Policing for hearts and minds in the favelas

Paul Raven @ 13-04-2010

In Rio de Janiero, the authorities are moving to liberate favelas from the control of drug-traffiking gangs, demonstrating an advanced understanding not only of what causes this sort of social fragmentation, but also the realistic limits of what they can hope to achieve [via Chairman Bruce]:

The occupation of the Morro da Providência is the latest phase of a pioneering government “pacification” project that aims to liberate hundreds of thousands of Rio slum dwellers, replacing violent drug gangs with a permanent, hearts and minds-style police presence.

Seven of Rio’s 1,000-odd favelas have been occupied in the last 18 months as part of the pacification scheme, among them the City of God favela that gained international notoriety in Fernando Meirelles’ hit film.

By the end of 2010 authorities say 59 favelas will have benefited from the fledgling pacification units, freeing an estimated 210,000 people from the rule of Rio’s gangs. Between now and 2016, when Rio hosts the Olympics, dozens more occupations are planned.

[…]

Rio’s authorities make little secret of the fact that their aim is to reclaim hundreds of slums from the control of armed drug gangs, rather than to stamp out drug trafficking altogether.

“We cannot guarantee that we will put an end to drug trafficking nor do we have the pretension of doing so,” said Beltrame. “[The idea is] to break the paradigm of territories that are controlled by traffickers with weapons of war. Our concrete objective is [to ensure] that a citizen can come and go [in a favela] as he pleases, that public or private services can get in there whenever they want.”

The cynic in me suspects that the freedom of public and private services is of greater importance than that of the citizens… but even so, it remains to be seen whether the centralised power of policing can conquer the networked power of the gangs. We’ll see the police become more gang-like, I think, if they last the course, and the gangs may become more police-like; the methods are a response to the territory. [image by anthony_goto]

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