Over the last year and a half, I have been visiting São Paulo and, especially, Rio de Janeiro, observing the process of “pacification,” by which the government attempts to peacefully enter and reestablish state control over the most violent enclaves of the city, those dominated by drug gangs called traficantes, or by syndicates of corrupt police called militias. Until 2008, when the pacification program started, the traficantes controlled roughly half of the favelas, and the militias the other half. Both still hold power in most favelas. The ultimate aim of the state government of Rio’s plan, called the Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora (UPP), or Police Pacification Unit, is to drive both of these groups out and replace them by the state. (SLNYRB)
Brazilian favelas have a long and sordid history, initially constructed as a shanty town by soldiers who had nowhere to live. Then the poor people from rural areas moved to the cities for job opportunities, expanding the favelas. Today, there are over 500 favelas, with about a third of Rio de Janeiro's population, and they're growing. The three primary drug gangs that fight for control in the favelas formed in the 1970s (PDF), but they were formed not solely by fighters, but also political radicals, and these gangs provide some social services where the government does not. That is, until the Pacifying Police Units were formed in 2008, with the goal of pushing the gangs out and providing government stability from a live-in police force. But this isn't just to an effort to end the gang violence -- the slums are being swept ahead of the tourist rush, and the shanty towns are now seeing a rapid gentrification from non-Brazilians and speculators.
Prisoners in Brazil's prisons formed their own rules for governance, setting up a system much more effective than the government.
Complexo da Maré is one of the oldest favelas in Rio, and a new short documentary, Te Vejo Mare, shows how, despite the headlines and violence, a community and culture manages to thrive there. As featured on today's Guardian website: Welcome to Complexo da Maré (10:16), The Samba Is Infinite (10:22), Fighting for Peace (11:00)
Floods and mudslides in Rio de Janeiro have killed over 250 people, mostly in favelas, poverty-stricken shanty-towns built on hillsides above major cities. [more inside]
Brazil Wants to Build a Wall Social and economic problems out of control? No problem. Brazil plans to literally build a 10 foot wall to separate the haves from the have nots.