The favela pacification process is well under way in Rio’s favelas–the process of reclaiming territory once run by drug gangs such as The Comando Vermelho, Terceiro Comando, and Amigos dos Amigos. The Rio state government says it will have pacified “40 [favela] communities by the 2014 World Cup and another 60 by the 2016 Olympics.” It’s been about a year since Favela da Rocinha got its own UPP (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora) when the BOPE invaded the hill and captured leaders of the Amigos dos Amigos drug trafficking gang. Now, pacification in Rocinha has taken a turn as yet unreported in other favelas: comprehensive video surveillance. For the past for months Rocinha has been under the watchful eye of 80 closed circuit cameras operated continuously by UPP officers on shifts in a control center located on Rocinha’s Rua 2.
At the inauguration of Rocinha’s new UPP outpost, Rio Governor Sérgio Cabral said that “Pacification is a process. The criminal elements will continue trying to control the area and making advances.” But that, “Before, the police were the invadors. In a recent episode, in which we lost an officer, it was the opposite, a criminal tried to invade Rocinha. The Police will be here from now on, just like in São Conrado, just like in Leblon.” They may well be: all 700 of them. Of these, twenty will trade 12 hours shifts, manning the cameras’ monitors watching nearly everything that goes on in public in Rocinha.
One resident told Terra, ”It’s a little strange to step into the street and know that someone is watching me, But since there used to be a lot of drug dealing here before, I don’t find it too bad. We who have children out in the street get worried, so, If all this is to increase public security, then it’s OK.”
The most critical resident quoted said, “It’s a bit of an invasion.” Sure it is. How could it no be? Isn’t everyone a bit creeped out security cameras? But he then softened quite a bit: “But if you’re not guilty you won’t worry. Go ahead and film. It’s all good.”
It certainly makes one wonder: Are the residents really that good of sports? It sounds a bit too good to be true. Could it be on some level fear of the new boss behaving the same as the old boss, only with official government sanction? The official line from the police is that Rocinha’s terrain and dense population make the cameras necessary and that the system serves as much for traffic and general safety purposes as for crime.
While the residents of the favelas quoted in reports are roundly in favor of the monitoring, Eliana Sousa Silva, founder of Observatório de Favelas and Redes da Maré two non-profit organizations devoted to studying favelas and advocating on their behalf, has a somewhat different story to tell. Sousa Silva conducted a study of perceptions among three groups: favela residents, law enforcement officials and members of illegally armed groups. She reports that, “I detected a rift between and a lack of dialogue among these three protagonists, and and strong prejudice on the part of law enforcement in relation to the favela residents that leads to a distorted vision of the people who live there [favelas], as though the whole community was infiltrated by illegal activity.
This narrative makes a bit more sense, or at least offers a bit more nuance to the pacification process and can inform us in how residents might feel privately and how they might possibly redact their sentiments on record. After all, the rocky relationship between law enforcement and favela residents is no secret. And plenty has been written on the sticky issues of poverty and perceptions, prejudices, and stereotypes on the part of those let in and those left out of mainstream society by poverty and class.
Favela residents are acutely aware of the prejudices they face on the part of the public at large and they would indeed be quite forgiving to simply trust implicitly the intentions and good will of the officers in charge of monitoring them on such a thorough scale. My experience with the residents feelings on the Pacification phenomenon revealed mixed results at best.
While in Santa Marta, the first Favela Carioca to be pacified, residents told me that the drug trade was still there, it had simply gone out of sight. They found that the UPP was somewhat less effective in this sense. Then again, if as the Brazilian magazine Época reports indices of violent crime are on the decline in São Paulo and Rio largely due to the UPPs. The same report indicates a study that found murder rate decreased as a result not of the disappearance of drug trafficking but of traffickers taking their trade indoors and out of site.
Perhaps with a clear (and meticulous) line of vision on crime, Rocinha’s UPP will succeed in making Rocinha safer for residents. Perhaps The UPP has won the hearts of residents such that those quoted in news reports do somewhat reflect the overall sense in the community. But even with this sense of optimism, at what point will enough surveillance be enough? We have to wonder when Rocinha will in fact be treated like Leblon or São Conrado, where the police have yet to install surveillance cameras and where the perceptions and prejudices are more favorable between residents and law enforcement. It is, of course, necessary and good to have a permanent police presence. Just how permanent, remains to be determined.