Posts Tagged ‘UPP’


14 November 2011

Brazil: Forced evictions must not mar Rio Olympics

Olympic organizers must urge Brazilian authorities to stop forcibly evicting hundreds of families across Rio de Janeiro amid preparations for the summer 2016 Summer Olympic Games, residents’ groups, local housing activists, Amnesty International and WITNESS said today in a joint letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). 

The organizations said that families in dozens of the city’s low-income areas have lost or are at risk of losing their homes as the authorities build infrastructure for the international sporting event.

“Forcing families out of their homes without adequate notice, prior consultation with those affected and without offering adequate alternative housing or provision of legal remedies flies in the face of the very values the Olympics stand for, and violates Brazil’s laws and international human rights commitments,” said the organizations.

“The Olympic organizers should use their influence to put an end to this practice now, before it’s too late. The IOC must not be complicit with human rights abuses carried out in its name, and should publicly and unequivocally condemn all forced evictions in Rio de Janeiro.”

Favelas and informal settlements around the city have already been affected over the past year and more are slated for future planned evictions by the authorities. 

Key infrastructural works, such as the construction of three express bus lanes (the TransOeste, the TransCarioca and the TransOlímpica), works around the Maracanã stadium and the modernization of the port area have already led to serious violations. As these works continue, several communities – including Vila Autodromo and Arroio Pavuna – are now fighting imminent eviction.

Although Rio de Janeiro’s officials maintain that no forced evictions have been conducted and that all families are being appropriately compensated before losing their homes, independent research by local NGOs, Rio de Janeiro’s Public Defenders’ Office and international organisations including Amnesty International and WITNESS has proven otherwise.

In the gravest cases, the authorities have arrived in a community without prior notice and begun tearing down homes and businesses.

On 22 October 2010, bulldozers arrived at the Restinga community and began demolishing homes and small shops that had operated in the area for more than 20 years.

Edilson, a Restinga resident, described the operation:
“At 10am there were machines, police officers, riot forces with large weapons and they started emptying out the houses. If someone refused to leave they would take the bulldozer and start breaking down the door. The officers would come into your house, take you out by force and then demolish it.”

Many of the families that used to live and work in Restinga have since lost their jobs and sources of income, while children from the community have been unable to transfer to new schools, resulting in months of missed education.

Former community residents have not received adequate compensation or suitable alternative housing, violating international human rights standards.

This pattern of abuse has been repeated in other communities over the past year, with authorities often putting pressure on residents for months on end to accept sub-standard offers instead of following procedural and legal safeguards before evictions take place. The harassment is seen as a tactic to coax families to relocate in most cases to remote areas, far from their jobs, schools and community.
The situation became so severe earlier this year that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, intervened to demand that the Brazilian government “stop planned evictions until dialogue and negotiation can be ensured”.

“We recognize that Rio de Janeiro’s authorities need to install adequate infrastructure to ensure the success and safety of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics,” said the organizations.

“But this must be carried out in a spirit of consultation and collaboration with the affected communities, to ensure that their rights are protected in the process.”

For a full copy of the letter, please see: letter to IOC Nov 2011.pdf

The ‘pacification’ of the favela Complexo do Alemã0 in Rio de Janeiro has caused many changes in the everyday lives of the residents. A territory that used to be occupied by drugs gangs is now being (re-)taken by the Brazilian state through the occupation by the army, in order to increase security in these areas, as part of a larger pacificiation project in the run to the World Cup and the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro (2014/2016).  The presence of the army not only means the replacement of a local power and the eviction of the drugs gangs, but also the imposition of the state’s laws and rules, the entrance of the market (criminalization of informality) and an increasing attention by NGOs and cultural/social projects. The favela becomes increasingly popular as a potential market for private companies as well as for reporters, researchers and the implementation of social projects. In other words; the favela is ‘hot’ and opening up.

During march and july 2011 I lived in Complexo do Alemão and conducted an ethnographic study on locality in a territory that is subject to radical changes. Download thesis

Before I started my research three months ago, I visited a sociologist based in Rio de Janeiro, Bernardo Sorj. We discussed my research topic and he warned me not to focus too much on the misery. “You Europeans have the tendency to focus on the bad things, making the favela seem like a miserable place”. In the past three months I have thought about his comment a lot. It’s being a struggle not to write about the misery, and simultaneously not to be too positive, or rather, naïve. In the case of the “pacification” – I still can’t write this word without parenthesis – there’s a lot of problems to report about, while the media only highlight the success of the initiative. Someone has to tell the truth, but.. Which truth?

