As mentioned in a previous post, Santa Marta is the first favela to be “liberated” (2008) by the UPP (Unidade Pacificadora da Policia), part of Rio’s Security Secretariat (SESG/RJ). Following is the official definition/philosophy takenfrom the UPP’s official website: www.upprj.com

We want Police officers with both technical and humanitarian formation.” – Security Secretary José Mariano Beltrame

“The Pacifier Police Division (UPP) is a new model of Public Security and policing that intends to bring police and population closer together, as well as to strengthen social policies inside communities. By reestablishing control over areas that for decades were occupied by traffic and, recently, also by militias, the UPPs bring peace to communities like Morro Santa Marta (Botafogo – South zone); Cidade de Deus (Jacarepaguá – West zone); Jardim Batam (Realengo – West zone) and Morro da Babilônia e Chapéu Mangueira (Leme – South zone) […] Created by the current administration of Rio’s Security Department, the UPPs work with the principle of the Communitarian Police. Communitarian Police is a concept and a strategy based on the partnership between the population and public security institutions. Rio’s government is investing R$ 15 million (US$ 8 million) in the qualification of the Police Academy, so that by 2016 the contingent will have been enlarged by 60 thousand officers. Until 2010, 3.5 thousand new officers will be sent to the Pacifier Divisions.”

[If you click on the website’s link- you will see the latest news on UPPs, as well as get an overview of the existing operations and”liberated” territories)

A large problem in the favela is the abuse from the part of the police. These booklets are produced and distributed by the community organization (Associação de Moradores) with the help of NGOs

Accompanying this police domination, or “security intervention” as it is more officially called, comes a set of physical improvements and other interventions in the favela. First of all, once the drug dealers hand-in their armament, or escape (which is not to say that all drug related activities stop- they continue to happen unarmed and potentially in a less aggressive manner), the UPP begins to establish a set of police stations along the favela. In the case of Santa Marta, the police is present at both entrances/exits (top and bottom of the mountain) as well as along various posts along the favela. In addition to this high surveillance strategy and the physical police presence, there was a a containment strategy that followed in order to limit and restrict the favela’s growth and lateral connections with the city.

Approaching Santa Marta

Water and Police Station at the "top" of the morro Santa Marta

Following are a set the physical improvements such as connections and circulation systems, basic services, public lighting, some housing and sports equipment…

Walls built for containment and control

Public lighting, walkways and stairs

New housing-2stories for 2 houses (one over the other). These are all painted in bright colors adding to the visibility and beautification of the settlement. In addition, the streets adjacent to this houses are named showing an attempt of regularization...

Untouched house adjacent to the new housing (which is all located around the same area-problably since the previous housing was "at risk")

One of the two soccer fields constructed for the favela

Santa Marta main mobility system is the Monoriel, a free rail-car service located on the edge of the favela. The monoriel has 5 stations total going up the mountain, stopping some distance from the top of the cliff.

It is important to note that the physical improvements do not continue past this 5th monoriel stop, even though the favela does. Needless to say some for the conditions on top of the morro are quite difficult, specifically due to the large disconnection, distances and steep slopes that settlers have to face.

At the top of the morro, above the fifth monoriel station... (phtographs on the right taken by the Laboratorio de Redes Urbanas-IPPUR-UFRJ).

Santa Marta originally became famous by Michael Jackson’s video: “They don’t care about us.” Today, working with or in favelas has apparently become a new trend and is now being followed by artists such as Modonna, Byonce, etc. Back to Michael, the video is very interesting to watch; apart from the musical value (who doesn’t love MJ?), we can see glimpses of the conditions in the favela pre-UPP…


I want to finish on a small side note, focusing on a development that I saw from the top of Santa Marta. As I have mentioned various times before, and as I am sure you have heard various times, the majority of Rio’s favela’s have priviledged views of the city, equaling that of the Cristo Rendentor’s and other famous overlooks around the city. Santa Marta is not an exception to this.

Not to deviate from my point, as I was admiring the view at the 5th monoriel station, I came across, in a hill facing Santa Marta, what seemed to be a “more organized” favela. I zoomed in with my camera, snapped a photograph and saw, to my surprise and somewhat my deception, that what I was looking at was not a favela but a formal building imitating the aesthetics of the favela!?!

Although it was comical as an initial reaction, this building is problematic as it an aesthetization of poverty. It is quite bluntly  reflecting a formal interpretation of the informal; a constructed reality of what “the other” is or should be. Solely based on the visual properties of the settlement, this interpretation remains completely disconnected and separate from the logic of the favela as well as from the values and uses its residents embed in its form (a form which many times resides in the lack of choice). It is not a mystery that architecture possesses an unequivocal social and cultural power to produce representations of the world through built form. That said, we must be conscious of the fact that within these interventions, regardless of their initial intention will result in the aesthetization and theming of poverty. How can architects address the favela without dismissing it as a “slum” and without aestheticizing poverty and transforming it to a theme park?

15 thoughts on ““Liberated” Santa Marta

  1. Loving your blog ! Are the booklets passed out by the community organization in specific response to UPP abuse ? Or, generalized police abuse ?

    Did you have a chance to speak with any locals about their opinions of the UPP ?

