In 2007, Brazil’s government launched a plan to reduce crime and violence in the favelas, the poorest neighborhoods of Rio and other major cities. Neglected for decades by the authorities, these communities were under the rule of new and powerful masters: drug traffickers.
As a result, safety conditions and lack of opportunities in the favelas, had left millions of people unable to take advantage of benefits generated by the country’s growth. Swift, tangible actions were therefore needed to address this problem. Additionally with the city due host to both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, all eyes will be on Brazil and how they will guarantee the security of these two international events.
The first responses to tackling gangs in the favelas, heavily armed policie and even military personnel, generated some controversy because of the brutality in its implementation and the lack of effective results.
Life is safer
This, of course, lead to a change and in 2008, the Secretariat of Safety in the state of Rio de Janeiro began introducing de Police Pacification Units (known as UPPs) to fight crime little by little.
Morro dos Praceres in Rio de Janeiro is one of the favelas with its own UPP. There we met Letizia, a 27 year-old hairdresser, who told us that life is a lot safer today. “Before we were never at peace when we sent our kids to school,” she said.
In many other places of Rio de Janeiro life has improved thanks to the UPPs. The World Bank study Bringing the state back into the favelas, says there are 28 UPPs in over 100 communities home to more than 400,000 people.
Besides strengthening police presence and actions, the project also aims at consolidating peace and promoting social and economic development in the favelas, with several social services.
Supporters of UPPs and its social components say the idea is that peace and other actions will consolidate and will guarantee peace and development in the favelas beyond the World Cup and the Olympic Games.
For 2014, the state of Rio de Janeiro plans to have 40 UPPs (up from the current 28) to protect an estimated population of 750,000.