My friend Eddugrau always says “negativity attracts negativity, and positivity attracts positivity”. Therefore it’s dangerous to always criticise the current situation. Currently I am participating in a cinema course in Complexo do Alemão, organised by Cine TeleBrasil, and with a group of 7 adolescents we have to produce a short film. When we were discussing the topic of our film, one of the girls proposed to make a documentary on “Violence after the Pacification”, referring to the decrease of gunfire and homicides, but the simultaneous increase of burglary and domestic violence (violence against women and robbery used to be prohibited in the past, when the drugs gangs held power. This law functioned at the time, but today the soldiers don’t solve these kind of problems). This is something that hasn’t been disseminated by the media, and therefore an interesting and important story to tell. At the same time, however, the favela again is framed negatively. The media – who likes to scapegoat the favela – will pick this up and, perhaps, even distort the argument, causing more damage instead.

An example in this respect is a news item by Dutch correspondent Marjon van Royen on the abusive behaviour of the UPP police (Pacification Police Unit) in the pacified community Cidade de Deus. She interviews two girls that tell how the police have inspected them, demanding them to take off their shirts and touching their intimate places looking for any drugs. I know that the cases she reports on do occur, as I have heard of similar stories in Complexo do Alemão (abusive behaviour of the soldiers in the case), and Providencia (UPP as well). However, rather than providing a constructive criticism, the video is very sensationalist. Such criticism is very dangerous. Not only does it put the girls, who openly and explicitly wish that the drugs gangs would return, at risk. The criticism is very ill-founded, offered without any contextual background. The Dutch audience now has this very negative vision about the situation, but who are the girls who express such criticism? What is their relation with the drugs gangs? Why would they tell such a story to a journalist they don’t know? Why not communicating a more nuanced story about the situation, offering several perspectives? Journalism is business and negativity sells..

The favela is framed as a dangerous, disorganised and barbarous place. Even today, after the “pacification”, people are scared to visit the community. On of the participants of the cinema course told me that when he got off the bus the first day in front of the community, he had doubted for a second. Shall I? Only when he saw the soldiers he took the courage to enter (after all he admitted that his fear wasn’t necessary at all). It’s the media that constructs this distorted image, stigmatizing the favela. Partly it is precisely this stigma that creates this imaginary wall around the favela, segregating the residents. The word “segregating” is rather radical, but I have experienced myself how you are not so much only physically, but also ideologically, excluded from the outside world. The friends I used to go out with in Lapa, Glória, Botafogo and Santa Teresa haven’t visited me once even though I have invited them several times. Not only because they are afraid, but also because this place I live is not seen as an attractive place to go (there aren’t any “good” parties, there isn’t any qualitative good music, etc.). The favela is never sold as a serious opportunity to go out or spend time. It’s this vicious circle of a division between the favela and the outside world hampering any interaction that reinforces the stigma. It’s in this way that negativity harms the favela. Negativity attracts negativity.

This topic keeps me thinking a lot, and I don’t know the answer (yet?). Because we can’t simply neglect the inequality and discrimination, and the fact that the “pacification project” is lacking in many aspects. There’s a lot of “bad” things in the favela that deserve attention, but often the focus is too much on the favela rather than the cause of this misery. Instead of simply reporting on increased domestic violence, the victims and the perpetrators (those criminals!!), it would be more interesting to focus on the ill-functioning of law and the absence of any juridical body inside the favela for the people to consult. In this way would the criticism more constructive?

Two weeks ago someone told me about the cable car (Teleférico) that was built in Complexo do Alemão after the occupation. From that moment it got my attention. I was curious to know more about such an installation as a means of public transport. Just imagine using a cable car as your daily way of transport to your work, or to visit a friend. This is the general reaction of people not living in Complexo do Alemão. “That thing is so going to improve their mobility”.

Last week, when I visited Complexo do Alemão for the first time, I got to see it. It’s not working yet, but I did see the cars moving as from time to time they test drive to ensure safety before the actual inauguration next month. I decided to try to take this “object” as a way to investigate the general opinion on the ocupation/pacification* of their community.

First some general information about the Complexo do Alemão. It’s a complex consisting of 14 communities and in total counts about 400.000 residents. That’s more or less the size of the third biggest city of the Netherlands. It used to be controlled by the Comando Vermelho until the invasion of the Brazilian army in November 2010. The invasion was the initiation of the PAC (Acceleration of Growth Program) and the pacification of the area. Different than the other communities that are being pacified by the UPP (pacification police unit – police that have been trained to interact with the community residents) Complexo do Alemão is occupied by the army. The pacification paved the way for companies to enter community. Commisioned by the municipality construction companies build apartments, squares, roads, stairs, and the cable car. Thus, the cable car is one of the many changes in the community, but it reflects a certain idea persistent in the community about the general approach of the project.