    Keep up the good work 🙂

    • Hi Ryan,
      Thanks for the comment. The booklets are in fact passed out in response to UPP abuse… and the poster “Big Brother Santa Marta” produced by community organization says it all with respect to the opinion people (favela residents) have with respect to the UPP. If you are interested, there is a research group focusing on Santa Marta at the UFRJ ( The Federal University in Rio)- the main professor is Mauro Kleiman and the group is called the Laboratorio de Redes Urbanas (IPPUR).

  2. Dear Adriana,

    I just found your blog on the internet and was really amazed because as a Master student of Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam (Holland) I am starting to do my research on exactly the issues you are mentioning in your blog! I am willing to investigate the consequences of the presence of the UPP for the residents of Santa Marta. I just arrived in Rio de Janeiro a week ago and yesterday I entered for the first time Santa Marta. I was wondering if you were still doing your research at the moment in Santa Marta and we could meet to talk about your ideas and mine. I will leave you with my email and telephone number here in Rio, sannekiwi@hotmail.com and 71080481. I hope to hear from you! Abrços, Sanne Maessen!

    • Hi Sanne,
      It is an interesting topic for research- especially today where the UPP is gaining so much momentum. I am no longer in Rio, but I will be heading back there in October if you are still around.
      Regarding Santa Marta, I know that there is a group of students in the UFRJ (the Federal University in Rio) that are doing a research there and would be happy to help. The research group is called: Laboratorio de Redes Urbanas ( department of IPPUR-UFRJ).
      Good luck and I would be interested in knowing what you find out- please keep in touch!

  3. I am an English journalist (ex BBC World Service) now living in Mexico some of the time, but knew Santa Marta fairly well in the 1970s, when, together with a photojournalist from Manchete, Klaus Gunther, I visited it and was befriended by a macumbeira, Dona Batuca, with whom I became good friends. Klaus and I took part in a number of umbanda ceremonies in the terreiro under her home. She was an inspirational, wonderful woman, and the favelados were wonderfully warm and vibrant people. The last time I visited, in 1982, (while on a completely unconnected asignment), I discovered that she had died the previous year. The favela was not that different from how it was when I first got to know it. This was before the drugs violence really kicked in. In all my many visits there over those years, including times when I stayed over, I never felt any kind of threat, despite my obvious differentness.

  4. Dear Adriana,
    I am a Polish journalist on her way to Brasil. I travel there quite often as my family have a permanent residence in the north- east, near Fortaleza,CE.
    This year we are going back and forth via Rio de Janeiro and I would like to take the opportunity and talk to somebody there about the upgrading process of the city, which was triggered by the Copa and the Olympics preparations.
    My problem is that my Portugese is pretty bad and I am looking for an interesting partner to talk to who speaks English at the same time. I found your great blog while preparing to my article. I wonder whether you could help me and contact me (perhaps via e-mail) with somebody (or somebodies) in Rio who might want to spend an hour with me talking about the City. I will be there for example in the middle of August.

    Best regards,
    Monika Libicka
    Newsweek Poland
    ul. Dygasińskiego 43
    01- 603 Warsaw, POLAND
    mob. +48 606 129 880

  5. Hi,

    i am doing my fieldwork here in Santa Marta. I am architect and urban planner at the moment analising informal pulic spaces in favela Santa Marta, and trying to look for posibilities to integrate them to the city urban fabric. Ar you passing here on your way back. I am here till the end of September. It would be really nice to meet you, if you will be around.


    • Hi Elena and Adriana,

      I am also an architecture student doing some research into Favela Upgrading and would love to meet up with you in Rio and discuss teh research you and i are undertaking, sharing ideas etc. I am in Rio until 16 September, currently staying in botafogo.

      If you want to meet to have a chat about the research it would be great, either messgae me back on the blog or my email is a.r.belfield@ncl.ac.uk

      Hope to hear from you soon


  6. Hi Adrianna

    I am pursuing my Masters in Urban Design at UC Berkeley, and will be doing my thesis on Rio, the impact of the Olympics, and the legacy it will leave behind. My research will center around understanding the socio-economic diversity in Rio, as represented through the Urban form.
    I got to know of your blog from Prof. Caldeira. I can use all the help I can get, and it will be wonderful if you can advise. Let me know if you are in Berkeley anytime.
    Can you also forward any resource links that document Rio’s urban fabric, even if in small parts?

  7. Hi Adrianna

    I am also pursuing my Masters in Architecture, and am also doing research into Santa Marta for my thesis. I was there is July of this year. But, at the time my thesis topic was different so I am going back the end of January / early February 2011. If you or anyone else will be in Rio around that time, or are in California (I live in San Diego) now I would love to discuss research!


    • Hi Lynne,
      I unfortunately will not be in Rio come February and am not currently in California (I am in Colombia). As far as recommendations go, try to talk to people in the POUSO and in the Residents Association (associação de moradores) . I am sure that they can begin to guide and help orient you. There are also people (professors and students) in the Federal University that can probably help you out and know of others doing research in Santa Marta (as the place, being the first UPP intervention, has become somewhat of a hot topic). Good luck and let me know how things go!

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