HomeNewsAnalysisView from Rio: Whither Pacification? Whither the Drugs and Guns?
ANALYSIS

View from Rio: Whither Pacification? Whither the Drugs and Guns?

BRAZIL / 18 APR 2012 BY JULIA MICHAELS* EN

How much can a city change? This is the question underlying doubts arising in the last two weeks regarding Rio’s public safety policy.

You may believe that the values, habits and assumptions of a city and its inhabitants, developed over the course of generations, are static; immutable. In this case, the police and politicans are forever corrupt and criminals are constantly crooked, while innocent citizens are always at the mercy of both. Rio’s 2008 public safety policy is for show, a temporary lockdown until the Olympics are done.

Or you may think that change occurs when systems no longer provide what they were created to do; when new demands crop up that they can’t meet. In this case, police and politicians become enlightened, criminals have fewer options, and innocent citizens find themselves called on to adapt their own values, habits and assumptions. Rio’s 2008 public safety policy is part of a larger socioeconomic turn of the tide and the fabrics of the city’s favelas and its formal neighborhoods are turning from patchwork to a single weave.

When the new public safety policy was conceived, officials knew that drug traffickers would flee to other favelas. Police occupation is announced beforehand, after all. Over the last three years we’ve seen criminals run to Complexo do Alemão and Rocinha, among others. Now that these have been occupied, the fallout is occurring within a wider radius.

State Public Safety Secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame admitted yesterday for the first time that increased crime in the city of Niteroi, across the bay from Rio, is due to police pacification and occupation in the state capital. Military and civil police have also turned their sights on the mountain towns in the state of Rio de Janeiro, on Manguinhos and Jacarezinho favelas, and on allied activities of Rio and São Paulo traffickers, to transport drugs and weapons.

Manpower has always been an issue for public safety officials, and it’s gotten more serious as the geography involved widens. Rocinha is now partly policed by new pacification police recruits, though it’s under BOPE (elite squad) command, still in the occupation phase.

“Is it possible to institute new police practices with police who are accustomed to the old ways?” asks Cecília Oliveira, communications coordinator for Redes de Desenvolvimento da Mare, a highly successful NGO in the Mare complex of favelas and housing projects, next on Beltrame’s list. “The new officers have sixty days of training, and the old ones, old practices,” she adds.

Corruption came to the fore in Rocinha, where it became clear that the police hadn’t occupied the authority vacuum left by trafficker Nem because they were on the take. It’s probably everywhere, to some extent. The fact that this week Mangueira favela shopkeepers followed an order (given by a cruising motorcyclist) to close as a sign of mourning for a deceased drug trafficker indicates similar troubles there.

Beltrame is grappling with both issues; today he was expected to announce a series of measures to deal with crime in and around Niteroi.

Rio’s public safety policy is clearly messing with long-entrenched markets, attitudes and relationships, and many of the stacked dominoes aren’t in plain view. Drugs aren’t in the purview of favelas only, as a fellow combatant reminds us:

“When I was minister of defense, we were very successful. We took down all the members [on] the list of high-value targets in the drug trafficking, all of them. They are either in jail or dead. We confiscated unprecedented amounts of cocaine. We eradicated unprecedented amounts of hectares of coca, and the DEA director came here and congratulated me and congratulated our people, saying we are doing very well, ” Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos told the Washington Post this week. ”And you know how success was defined? By the price of cocaine in Los Angeles or in New York or in Washington. And so, because the price went up, we were being successful. But at the same time, if the price goes up, the incentive goes up. So there is a structured sort of contradiction in the whole setup.”

It’s probably exactly that incentive which has led competing drug gangs to pay off the cops and engage in warfare in Rocinha. Quite likely the success of occupation and pacification rest on the state government’s ability to clamp down on this -- a place so much at the heart of Rio de Janeiro.

Of course the two lines of thinking described above aren’t mutually exclusive. The picture is muddy, and the way we see it is colored by our experience and preconceived notions. Some of the actors are diehards, some are chameleons and maybe a few are Brazilian Galileos.

For now, Beltrame has the last word.

“I see that things may not be very good, but they’re better than they were,” he told O Globo newspaper yesterday.

Reprinted with permission from Julia Michaels*, a reporter who has lived in Rio almost 30 years. See her blog, Rio Real, which is in English and Portuguese, and read the original post here.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Tags

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

BRAZIL / 24 FEB 2016

A new book by journalist Ioan Grillo on Latin American organized crime offers a fascinating tour of four distinct criminal…

ARGENTINA / 31 DEC 2013

We can already identify some of the trends that are likely to mark the evolution of organized crime in 2014.

BRAZIL / 3 OCT 2013

A group of ten Rio de Janeiro police officers have been charged with torturing and killing a favela resident,…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution Met With Uproar

6 MAY 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime launched its latest investigation, Venezuela’s Cocaine Revolution¸ accompanied by a virtual panel on its findings. The takeaways from this three-year effort, including the fact that Venezuela…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…