As beautiful as the country is, Brazil has suffered for decades from the creation and development of shantytowns, known to locals as favelas, where poverty, violence and anarchy frequently dictate a ruthless way of life. The absence of state presence in the communities has made of favelas perfect centers for drug trafficking and violence. Major cities throughout the country, especially in the state of Rio de Janeiro, have fallen victims of this troubling situation.
In a desperate attempt to establish some form of security, a couple of years ago, Rio de Janeiro’s authorities created the state’s Pacifying Police Units (UPP), which have been welcome by the local and neighboring communities. UPPs have been established in 13 slums, and have been coupled with other efforts intended to bring basic services to the local communities. The objective is to provide favelas with safety and basic services, in order to reduce local violence and relentless drug-trafficking crimes. As a result, it appears that after decades of negligence and chaos, favelas may soon join the country’s socioeconomic progress, but not without a fight.
Favela Lords are showcasing their tactics, designed to remind everyone of their power and ability to be violent. It has become evident that they will not be displaced without bloodshed. In the last few weeks, Favela Lords have created havoc in their own towns. Indeed, in a huge sign of defiance, on Nov. 21, 2010 they began a series of attacks against the local inhabitants and police. Up until last week, well over 100 vehicles had been burned and dozens of people had been hurt and attacked.Their objective is to instill fear in the community in order to retain control of the favelas.
State’s police even had to call for the assistance of the nation’s Armed Forces. Together, they have carried out numerous raids in the last couple of weeks. As a result, over 40 tons of marijuana, 40 kilos of cocaine and heavy armament has been seized by the authorities. At least 50 people have already died.
Although military intervention may have its justification, it is important to remember that the local population has no place to escape from the atrocities plaguing their neighborhoods, and that casualties of conflict may very well happen.
Without a doubt, local communities will need help. To this end, Rio de Janeiro’s mayor, Mr. Eduardo Paes, has already said that as soon as the military operation is completed, the state will provide a set of social services to the communities affected by the conflict, including public schools, hospitals and sports facilities. We applaud such comments and look forward to monitoring the rhetoric turn into concrete acts.
The reality of live in favelas is saddening. As a Brazilian citizen, I feel particularly close to the conflict… I can only hope that the efforts designed to plant a sense of security and progress will be effective. It is time to give the entire city, not just those living outside the confines of the favelas, access to basic goods and human rights.