Brazil’s favela “pacification” policy, implemented by the state government of Rio de Janeiro beginning in 2008, is the most recent example of efforts by the Brazilian authorities to produce security. Coming before Brazil hosts the 2014 World Cup this June, and before Rio hosts the Olympics in 2016, and tackling that most visible and now internationally-renowned symbol of urban chaos – the city’s hillside favelas – the policy has attracted widespread attention. The Rio authorities have lost no opportunity to dramatize the supposed “take-over” of favelas by the army and police – often planting the Brazilian flag in neighborhoods “rescued” from drug traffickers – and the UPP (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora, or Police Pacifying Unit) policy has become symbolic of a wider attempt by Brazilian authorities to create a safe urban landscape. Yet events in the past two years have called the UPP’s success into question. Shoot-outs between drug-dealers and police in several favelas where UPP units are in place, and a massive protest by residents of the favelas of Pavão-Pavãozinho and Cantagalo after the suspicious death of Douglas “DG” Pereira, have brought media attention to those who question the policy’s effectiveness.
In the midst of all this visibility and scrutiny of the UPP policy, several fundamental assumptions about the “pacification” policy often go unexamined. Drawing upon my own history of observing changes and continuities in policing in Brazil, and especially in Rio, for over twenty years, I would like to problematize these guiding assumptions which have often framed depictions of the pacification policy by both the media and Rio’s policy-makers. Continue reading