is a widespread problem not only here but worldwide, but there’s something that makes it quite worse in Rio than in SP (and corruption has a direct relation with crime).
    Rio was the nation’s capital for quite a long time while SP has grown out of its inhabitants own effort. It’s been a few years since I’ve been in Rio but last time I was there it was striking how more inept the public services there were in comparison to SP, the far greater presence of Federal institutions (mostly inept and corrupt) alongside other remnants of its earlier status like the importance of the military in their society.

  2. The UN report doesn’t make too much sense. 55 million people living in slums sounds extremely exagerated and completely off. Most Brazilian cities have large scale housing projects in an effort to erradicate slum living conditions.
    Sao Paulo has actually done a great job in removing people from slums and transitioning them into very decent housing projects.
    I have to agree with Sergio, the corruption problem in Rio is a serious issue, much worse than in Sao Paulo.


  3. Umm .. So im a 10th grader, and for one of my Spanish projects i need information about the ‘slums’ and ‘underclass’ areas of Brazil/Rio. This information helped me A LOT, but .. my question is, what perentage of people who live in the ‘slums’ or the ‘underclass’ areas, are in poverty? And how can people help?
    Thank you for your time.


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