Brazil activists question favela policing

August 12, 2013

Paula Daibert – Al Jazeera, 08/10/2013

Almost one year after a “pacifying police unit” was established in Rocinha, one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest slums, questions are being raised over whether or not the state presence in an area formerly dominated by drug gangs is improving life for the local population.

Raquel Rolnik, professor at the University of São Paulo and UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, told Al Jazeera that special police units (UPPs) are a part of a broader policy aimed at preparing Rio for the World Cup and the Olympics.

“UPPs have mostly been implemented in favelas near the richest areas of the city. Rio’s urban project stimulates real estate investments,” she said.

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Focus on Indigenous peoples’ rights and police violence in Brazil

August 5, 2013

Amnesty International, 08/05/2013

Indigenous peoples’ rights and police violence are the focus of a High Level Mission (HLM) by Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty, this week in Brazil.

He will be meeting with top politicians and officials to discuss an array of human rights abuses and violations which need to be addressed.

“Given the deep stated commitment of the people and Government of Brazil to realising all human rights of all Brazilians and its growing importance on the international stage, it is imperative that Brazil takes concrete steps to improve the state of human rights in the country,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

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Poor, middle class unite in Brazil protests

June 28, 2013

Paula Ramon – CNN Mexico, 06/28/2013

During the past two weeks, millions of Brazilians have taken to the streets to protest years of dissatisfaction and discontent with their government. What started as a student mobilization transformed day by day to incorporate professionals, the middle class, and residents of the favelas, or slums.

All are joined in protest against the administration of President Dilma Rousseff, though their motivations may differ.

Some 6% of Brazilians live in the favelas, according to the 2010 census. These mountains of bricks, rising in intricate forms, border the country’s largest cities like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Hospitals, schools, security and an end to police abuse are the principle demands from this social sector.

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Nine killed in Brazil slum violence

June 26, 2013

Al Jazeera, 06/26/2013

At least nine people, including a police officer, have been killed in the Nova Holanda favela in Rio de Janeiro, authorities have said.

Authorities said on Tuesday the deaths occurred following a gun battle between police officers and criminals taking advantage of protests sweeping through the city to loot and steal.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent Adam Raney, reporting from the favela, said he saw blood splattered on the walls of the homes of the dead.

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It’s just the beginning; change will come

June 20, 2013

Theresa Williamson – The New York Times, 06/19/2013

Despite improvements in economic growth and reduced inequality of recent years, Brazil suffers from horribly inefficient public services, thanks to corruption and the lack of political will to prioritize their proper delivery. Transportation, education and health care are woefully inadequate. For example, though Brazil spends 5.7 percent of G.D.P. on education, two-thirds of Brazilian 15-year-olds are incapable of more than basic arithmetic. Brazil spends about 9 percent of G.D.P. on health, yet ranks lower than comparable economies in Latin America on infant mortality, life expectancy and a range of other indicators. All this while we spend $20 billion on the World Cup, more than the past three World Cups combined.

Transportation has been the banner of this movement and rightfully so. It represents mobility in the most literal sense. Rio and São Paulo have some of the highest bus fares in the world.

The largest protest so far was in Rio de Janeiro on Monday, where grave misspending in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics is rife. At least $27 billion will be spent on the Olympics, all in Rio. The authorities’ city “plan” is taking advantage of the mega-events to institute policies under the guise of “integration” and “poverty reduction.” In reality, however, they are fueling the expulsion of the city’s low-income groups, especially residents of the city’s favela communities to the urban periphery. Many of these favelas are thriving neighborhoods that have provided centrally located affordable housing to people for decades.

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Rio, the olympic city, is a hub for progress in Brazil

June 19, 2013

Maria Paula Schmidt Carvalho – Quarterly Americas, 06/19/2013

If you walk today through Complexo do Alemão—an enormous Rio de Janeiro shantytown, or favela, that was once the frequent scene of gun battles—you can see the changes.  Last Christmas eve, the Brazilian Symphony performed a classical music concert in the community that, until recently, was so dangerous that police were afraid to enter it. People in the neighborhood, many of whom had never been to a concert before, were delighted.

To reach the neighborhood, you can now take the newly-installed cable car that resembles a gondola at an Alpine ski resort. Not only does it spare you the long climb in hot December weather—it offers a terrific view high above the 3.5 square kilometer neighborhood where 69,000 people live. The glass window reveals a giant and densely populated favela composed of poor houses unevenly distributed along narrow streets and small corridors. It is a unique and complex human map of haphazard paths and supply lines for water, electricity and gas.

