On Sunday morning, thousands of police officers and soldiers descended upon Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro. The invasion of Rocinha is part of the Brazilian government’s “pacification” program in which Rio authorities follow up invasions by handing slums over to specially trained community police officers to try and implement and improve basic services like health care and formal electricity. According to the authorities, the aim is to foster social inclusion and give Rio’s slum residents a bigger stake in Brazil’s economy. The pacification program has been ongoing in Brazil and has been met with more than a few criticisms. For one, most of the occupations have taken place in slums close to Rio’s wealthier areas, leading people to believe that the program is aimed mostly at supporting the city’s real-estate boom and preparing for the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 2014 World Cup. Huge slums in distant areas are still controlled by gangs or militia groups made up of rogue off-duty police and firefighters. Additionally, community police occupation does not happen immediately and many are criticizing the government for its lack of follow through. In the Alemao slum, a community police force has yet to be sent to the favela as security forces struggle to train enough officers a year later. As a result, one could view the pacification program as nothing more than an empty reassurance to the international community that the Brazilian government is making strides to improve security before the Summer Olympics and the World Cup.
Lastly, regarding the pacifications of Alemao and Rocinha, the government gave both slums advanced warning of the invasions in order to avoid armed conflict. With this strategy, the government seems to lose the crucial element of surprise that is essential for mass raids. In Rocinha, residents have been expecting pacification since March, giving drug traffickers ample time to escape the favela, which could basically institute a criminal migration to areas such as the region of Baixada Fluminense, rather than an overall decrease in criminal activity in Rio.
However, despite the program’s motives and flaws, the pacification of Rocinha and other slums does seem to be a step in the right direction in combating rampant drug dealers and restoring government control within the favelas. Yet, these slums need much more than just police intervention. ‘‘Let’s hope for the best, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done,’ said Sergio Pimentel, a funeral director… ‘We need basic sanitation, health, education. They have to come in with everything, not just the police.’”