People explain me that althrough the cable car will be the major form of public transport, there were built 5 stations in order to attend the entire community (of 400.000 people). I could also see by myself that the cars, equipped with no more than 6 seats – in buses passengers not necessarily need a seat, in a cable car I imagine they do – don’t move very quickly. The capacity to transport the amount of people is doubtful.

I could also perceive a certain distrust or resistance towards the stations, which serve as the bases of the army. People told me how the stations are strategically positioned rather than facilitating the transport within the community. If it really were to benefit the community residents they would have been asked where to build the stations. Instead, they feel their opinion and knowledge of the structure of the community is neglected.

Besides the idea that the cable car does not really match their needs in terms of transport, people explain me how it could possibly generate the community. People could have stands inside the stations and sell goods (e.g. Food, drinks, snacks, movies/cd’s, etc.). As far as they know, however, this is prohibited as the stations are owned by the cable car company, which will not allow these types of commerce.

When I ask them why they think the cable car has been built most people answer: “for the government to show the favela to tourists”. It turns out that the cable car in Complexo do Alemão serves a cable car’s more common function as a tourist or fairground attraction. It responds to the increasing popularity of “the favela” by NGOs, social projects, artists and tourists (see: favela tour). The people I spoke with do not reject this curiosity about their way of life at all. They just want to have a voice in the way their life is exposed to others. Not to be used as an object of tourism, but to interact with visitors, to learn from each other, and establish mutual understanding and knowledge about their cultures. And if possible, to have a share in the profit. Only than development can be sustainable and fair.

And about the pacification and development of their community? A similar answer returns often. They know their community best. Why aren’t they consulted about what works best in their community?

I wonder what will happen next month. Will the cable car be used by the local residents? Will it really be a tourist attraction? I’ll keep you posted.

* Note the controversy: occupation and pacification are supposed to go hand in hand in this context.

Two weeks in Rio, of which one week Carnaval so that doesn’t really count as a week, already learned me a lot about a drastically changing everyday life in this marvellous city. As the UPPs (the pacifying police) are my object of study I am of course referring to the changes in relation to this pacification project. However, the general idea of “organising the city” goes way beyond the pacification of the favelas.

I haven’t yet had the time to make up my mind, to think about the things I hear and see and to draw relevant conclusions from the information I got. That’s why I am writing this blog.

The first days I was staying at a friend’s place in Ipanema – Zona Sul, the elitist, touristy and rich part of the city. He told me how the city has changed in the last couple of years. Not only had violence decreased drastically and was Rio becoming much safer, the city increasingly becomes “organised”. I used to like the Brazilian bus driver’s mentality because they let you in the bus even when there’s no bus stop. They wait for you when you’re late and running to get the bus that is about to leave. Today, they don’t do that anymore. They have a strict time schedule to stick to. Of course, for the public transport system to work this is necessary.

Another situation was yesterday when I was waiting for my friend to pick me up from the subway station. It took a little while so I was walking around the station, kind of bored. This guy who was selling home made coconut candy came to me and gave me one, to try. I liked it and bought some and we started chatting. He told me how he got kicked out of another subway station by the guards as he didn’t have a licence to sell food. Up until recently he didn’t need such a licence. The same goes for vendors of snacks and beer walking down Ipanema and Copacabana beach. And the “ugly” beach stands selling caipirinhas, beer and coconut water are replaced by cleaner and better looking bars with terraces and toilets. Places that sell food and drinks must provide bathrooms as well.

Two Germans I met told me how they were having a sandwich in the botanic garden when a guard politely asked them to have their picnic at the “picnic area”. They complained: “but that’s what we use to like about Brazil”.

These are small, but in my view, significant changes in the mentality of a “País Tropical”. Some people like it: “finally our country starts to function”, others don’t: “a country has to be disorganised, we should not take Europe as an example”. The UPP police and the “Peace Forces” are other examples of the organisation of places considered “disorganised” in order to increase security and order in the city.

Some examples of changes in the pacified favelas are an elevator in Cantagalo. Those favela residents living at the top of the hill no longer need to climb the endless stairs (Note that favelas are usually built on hills). In Providência, down town, a resident told me that they want to construct a little train that goes up the hill. In Complexo do Alemão, the complex of 14 communities that has been occupied since November last year they built a cable car connecting these communities. In some cases houses have to make way for these installations. Also, houses at risk of collapsing are demolished. The residents of these houses are replaced to new apartments blocks. This all results in some contrasting architectural cases. Big colourful and new buildings right next to simple and small houses or sometimes even huts.

