Commentary & Forums, Dossiers, From the Field, Security in Brazil: World Cup 2014 and Beyond

The Brazilian Military, Public Security, and Rio de Janeiro’s “Pacification”

The editors of Anthropoliteia welcome Stephanie Savell with the latest entry in our forum Security in Brazil: World Cup 2014 and Beyond.
Army soldier addresses resident of Complexo do Alemão. Photo: Bruno Itan.

Army soldier addresses resident of Complexo do Alemão. Photo: Bruno Itan.

The Brazilian army and marines have in recent years played a more visible role in the provision of public security in Rio de Janeiro. The army currently occupies the sprawling set of informal neighborhoods, or favelas, known as Complexo da Maré, a “temporary solution” timed to accompany World Cup events in the city. The occupation, intended to repress the local control of drug trafficking gangs, will be followed by the installation of more permanent “Police Pacifying Units,” or “UPPs,” as part of Rio’s favela “pacification” program.

Between 2011 and 2012, the armed forces similarly occupied the favela Complexo do Alemão, where I lived for a year conducting ethnographic research (2013-2014). Here, based on that research, I examine the significance of the army’s participation in public security.

Many insiders and keen observers of security in Rio were quick to tell me that the army’s deployment in police pacification is not a trend – Alemão was unique, they said. But in addition to the current deployment in Maré, there are other indications to the contrary. In recent years, the constitutional clause, Garantia da Lei e da Ordem (GLO), or “Guarantee of Law and Order,” which allows for the use of the military in public security operations, has been continuously elaborated and refined. Under former President Lula’s administration, and now under Dilma Rousseff, the military has been used for an increasing number of situations, from pacification to oil auctions to the Pope’s visit and the World Cup. These are not isolated events; they invite us to question the military’s provision of public security and how it is understood, especially by security forces and by the urban poor whose neighborhoods the military patrols. Continue reading

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Commentary & Forums, Security in Brazil: World Cup 2014 and Beyond

A Conflicted Brazil on the Eve of the World Cup

The editors of Anthropoliteia welcome Meg Stalcup with the latest entry in our forum, Security in Brazil: World Cup 2014 and Beyond.
“evento da pompéia 2014.” Paulo Ito. Courtesy of the artist CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“evento da pompéia 2014.” Paulo Ito. Courtesy of the artist CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

News and social media around the world are carrying stories about the tear-gassed transportation strikers in São Paulo, violence and conflict with the police in Rio’s favelas, and – witty but no less serious – John Oliver’s scathing explanation of the problems with the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), which drew on major media reports about the organization’s well-known illegal cash-for-contracts corruption, and also its scandalously legal pillaging of World Cup host countries.

For those who have been following the preparations for the World Cup in international reporting, or this forum, strikes, protests and corruption are no surprise. Continue reading

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Commentary & Forums, Security in Brazil: World Cup 2014 and Beyond

Rio de Janeiro’s BOPE and Police Pacification: Fear and Intimidation in Complexo da Maré

The editors of Anthropoliteia would like to welcome Nicholas Barnes with the latest entry in our developing forum, Security in Brazil: World Cup 2014 and Beyond.
Photo: Deco Cabral (published with permission of the photographer)

Photo: Deco Cabral (published with permission of the author)

The scene was impeccably staged. The Special Operations Police Battalion (commonly referred to as BOPE and famously depicted in the film Elite Squad and its sequel) had set up a temporary command center on the edge of the plaza. More than a hundred of their police, armed to the teeth, with bulletproof vests and helmets, were milling around in the sweltering heat with nothing to do after taking control of the area without a shot being fired. Sky, the television company, had set up a small table under an umbrella and was hoping to sign up residents for their cable package. A helicopter made low passes over the plaza. City sanitation workers pushed around piles of garbage, pretending to work. In the midst of all of this, BOPE police were giving rides to kids on several horses as dozens of journalists snapped photos of the delighted children. Later in the afternoon, BOPE raised their flag alongside the Brazilian national flag in the middle of the plaza. With much pomp and circumstance, Complexo da Maré, the largest group of favelas in Rio de Janeiro, had officially begun the pacification process.[1]