The new cable car—which cost the Brazilian public $105 million—is part of the Brazilian federal government’s Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento (Growth Acceleration Program—PAC), a huge urbanization project that has taken place in Rio’s poor communities. The cable car was constructed to make Complexo do Alemão more accessible. “The lift is a blessing for the ones who live at the top of the community. Now we feel free,” said Teresinha Maria de Oliveira, a washerwoman who has lived in the favela for decades.

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Rio police tackle favelas as World Cup looms

June 11, 2013

Jonathan Watts – The Guardian, 06/10/2013

It was perhaps not the wisest question to a gangland boss: how good is your gun?

“These guns are the best,” said the Red Command patrão (neighbourhood boss), patting a Glock pistol with an extended 32-bullet clip. “I’ll show you.” With that, he pointed the barrel to the sky and let off a volley of half a dozen shots. “Do you understand now?”

The crackle of gunfire might have sparked consternation in many countries, but in this gang-controlled favela in the north of Rio de Janeiro, the sound was so commonplace that passersby barely broke stride. Three young gang members with Glocks and walkie-talkies looked up briefly and then continued chatting on the white plastic chairs that served as their sentry post. Drug users in the nearby crack den failed to stir at all. The police were nowhere in sight.

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Brazil slum housing needs lcoal solutions and long-term renovation

January 3, 2013

Demostenes Moraes, Katerina Bezgachina – The Guardian, 01/03/2013

In October 2012 citizens across Brazil followed the news as police officers, backed by armoured cars and helicopters, moved to take control of two Rio de Janeiro slums notorious for drug crime. These raids were part of a policy known as “pacification”, designed to help state authorities gain a greater presence in the country’s shantytowns. At the same time, Brazil has been trying to clean up its most dangerous regions ahead of the 2014 football World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.

It’s no secret that slums and informal settlements are one of the biggest global housing problems and as the rate of urbanisation continues to rise we will face even bigger challenges in our largest cities. Recent surveys ranked São Paulo as the 10th most expensive city in the world, with Rio de Janeiro in 12th position. At the same time, Brazil has up to 8 million fewer residential properties than it needs, with the poorest communities feeling the impact of this housing deficit.

It is estimated that more than 50 million Brazilians live in inadequate housing. Most of these families have an income below the minimum wage of R$675 (about US$330) a month. Roughly 26 million people living in urban areas lack access to potable water, 14 million have no refuse collection service and 83 million are not connected to sewerage systems.

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Brazil gang’s slaughter of police sparks fightback

November 26, 2012

Shasta Darlington – CNN, 11/25/2012

Marta Umbelina pulled up in front of her house with her 11-year-old daughter. When she stepped out of the car, she was shot 10 times in the back.

Umbelina was an office worker at Sao Paulo’s Military Police Northern Command — and she is one of nearly 100 cops murdered in Sao Paulo this year, roughly 50 percent higher than 2011.

Most were ambushed while off duty, part of a deadly battle between police and Brazil’s biggest criminal gang, the First Command of the Capital or PCC by its Portuguese acronym.

“Marta was my friend, my colleague, she knew everything about me,” said Simone Mello, a police officer who worked with Marta at a desk job.

“Why her? Why Marta? We’re just very sad,” she said.

In a bid to rein in the PCC, Sao Paulo launched Operation Saturation at the end of October.

The government sent at least 500 police troops into the city’s biggest shantytown Paraisopolis, or Paradise City.

They arrested dozens of alleged gang leaders, confiscated arms and drugs and even found a list with the names and addresses of 40 military police on it.

But police aren’t the only casualties in this escalating war.

The number of homicides in Sao Paulo has jumped to almost 1,000 so far this year, largely concentrated in favelas or slums. For January to October 2011 there were 869 homicides, according to Sao Paulo government figures.

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Mean streets, revisited

November 19, 2012

The Economist, 11/17/2012

BETWEEN 1999 and 2011 São Paulo’s murder rate fell by almost three-quarters, turning what had been one of Brazil’s most dangerous states into one of its safest. Now the violence is rising again. In the past two months more than 300 people have died in the state capital in an undeclared war between police and the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC), a drugs gang, twice the tally for the same period last year. More than 90 police officers have been slain since January; the total for 2011 was 56. This year looks certain to close with the state murder rate back at over ten per 100,000 residents: epidemic level.

At first the state government claimed the rise in killings was a blip. It refused to mention the PCC, apparently for fear of glamorising it or causing panic. That made it look complacent. In October the federal justice minister said he had offered São Paulo reinforcements, but been refused. They were not needed, huffed Antonio Ferreira Pinto, the state’s prickly security secretary. His federal counterpart, Regina Miki, suggested that São Paulo should learn from Rio de Janeiro, which uses federal forces to expel gangsters from its lawless favelas (though Rio’s murder rate remains double São Paulo’s).

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