(See yellow building – cable car station – on top of the hill.)

The above I found particularly interesting because I came to Brazil to investigate the UPP in terms of territoriality and the claiming of these areas by the state. The Brazilian state has been absent in these communities for decades and now tries to obtain power. Through “pacification” these favelas can and will be organised, which will allow the inclusion of these communities into the bureaucratic processes of the state. Interesting, I think, is how the state does this. What new rules and processes are used by the state in this attempt to increase power and control over these areas? In this light, the above examples show how this process is going on in the entire city, and not only in the pacified favelas. The latter are part of and reflect a larger process of organisation. The the coming weeks I will go deeper into the changes and consequences of the pacification. What does it mean? What does it change? How does the pacification of these particular areas paves the way for development?

Currently I am attempting to write an essay about the pacification project by the government in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This project aims at replacing the violent military police BOPE (as you might know from the movie Tropa de Elite) with a so-called socially trained police called Pacification Police Unit (UPP).

The main objective is the recovery “of these areas lost to trafficking and socially including the most marginalised of the population through the implementation of this special unit. The project’s official website explains that this unit is a new model of Public Security and policing which promotes a closer and improved relation between the police and the citizens. The main objective of this program is to integrate the police into community life. It is a strategic concept based on the collaboration of the citizens and the public security institutions.


How will this new protector be received? The feelings of a traumatised people that has given up to believe in the government’s goodwill are now mixed with new hope, but also with simultaneous disappointment as those promises are not entirely lived up to. This is reflected in the discussion about the UPP. On the one hand positive voices are heard. Violence has significantly decreased and most of the drugs lords are exiled from the favelas that are occupied by the UPP. In Cidade de Deus, for instance, is no more shooting. One particular news item reports on a high authority from the UK who visited the favela and the fact that there was no extra protection necessary in order to receive this woman.

Other reports, interviews and comments in discussions on the web argue that favela residents have embraced the new police men. They are accepted as new authorities in the favelas and have even replaced the drugs trafficker as the young boys’ hero. On the other hand, however, it is argued that politicians have a clear stake in the implementation, seeing a new possibility to gain votes by the middle class. Also, two major international events – the olympic games and the world cup in 2014 and 2016 – at which Brazil can prove its socio-economic improvements to the outside world are seen as important motives for “organising” the city. As they initiated the program in the favelas located in the city’s south (Zona Sul), the richest and most touristy area of the city, the effect would be much more visible to the middle class than starting in the peripheries or suburbs of the city. Moreover, it is argued that precisely these favelas in which the UPP has been installed are those that are considered less violent. In the most challenging favelas the operation has not started yet. These critiques are hard to prove, but reflect the wary attitude towards the government by a part of the population.

While the implementation of the UPP has proved to be successful in providing security in terms of significant reduction of violence inside the favelas within which they operate, one might argue what “security” entails. Is pacification enough? And will the end of violence bring peace, and not the least important, equality? That is, what do we consider violence, merely armed violence or violence in terms of lack of access to basic services? When these areas were under rule of drugs traffickers, access to water, electricity, cable tv and housing was democratised. No that these economies are formalised, costs rise and access to these services become very expensive for most residents.

But perhaps more important is the question of participation of the local people in this process. An article in Direito Para Quem, a human rights journal, gives a voice to Rapper Fiell, who explains that the famous Funk parties (Baile Funk) are now prohibited, just as the cyber cafés and other “illegitimate” forms of leisure. This same guy took the initative to create a flyer that informs about the rights of the people and how they are often abused by the police. He claims: “On the asphalt (middle class/elite areas) people like the work of the UPP, but here in the favela we are forced to adapt to the program without the ability to participate”. What about a participatory democratic process, in which citizens have a voice? Doesn’t the fact that the UPP occupies these favelas suggests that this is a form of repression?

Pacification certainly is a good step, but too often policy makers fail to take into account local structures. Something that struck me in Brazil is the very strong social organisation in the form of, for instance, neighbourhood or community associations that represent the voices of the people. To what extent do they have a role in the implementation of this project? It’s hard to form an opinion about an oversea situation… For now I just got upset by the fact that Fiell’s Funk parties had stopped. I just sent a friend request to the APAFUNK (associação dos profissionais e amigos do FUNK – association of professionals and friends of FUNK)..