Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

O'Neil analyzes developments in Latin America and U.S. relations in the region.

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Pacifying Rio's Favelas

by Shannon K. O'Neil
December 6, 2010

UPP/credits: Gabriel RochaI was interviewed by Globo TV’s “Sem Fronteiras” about strategies to fight crime and drug violence across some of Latin America’s largest cities.

The interview is available here.

Last month, when Rio de Janeiro’s two main drug gangs began hijacking and torching vehicles at gunpoint, the police, backed by marines and armoured vehicles, pushed into Complexo do Alemão, a cluster of favelas in the north of the city. At dawn on November 28th police and troops went in and took control after a firefight that killed 37 people.

After years of escalating violence and crime spilling out of its over 1,000 favelas, in 2008 Rio embarked on a more holistic approach to fight crime.  Community-based Police Pacification Units (UPPs) combine trust-building in individual communities, through the use of street patrols and civic work.

UPPs are operating in 13 favelas today, covering 200,000 people. Another 27 are planned by 2014. Crimes in pacified favelas have fallen drastically, but perhaps even more importantly, the UPPs send a sign to favela residents that there’s the political will to extend them the rights of citizenship.

Medellin offers some lessons for the next steps. After bringing security to violent, peripheral barrios and recovering public spaces, Medellin mobilized the private sector and civil society to support government efforts to break down the barriers separating these marginalized communities from the rest of the city.

My forthcoming article with Dora Beszterczey in the Americas Quarterly discusses these issues in greater detail (published in January 2011).

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