Forum Opens Tense, Crucial Dialogue for UPP Reform in Complexo do Alemão

Secretary of security and resident have a heated discussion.

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Residents of Complexo do Alemão, community leaders, researchers, government officials, members of civil society and journalists came together last Thursday, April 9 to discuss recent conflicts in Complexo do Alemão and debate solutions for the extreme violence that has become routine in the community. The forum was organized by the newspaper O Dia, in partnership with the Center for Studies of Citizen Security (CESec) and the Institute for Religious Studies (ISER).

Around 200 people attended the meeting in Glória, in the South Zone of Rio. The event lasted four hours and welcomed around 30 residents of Complexo do Alemão. The meeting was live-streamed on the Viva ONG Rio YouTube channel and can be watched in its entirety here.

While the success of the Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) program varies from community to community, the situation of urban violence and police brutality in Complexo do Alemão is particularly worrying after three months of constant conflict since the beginning of the year. The forum took place a week after the killing of 10-year-old Eduardo de Jesus Ferreira, who was shot in the head by a UPP policeman at his own doorstep, and a period of 24 hours in which at least five people were killed by police.

The forum room slowly filling up.

The forum was mediated by O Dia journalist André Balocco and began with a moment of silence for Eduardo and other residents recently killed. The subject of debate quickly turned towards the lack of social programs and support from the government in Complexo do Alemão. Lúcia Cabral from the Center of Defense of Human Rights and founder of the NGO Educap discussed how social and cultural programs continue to struggle as the government spends money dispatching more police to the community, leaving social work to be handled by NGOs already lacking funding. Lúcia emphasized how social programs for youth are vital in inspiring younger generations and keeping them away from drug trafficking, emphasizing that they are “a path for building a healthier young population.” Many community members also agreed that social programs serve as a preventative measure against violence in the community.

Alan Brum Pinheiro, community leader and director of the Instituto Raízes em Movimento, also addressed the severe scarcity of social programs and presented proposals that had been agreed on by the community during months of consultation for public investments that never arrived under the PAC (federal Growth Acceleration Program). The proposals called for sanitation projects, the construction of the IFRJ university campus in Complexo do Alemão, and the improvement of Parque Serra da Misercórdia.

The atmosphere in the room became tense when a resident of Complexo do Alemão recounted her daily difficulties with the UPP and her worries as a mother living in a militarized community. Residents then reported that a curfew has been established by UPP policemen and that some public spaces have been occupied by the police, making it impossible for residents to make use of what is theirs by right. According to the residents who spoke, businesses must be closed by 10pm and people are not free to circulate in the community after that time. This has posed a huge problem for workers and students who cannot go about their daily lives with this restriction. Alan Brum emphasized this as a breach in human rights as “the young are being deprived of their right to come and go.”

In addition to this curfew, residents criticized the UPP’s occupation of cultural and educational spaces. Raull Santiago of Coletivo Papo Reto described how soccer games, cultural events, and even school-related events have been restricted by the UPP commander. Junior Perim of Circo Crescer and Viver added that the UPP often forbids events that have already been allowed by state and federal government. Eduardo Alves from Observatório de Favelas added that it is the job of the police to keep people on the streets safe, not to take people off the streets to ensure safety.

Daiene from Voz das Comunidades speaks.

Frustration with the Military Police was expressed by several residents, including Daiene Mendes from the internationally acclaimed Alemão community newspaper Voz das Comunidades who expressed her feelings of fear every time a policeman is near. Alves declared that the presence of so many police units and firearms indicates a society of insecurity and fear. Raull Santiago raised another complicated issue, suggesting that the UPPs have been abandoned by the State and that they too must re-evaluate their role in the favela. Instead of enforcing more rules on residents, the UPP should rethink who and what are the real problems in Complexo do Alemão. The UPP must also realize that one of the largest issues today is the lack of support from the State in favela pacification programs.

The tension reached its peak when activist and resident Leonardo Silva from the Ocupa Alemão collective interrupted a UPP officer, who was making a speech about how residents should call out drug traffickers, to express his anger at the hypocrisy of the police: “Our group’s conclusion is that the UPP must leave Alemão. Until you arrest criminals on Presidente Vargas (the main thoroughfare through the downtown and City Hall)… traffickers are on Presidents Vargas! Traffickers are in the Military Police! Traffickers are in the State government! I want the police out of the favela! There are no traffickers in the favela, there are (only) distributors!… And unless you are going to arrest people there, I want the police out! Because I am the one paying the price, my friends are paying the price! Eduardo paid the price, his family paid the price! I am not going to wait for the police to demilitarize. I’m not going to wait for this police that was created over a century ago to end popular revolt, and which continues doing this and what it does today in the favela… You fix up your mess and once you do we can talk again! But until then, yes, I want you out of the favela!”

Colonel Robson speaks.

Throughout the meeting, speakers continued to question the absence of state regulation and involvement in the UPP program. President of Amnesty International Brazil Atila Roque accused the state and federal governments of sustaining a shameful silence throughout recent events in Complexo do Alemão and expressed disappointment in the lack of apologies to the families of people killed.

Alan Brum spoke of the contradicting UPP police discourses, in which officers say they represent the State and are there to enforce the law in communities, but then allege they lack the power to offer solutions to residents’ demands for improvements in their community. Many residents suggested the UPP officers have very little guidance from a state that has given them roles they are unable to fill.

Secretary of security speaks.

Overall, the forum proved successful in revealing specific issues Complexo do Alemão residents would like to see addressed, as well as identifying key areas in which communication between the UPP and residents can be fixed. Colonel Robson Rodrigues, chief of the Military Police was present and apologized for the recent killings. Adilson Pires proposed a meeting in Complexo do Alemão within the next two weeks and Teresa Cosentino, Secretary of Social Assistance, promised two forums for both Complexo do Alemão and Maré with all secretaries of state present. Pedro Strozenberg, of ISER, suggested a series of workshops to develop proposals for the state government. He emphasized that both residents and the UPP officers are victims in the current situation and that it is important to work together collaboratively.

At the end of the event, Santiago illustrated the complexities in the current relationship between the UPP officers and residents of Complexo do Alemão: “When people arrive at a protest and say “Out with the UPP!”, you can be sure they aren’t looking at any one of you in particular and wanting one of you to die. They want other things, that more services arrive in the Complexo do Alemão. And there is no need for weapons in the middle of ideas and dialogue.”

Ways to Take Action On Topics Raised Above

Watch the full 4-hour debate in Portuguese to learn more

Petition to formalize and protect the State Park Serra da Misericórdia [by Alemão community ecology group Verdejar]

Vote for Coletivo Papo Reto for this year’s The BOBS (Best of Online Activism) award, to grow visibility and public recognition of their struggle

Like and Follow Instituto Raízes em Movimento, Coletivo Papo Reto, VerdejarOcupa AlemãoObservatório de Favelas, Voz das Comunidades, Amnesty International Brasil