As World Cup Ends, UPP Stalled & Army Occupation Continues in Maré

Three months have passed since the occupation of the 16 favelas that make up the Complexo da Maré. The occupation by the army is a first step towards establishing a Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) in the complex, to complete the 40 UPPs the state government promised by the end of 2014. While referred to as the Pacification Force, the armed forces currently occupying Maré should not be confused with the UPPs implemented in other favelas. The UPPs comprise specially trained police officers from the Rio de Janeiro State’s Military Police, and recruits all come directly from the police academy. Despite its limitations, the program’s stated goal is to build trust and peace, promoting inclusion. The army, on the other hand, follows a strict military logic.

Occupation versus Pacification

Maré first heard rumors that they were to receive the UPP in 2012, with announcements of a forthcoming occupation since March 2013. Concerned by the ambiguous UPP experiences reported in other favelas, residents and civil society organizations in Maré started to prepare.

According to Raquel Willadino from Observatório de Favelas,“We did not want to be in a place of reacting to policies, we wanted to be in a place of constructing policies.” The Observatório, together with Redes da Maré and other local organizations, launched a campaign called “We Are from Maré, and We Have Rights.” The campaign sought to open up a channel of communication between social movements at the local level and representatives of the government. It also informed residents of their rights, especially in the context of police searches on the streets or in their homes. The goal was to prepare the community for the entrance of the police and “affirm security as a right,” which historically has not been provided for those living in favelas.

From the announcement that Maré was to receive a UPP in 2012 up until today, the process has been characterized by uncertainty and a complete lack of transparency. The occupation of Maré was postponed several times. When it was finally announced for this year, it came in a different form than that which the community had envisioned and prepared for–as a military occupation with the support of the armed forces. According to Willadino, the occupation by the army was a great setback, reinforcing militarization by the government. In the initial 15 days of the occupation, 16 were killed and 162 were arrested.

Military State of Exception

The troops currently stationed in Maré are referred to as the “Pacification Forces,” but the logic that governs them is a military one. In practice, a military state of exception has been installed, with serious consequences for the daily lives and routines of the area’s 130,000 residents. President Dilma Rousseff signed a decree authorizing the use of the federal troops through the Law and Order Guarantee (GLO). The GLO gives police powers to the armed forces. That is, they have permission to patrol the streets, interrogate and make arrests.

There have been frequent denouncements of violations since the occupation, especially in terms of illegal searches. According to the Brazilian Constitution, a warrant or just cause is needed to question people on the streets or enter their homes. The “We Are from Maré and We Have Rights” campaign distributed material to residents explaining the legal framework. Under the current state of exception, these rights are put on hold. Resident Lídia Felix tells a story of a man that presented the troops with the campaign material when his home was invaded, and was forced to eat it. Others report illegal searches that have left residents’ homes completely ransacked.

While there is no official curfew, residents state there is an unofficial one. After 9 or 10 pm, anybody in the streets is subjected to interrogation or frisking, “since whoever walks the streets at night in a favela can’t possibly be up to any good,” according to resident Lydia Castro. She claims that the right to come and go has been weakened since the occupation. Lídia Felix, agrees, stating that “there is no security. What there is, is a great insecurity.”

One of the repeated arguments used by the government to justify the occupation of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro is to liberate these communities from drug traffickers. They also claim to bring peace and public safety. However, even after the occupation, community media and civil society organizations in Maré residents frequently post warnings of ongoing shoot-outs on their Facebook pages. A couple of weeks ago, RioOnWatch witnessed the open sale of drugs in the streets right in front of officers from the army. These issues make people question the true intentions of the government. Why are they here? Why now?

The Timing

The initial decree stated that the army would exit Maré on July 31, which happens to coincide with the period in which tourists will exit the city after the World Cup. A transition period was then to replace the army with newly graduated UPP officers. However, less than one month before the scheduled exit of the army, Maré has still not received any news as to how and when this transition process will be initiated. The latest announcement is that the army will remain until October, coinciding with the end of the elections. One can hardly ignore the strategic timing of the occupation.

Many residents are under the impression that the occupation is a government strategy to control the area and just keep the peace during the World Cup. According to Lydia: “What happened in Maré was just a grand cover-up operation, and very badly done at that (…) It is a grand cover-up, not just in Maré, but in all favelas.”

UPP and Hopes for the Future

Continuing shoot-outs and the open sale of drugs are not exclusive to Maré. Residents in some favelas that have received UPPs report the same issues. Notorious police violence also continues in some UPP communities; the UPP police has killed more than 30 people so far. Other denouncements include torture, extortion and corruption. It is becoming increasingly difficult to see how the UPP program can be distanced from previous police interventions in the favelas.

Like most, if not all favelas, Maré needs desperately improved relations between the police and the residents. One year has passed since the “Maré Massacre,” a deadly police operation that left 9 dead in one night. Residents are still awaiting the results of the investigation. An explanation as to what happened that night is not only important for the families and the community to be able to move on, it is also important for the city itself–to serve as a “worst case” scenario of what must not happen again. Raquel Willadino however fears that most of these deaths will be characterized as so-called “acts of resisting arrest,” which in practice relieves the police of any culpability.

With a history marked by such tragedy and violence and the complete lack of transparency over the occupation so far, Maré residents have legitimate concerns with the current army occupation and what will happen when the UPP is installed in the future.

Thaís Cavalcante, Maré resident and director of the local newspaper O Cidadão, is pessimistic as to whether the UPP will improve relations between the police and residents in the future. “I don’t think so,” she says. “I think that as time passes, they [UPP] are only proving themselves more inefficient.”

Security Policies that Go Beyond Policing

The UPP program is supposed to break with the historic framing of the favelas as external, enemy territories controlled by the parallel power of the drug traffickers. Employing the national army to execute a military occupation of a territory within the city does not dissociate from this past. Neither does the tight control over other aspects of community life, such as constraints as to when, where and what kind of parties residents can arrange. The process appears more one of colonializing an external territory and population rather than a process of inclusion.

Maré is however not a passive recipient of this model of public security that seems designed to protect the rest of the city and tourists from them rather than to provide residents with security. The community has a well-organized civil society that continuously works to influence and improve security policies and public services.

When the pacification came in a form they did not want or agree with, the community organized a public meeting with the state public security secretary, José Mariano Beltrame, on Thursday, April 4. They presented him with a protocol that was collectively composed by Maré residents and social movements, which listed several demands in order to improve police-resident relations. In the months that have passed since the occupation, they have held meetings with other government agencies in areas such as health and education. In the words of Raquel: “It needs to be a process that keeps moving forward, towards the construction of integrated public policies. It is essential that public security is comprehended and designed in a way that goes beyond just the police.”