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In Rio de Janeiro the favelas are famous for funk and feared for the drugs wars. The latter plays an important role in the local political life of the favela residents, which is dominated by the drugs traffickers as they take responsibility for internal mediator, judge, jury and punisher of perceived crimes1. In fact, residents feel more secure by the “criminal protector’s” violence rather than by the violence exercised by the police, which are their legitimate protectors2. Arguably, the drugs lords fulfil an important role in the maintenance of order and a feeling of security in the community.

The BOPE (Special Police Operations Battalion), is a special forces unit of the Military Police of the State government of Rio de Janeiro and operates in order to “establish order” in these communities. As remnant of the military dictatorship they have not yet made the transition from protecting the state to protecting the citizens. In fact, they still treat the latter as the enemy3 and in turn the citizens see them as their enemy, a feeling that is enforced by the “drugs elite” who projects the state police as the favela’s major threat.

Recently, the Pacification Police Unity (UPP) – a unity of specially trained policemen by the state government – is brought into being in order to reclaim the territories that are occupied by the drugs gangs and to “organise” the favelas by decreasing criminal activities, making an end to drugs trade and improving security, including the democratisation of access to basic services and facilities. Taking into account the existing relation between the state, the drugs traffickers and the favela residents, this leads to the question whether the state is able to take responsibility to provide security and deliver basic social services More specifically, this paper tends to answer the following question:

How does the transition from a non-state authority (drugs lords) to a state authority (the Pacifying Police Unit) in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas changes the community’s perception of security and the authority’s legitimacy?

In the first section I will discuss the relevant theoretical context to this question introducing concepts of security, service delivery and legitimacy. In the second section I will discuss the drugs lords as ruling actors in the favela and subsequently the UPP as a state-actor that has substituted the former and takes over responsibility for security and order. In the third section I will dispute the UPP’s capacity to provide security and its legitimacy as an authority. Following, in the fifth section I will introduce the debate on conflict sensitivity and discuss the adequacy of the UPP program.

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