Saturday, July 31, 2010

BOPE/UPP and the taking over of Favelas

As many of you know, because of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics arriving here., the city is trying to clean up the image of Rio being a dangerous place. Statistics say that about 5-6 people a day are killed in Rio, this with a population of about 6.5 million. Most, if not all, are usually people from the favelas involved in drugs or innocent bystanders in these communities.

The UPP are supposed to be the “new” police force, a branch of the Policia Militar, who are to installed in the favelas. The idea is to get rid of the guns and violence. They know that they cannot eliminate drugs totally but they want the guns gone. There are many problems that come with this. Most communities of corse want guns and violence gone, but the problem stems in trust of the police. Favela residents, me included have no liking for the police becase of what they represent. To us they are corrupt and abusive people.

We have experienced so many years of abuse from the police even back when Brazil had the military dictatorship. Its very difficult after years of mistrust to all of a sudden expect the people to embrace the “new” police forces coming to “pacify” our communities. The police have a lot of work to do to gain the trust of the people and it will not happen overnight.

The way the police overtake a favela is they first send in the Elite Forces (BOPE) with their big skull, an armoured vehicles that drives through the favelas intimidating the residents, children included, by threatening to shoot them if they are on the street. They usually come in shooting. I think of them like trigger happy mercenaries that just want to destroy any living thing. The police usually announce they are coming beforehand to give the drug traffickers the opportunity to leave without incident. With most of the recent take overs, it has been fairly simple for the BOPE to come in and then after the UPP’s (Police Pacifying Units) are installed in the community. I often wonder if this is a temporary thing and if after the Olympics, will they leave and open up opportunity for the traffickers to return?

Once the UPP’s are there, their job is to show a presence in the community. In Santa Marta in Botofogo which has been under UPP control for over a year, there have been problems. When I went there to visit a friend, I spoke to him about the installation of the police and he felt, not much had changed in regards to them being there. Yes, the guns were gone, but drugs still were there. The safety net and security of the community that the traffickers provided was gone. People now in the favela were experiencing petty crime in the favela like house break ins and bicycles being stolen. These things did not happen when the traffickers were in control. These things are happening becase there is no punishment becase the police to not POLICE the favela. When I was there, they sat at the bottom of the hill in their car or were sleeping. I saw NO police walking through the favela trying to create a sense of dialog with the residents. My friend told me that not only petty crime but police abusing residents for no reason is still common.

I think most people, including the rich have a dislike for the police because they don’t do anything other than try to hustle bribes from mostly honest people. When I lived in the USA, I never saw this kind of thing. The police tried to police, but here they rarely do anything unless there is a cash payoff for them. This is becase they get paid so little. The police military starting salary is $1200 reais a month. I wonder where these guys live on this salary? Favelas perhaps? No wonder they extort bribes from innocents.

I live here in the favela and I fear the police more than the drug traffickers. There is something wrong with that when a law abiding citizen takes more comfort in feeling safe with a traffickers versus a police officer. There is something very wrong here. But this is our reality in the favelas of Rio.

Right now the favela is tranquil and quiet. We still have the PAC projet going on here which is why I think nothing big will happen yet. But after the government sponsored slum upgrading projet (PAC) is finished, I expect the UPP’s to make their move here. They want to clean up any tourist areas especially in the South Zone here in Rio.

It will be very interesting to see how things “go down” here in Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio with the implantation of these UPP units and if it happens. Who knows maybe the traffickers will make some sort of deal with the police. Hard to say as we can only wait and see.

For me, I am happy the way it is now as “the devil you know is better than the devil you DON’T know”