Moving deeper into no-man’s lands

Ricardo Henriques speaks at last; some Vila Cruzeiro residents wish they hadn’t, and the Sambadrome carnival parade may be well-protected

“A youngster age 20 from a community controlled by the [drug] traffic grew up during a war. So the culture of degradation that people see in general in their physical surroundings is also a degradation when it comes to rights and duties, because that social fabric was totally torn apart. All of this (the reactivation of [public services’] ties with the communities) is viable after pacification. Of course there is suspicion and lack of trust and fear of the police. But one of the most important missions of the Social UPP is interaction with the police, to rebuild a value, which is that a police officer is a public servant in the same way that a school principal is. And there’s no reason for this not to happen.”

So spoke Social UPP coordinator Ricardo Henriques in an O Globo newspaper interview this past week, his first since the Social UPP program was shifted in late December from the state to city government.

His department is making inroads to the tune of US$ 382 million equivalent so far, in the 16 favelas where UPPs, or Police Pacification Units, have been installed since late 2008, spent to integrate these areas with the rest of the city, on public works, education, health, conservation and the extension of city services such as trash pickup. Pacified favelas are getting day care centers and family health clinics, as well as upgraded schools that are part of the full-time Schools of Tomorrow program.  “The Child Development Centers and the Schools of Tomorrow are the start of a new approach to integrate the life cycle. This, together with the expansion of the [federal] Family Health Program, changes the approach to start with gestation and carry through to literacy. Our terrible performance on the Basic Education Development Index (Ideb) and low literacy are closely linked to early childhood care,” said Henriques.

According to Henriques, the move to the municipal level has been positive for the Social UPP program, because it focuses mostly on city services and agency work. The state agency where the program was previously housed has been working to serve victims of the mudslides in the interior of the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Government officials often speak of “retaking” favela territories. Henriques used the word “rebuilding” and talked about social fabric that was torn apart. But it might also be argued that the social apartheid that developed in Brazil since the Portuguese first arrived created no-man’s lands; that certain values and institutions were never created to begin with; and that the kind of social fabric that came undone during the 30 or so years of drug traffickers’ domination was the stuff of improvised personal and familial problem solving– not resilient enough for the challenges of modern Brazil.

If this is the case, the implication is that the task of integrating Rio de Janeiro includes developing new ways of thinking about the city and its life, and of creating a new social fabric.

The need for deep change is clear on the page opposite Henriques’ interview: some Vila Cruzeiro residents believe that the five murders that occurred in their neighborhood since it was occupied in late November and early December can be chalked up to narcotraffic revenge. “I’m terrified. I helped the police because I couldn’t stand watching the criminals doing whatever they wanted in my doorway, anymore. I’ve seen more than ten traffickers beating a man to death. My children saw it all, and the orgies they organized, too.  Now I don’t feel safe. I’m afraid my turn is up,” said one resident.

The civil police’s homicide division and the pacification force say there’s no evidence that the murders were meant as punishment for collaboration with police and the military. “It’s a rumor to destabilize the Pacification Force,” the force commander, brigadier general Fernando Sardenberg, told O Globo. “We know there are still areas where people are afraid to make denunciations. That’s why we have the [pacification hotline number] so that everyone can cooperate.” He added that no shots have been heard for the last two weeks in either Vila Cruzeiro or the neighboring Complexo do Alemão.

Meanwhile, pacification moves ahead, with plans announced to occupy nine favelas tomorrow in areas continguous to downtown Rio, near the Sambadrome. Expected to last a month, the occupation will utilize 700 troops drawn from the military, civil, federal and forestry police forces, as well as navy armored vehicles and an armored helicopter. While the military police’s BOPE elite squad takes the territory, the civil police will undertake searches of residents, cars and motorcycles that enter and leave the area. Once the occupation is complete, three UPPs –pacification units, with freshly trained recruits specialized in community service– will be set up.

Police told O Globo that they’ve been tracking drug traffickers (some of whom are each others’ rivals) as they flee the targeted areas, and that Rocinha, Pedreira, Lagartixa  and Engenho da Rainha are where they’re now hiding out. Late last year, governor Sérgio Cabral had hinted that Rocinha would be occupied in January, but this hasn’t happened.


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About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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