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Sincere thanks to everyone who participated in the making of this documentary.  There were so many of you who helped, from putting me up while in Rio, to transcribing long interviews, to helping me with local contacts, to doing the voice-overs, and to helping to partially fund the project.  I thank you all unreservedly.  Obrigadao




Corruption and violence continue in the pacified favelas….

Read this translation of a piece by RioRadar that appeared in O Globo on 21st February.

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24 Feb 2012

Different Voices

Saturdays 7-8am, repeated Sundays 6-7pm.  Different Voices is a time and a place to reflect on a changing Ireland and a changing world.

Documentary follows policing tactics addressing gang warfare in Rio de Janeiro

Feb 23rd, 2012, 2:31 pm

The film City of God shocked the world ten years ago, with images of heavily armed teenagers mindlessly killing one another at point blank range in housing projects outside Rio de Janeiro.  The film exposed a huge skeleton in Brasil’s closet, and was instrumental in getting authorities to sit up and do something.  Corrupt elements of Rio’s politic always earned on the top of the city’s violent underbelly, with bribes the norm.  But, there’s clean money coming into the city now, and it’s better to try to get rid of this violent image. Journalist and documentary maker, Sarah O’Sullivan from Galway, went to the favelas surrounding Rio to see what the reality is like there.

Sarah travelled to Rio de Janeiro to examine a new policing approach to gang warfare and drugs trafficking in the favelas that surround the city.  Rio de Janeiro is undergoing immense change at the moment, as city officials get ready to host the World Cup in 2014, and the Olympic Games two years later. Brasil is ready to shine out on the world stage, and is not willing to take the risk of the bad press that comes with heavily armed teenagers shooting each other up in the streets, as was brought to cinema screens ten years ago with the film City of God.  So, in preparation for the limelight, Rio is introducing pacifistic police units (UPPs) in certain favela communities (the ones that fringe touristic areas, or Olympic venues).

The favela communities surrounding Rio, and other cities in Brasil, have been neglected by state services for years.  Typically, police entered these areas shooting, hitting both their drugs trafficking targets, and other unlucky passers-by, and then they leave again. Police and politics in Rio de Janeiro are fraught with corruption, and many police officers lined their pockets with bribes for allowing drugs trafficking to continue unabated, while others extort cash from residents in return for so-called protection services.   These specially trained police units are permanently based within the favela community, with the aim of removing the territorial control of three rivalling drugs factions within the city.

According to local media, the UPP project has saved Rio from herself, they are a panacea for all that ails the mountainous paradise. Sarah O’Sullivan visited favelas in Rio, some with UPP, and others without, to discovered the real story of what is going on in the favelas. Are these cops as great as the papers would lead us to believe?  Do residents want cops on the doorstep?  And, a big question that everyone in Rio wants to know – will these projects remain after the games are over?

Rio will air on Saturday March 3rd from 7am-8am and is repeated on Sunday March 4th from 9am-10am.

Broadcast Details:
Rio is part of Newstalk’s Different Voices documentary series.
Rio was made by journalist Sarah O’Sullivan. Visit her blog here

More about:                           

Interesting cartoon by  Fernando Schmidt showing how pacified communities are, and how they could be.

Valter Figueiredo lives in the Ladeira dos Tabajaras, a favela which perches on a hill between the two areas of Botafogo and Copacabana.  UPP have been in Valter’s community for two years, following a major standoff between two rival factions spilled down onto the “asphalt” (as non-favela parts of the city are affectionately called).  This type of warfare spilling down amongst the common civiilians cause da bit of a stir, and attracted international media attention, something Brasil will go to any length to avoid.
Valter said it took residents quite a while to get used to the new powers that be in his community.  Lots of new rules and regulations were brought in by the police officers, in what was previously a fairly lawless society.  Valter said Tabajaras has always been a peaceful community, despite being under the control of a drug trafficking faction.
He also said that the trafficking continues unabated now that the community police are in place, and that the police are well aware of this fact.  The modes of trafficking have changed and trafficker now use more discreet methods to do business.  They are unarmed now too, in their wheelings and dealings.
The middle and upper classes who are consistently shocked by the violence and disorder that spills out of the favleas from time to time, need to take their own share of the blame, he siad.  It is this subset is society that are comsuming the drugs, that are generating this business within the favela networks.  It is them that keep all of the problems alive.
A TV cameraman was shot in the chest today while filming an exchange of shots between police and traffickers.  It is customary here for TV journalists to be present during such raids,  although cops say they did not invite Gelson Domingos da Silva along today.   Brasilian news watchers have scenes of exceptional violance boomed into their sitting rooms and kitchens every day.
The moments leading up to da Silva’s death have been published online ad viewers can hear him shout in pain as he takes a bullet into his chest.  Will this shake things up?
There is a lot of talk in the city as the moment about violence, and how to get rid of this problem.  A dead journalist shot on live TV does little to aid and abet the campaign that the city is trying to get out there- that the violence is being taken under control.
How much of this grand PR campaign is rhetoric anyhow, and how much is just band-aiding the problem until the games are over remains to be seen.
No-one I have interviewed to date seems to believe that there is much hope or permanency in the solutions currently offered.  Everyone accepts corruption as endemic here – its a given. No-one seems to have much faith that this can or will change.
Blog posted January 2012, refers to events November 2011
Met with the head of UPP Social, the branch of the pacifistic police who are responsible for social initiatives within the pacified communities.  He admits that there have been some teething problems with the community policing initiatives, but that say that UPP is a viable and real solution to Rio de Janeiro’s problems.
The problem of militia groups, who now control as are in the control of the drugs trafficking factions, is known and recognised, he said but we need to start somewhere.  UPP is just the beginning, he reckons, of finding a solution for Brasil’s many deeply ingrained problems, The authorities cannot take on everything at the same time.