Located in the sprawling, industrial northern zone of the city, Complexo da Maré is a cluster of 16 favelas with a population of roughly 130,000. It is a public security concern because it is home to several non-state armed actors (two separate gang factions and a militia) and is located at the intersection of three of the major traffic arteries that connect the international airport to the rest of the city. I have been residing in Maré for the past year conducting dissertation field research. This has allowed me the opportunity to witness BOPE operations first hand and interview residents and community leaders about the tenuous and shifting public security situation. I will argue that BOPE’s pattern of abusive tactics and violence comprised an overall strategy to threaten and terrorize these communities into submission in an effort to “retake” these favela territories. And while such a strategy may have produced more effective tactical operations and short-term results, it is counter-productive to the pacification process in the long run and requires a major reassessment by the public security apparatus moving forward. Continue reading

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Security in Brazil: World Cup 2014 and Beyond

Pacifying Rio’s Favelas: innovation, adaptation or continuity?

Photo: SEASDH - Secretaria de Assistência Social e Direitos Humanos, Rio de Janeiro

Photo: SEASDH – Secretaria de Assistência Social e Direitos Humanos, Rio de Janeiro

The editors of Anthropoliteia would like to welcome Ben Penglase with the latest entry in our developing forum, Security in Brazil: World Cup 2014 and Beyond.

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

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Security in Brazil: World Cup 2014 and Beyond

Security in Brazil: World Cup 2014 and Beyond

Riot police gather in front of a mural of the mascot for the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament, called Fuleco, near the Maracana stadium ahead of the Confederations Cup soccer final between Brazil and Spain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, June 30, 2013. (Source: AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

Riot police gather in front of a mural of the mascot for the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament, called Fuleco, near the Maracanã stadium ahead of the Confederations Cup soccer final between Brazil and Spain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, June 30, 2013. (Source: AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

The Editors of Anthropoliteia would like to welcome Stephanie Savell as guest editor of an invited developing Forum on Security in Brazil: World Cup 2014 and Beyond

The media is full of stories about Brazil, particularly stories of urban violence, protest, and police repression. Many news stories make the link to the upcoming June 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, wondering more or less explicitly whether such violence will affect the games and visitors to Brazil. Brazilian activists and citizens have been protesting the massive spending on infrastructure and highly visible public security measures being taken in preparation for the global games, asking, among other things, “What happens in 2017?”

In Rio de Janeiro, much controversy revolves around the flagship program known as “pacification,” in which state security forces wrest territorial control of favelas from drug gangs and install police posts in these informal settlements. I just spent the past year living in the “pacified” Complexo do Alemão, a sprawling favela notorious for its crime-related street violence. Here residents perceive an ongoing battle for control between police and the still present but now slightly more covert gangs, and many believe the gangs are gaining ground. In recent months, escalating violence has many in Rio wondering whether the pacification program will collapse.

From an anthropological viewpoint, the significance of how security in urban Brazil has been developing reaches far beyond what the media portrays as preparation for the games. Current trends must be understood in the context of a history of both repressive policing and alternative community policing programs in Brazil. There are pressing questions to be asked about the deployment of the military in urban neighborhoods and the use of private security firms and personnel to fill gaps in state capacity. Additionally, there are multiple dimensions of a broader understanding of the term “security” that are obscured by the focus on public security in the context of the forthcoming global sporting events. For example, many Brazilians protest the economic and social costs of hosting the games, at a time when the government fails to meet the basic needs of citizens, and as many favela residents are displaced by infrastructure projects and real estate interests. Unemployment, racism, gender disparities, suppression of popular uprisings, lack of freedom of the press, environmental precariousness, and the enforcement of state regulations in informal settlements are just a few of the insecurities at stake in pre- and post-World Cup security practices.

Anthropologists like myself, and ethnographers in other disciplines, have in recent years been investigating ever more closely how security is experienced, understood, and contested in the everyday lives of urban Brazilians. Through historical and ethnographic fieldwork, such analyses seek to characterize the forms of governance through which security emerges. In a timely discussion leading up to the June 2014 World Cup, several of us will take the opportunity to share posts as part of a special invited forum on Anthropoliteia to discuss and reflect on some of the issues of the contemporary security moment in Brazil and shed light on what takes place behind the news.

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