Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Police-state occupations in Rio de Janeiro

The official narrative of this story is that battalions of military police in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, are storming into favelas (urban slums) with tanks & helicopters to drive out violent, heavily-armed drug traffickers who have terrorized the favelas for decades. They will install a community-policing program known by the acronym UPP, the Unidade de PolĂ­cia Pacificadora (Police Pacification Unit). Rio has 1,000 favelas & thus far over 30 have been invaded; there have been many resident fatalities. Brazilian politicians are swooning about how riot police will no longer summarily execute suspected drug traffickers but can now play a role in social development; they can organize youth sports clubs, schools, skill development workshops, teach ballet classes, & other “peaceful forms of socialization” for favela residents. That’s the new description for a brutal police-state occupation.

It is no surprise that virtually all mainstream media eats this stuff up; it’s their job to peddle baloney as chateaubriand. What’s regrettable is that much of the alternative media is equivocal about the occupation; in one instance, a reporter said the peace brought by the police could open up room for political organizing in the favelas.

The discourse about international drug trafficking & the so-called war against it is such a labyrinth of lies that it’s difficult to understand what is going on in the favelas. Media does not bother to report the voices of favela residents, but it seems clear that street violence was a serious problem & that rogue, off-duty cops in paramilitary units were involved in it & implicated in trafficking & assassinations of addicts & homeless youth. Reliable information is insufficient but skepticism is advisable based on the US war on drugs (which is really a war on Black youth) & on the Mexican drug war (which is really a war on immigrants). The Black community & Mexico are both described as civil war zones of narcoterrorists. In the US, civil liberties for Black youth are violated with impunity. In Mexico, thousands of immigrants face assault & murder.

The UPP program which began in 2008 now has a military police force (including pacification units) of over 40,000 soldiers & is projected to increase to 60,000 by 2014. Reportedly, millions of dollars in donations are pouring in for the most up-to-date military & surveillance equipment from multinational corporations like Coca-Cola, as well as from Brazilian billionaire, Eike Batista (who made his fortune in gold mines in the Amazon, oil & gas ventures).

To quell suspicions about the occupation, the municipal government installed UPP Social in late 2010 to provide public services to the pacified favelas. The description of how UPP Social functioned in relation to the residents would be parodic if it weren’t so shameful & cynical. When the residents prioritized education, health services, & less provocation from the cops, the UPP Social staff (when it bothered to show up at scheduled meetings) insisted on trash clean-up. There isn’t a single public service favela residents do not need, from electricity to waste management to health clinics (dealing with every medical need from prenatal care to drug addiction to treatment for tuberculosis) to schools to housing to sanitation to roads to sports programs to jobs. They have instead had their homes ransacked, been forcibly evicted & made homeless by the thousands under the guise of routing out the drug traffickers.

So let’s get down to what’s really going on here. A map of the favelas being occupied shows they are in the heart of Rio, proximal to the richest neighborhoods, primary real estate for gentrification, in the area & near stadia where the 2014 World Cup & 2016 Olympic games will be held. That would explain corporate bankrolling of the occupations. Some commentators say, ‘it remains to be seen’ whether the sporting events & gentrification are the main motivations for police-state occupations in the favela--but that’s only if you were born yesterday.

This photo is of a tank invading the Maguinhos favela on October 14th. (Photo by Felipe Dana/AP)

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