Success of Rio, Brazil, Pacification Police is a story business journals need to cover more

I am re-posting an article from The Economist in Summer 2010 now because Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has come a long way from when the UPP were deployed in the slums, but this story needs to be told. In America, there was a similar story of how the US Marine Corps and US Military deployed “counterinsurgency” in Iraq to pacify the country. It is important to tell this story of the success of UPP/ Police Pacification now ahead of the 2014 and 2016 events because the world is watching, considering investment grade issues, and foreign direct investment.

I have some friends from the Marine Corps who were in Iraq, and used technology, like on officer video (sorria voce esta filmando!). For example my friend, Luke Larson, wrote a historical novel, Senator’s Son, which was recognized by American journalist, Tom Ricks as the best novel of the Iraq War, and who spoke at a Stanford + Harvard event about the business parallels of pacification. See his video at this website:

I have been writing a book about this subject also (the draft is on the website, This is an important story because technology that is being used in America and in the UK ahead of the successful 2012 Olympic games could also be used, and covered by the media, like leading business magazines, like The Economist, Forbes, etc., to show that the UPP/ Pacification Police/ Counterinsurgency strategy worked in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, too.

Luke Larson and I might be good speakers at a Rio Investment Analyst event in the future, of course when our friends who could moderate are back in Rio and Niteroi. It would be very interesting to share the experience in pacification in Iraq with the successful pacification in Rio because of the economic implications. Corporate and government bond (investment grade) capital will not invest unless it is perceived and understood to be safe, in addition to actually being safe. This is the role for enterprising journalists. The military calls it winning the information campaign.

In one moment in Tropa de Elite 2, the colonel says they should call the operation in a Rio slum “Operation Iraq.” This may be because the techniques that the Brazilian military police used in UPP and that the American Marines used in Iraq both trace the roots to successful techniques from LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department)

Security in Brazil

A magic moment for the city of God

Proper policing, better government and a stronger economy are starting to make a difference in the more violent and squalid districts of Brazil’s former capital

Jun 10th 2010 | RIO DE JANEIRO | from the print edition

THANKS to a film (“City of God”) made in 2002, Cidade de Deus, a rundown housing project in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, became an internationally known symbol of the lawless urban squalor that has blighted Brazil’s most glamorous city for decades. The Comando Vermelho, a heavily armed gang of drug traffickers, dominated the lives of the 60,000 or so residents of Cidade de Deus and its surrounding favelas (the Brazilian term

for the tightly packed self-built slums of the poor). The gangsters, some of them teenagers, could impose their reign of terror thanks to the brutal incompetence of the police and the venal indifference of the authorities.

Some of these problems are repeated across Brazil’s cities. But they are particularly acute in Rio de Janeiro, which has suffered chronic misgovernment and decline since the capital moved to Brasília in 1960. Ahead of Rio’s bagging of the 2016 Olympic games last autumn, rivals muttered about its criminal violence. In the week before the Olympic committee’s decision, the New Yorker magazine ran a chilling account of a Rio drug lord and his fief.

But Rio is undergoing a renaissance, one which even holds out hope for the 1m of the city’s 6m residents who live in favelas. Last year the police took control of Cidade de Deus—this time for keeps, they say. A force of 318 officers, backed by 25 patrol cars, is based in a new community-police station in a side street between two fetid, litter-strewn drainage channels. The result has been dramatic. In 2008 there were 29 murders in Cidade de Deus. So far this year there has been just one, and it involved a beating rather than a firearm, says José Beltrame, the security secretary in the Rio state government who is in charge of policing in the city. Other crime has fallen too.

Many residents are appreciative. “It was horror before,” says Jeanne Barbosa, who runs a small bar on the ground floor of her house. “Bodies would be thrown out of passing cars, and there were kids with revolvers.” Her niece was killed as she walked home, by a stray bullet from a firefight between the police and traffickers. “Now the children can play in the street.” A dreadlocked unemployed welder who gives his name as Sérgio is more sceptical. He says the police commit abuses. His friend, who has the blank stare of a crack addict, adds with deranged precision: “89% of them are corrupt.”

The police station in Cidade de Deus is one of eight, known as UPPs or Pacifying Police Units, set up in Rio’s favelas since late 2008. They are part of an ambitious strategy by Mr Beltrame to restore law and order. This starts with better intelligence work. To minimise abuses, the police who staff the UPPs are newly recruited and specially trained. He has assigned targets to the

whole force. By getting the city and federal governments to chip in with bonuses, he has managed to double the salaries of front-line policemen.

The police’s objective is not so much to abolish the drug trade as to drive the armed gangs from the streets, and thus to open the way for other branches of the state. The gangs condemn favela residents to a life outside the law: electricity and satellite television are pirated; few residents have property deeds; and their jobs are in the informal economy, as are the minibuses that take them to work. The authorities are trying to consolidate security with legality and infrastructure. On May 31st Cidade de Deus gained its first health clinic. Next door, the city government is building a subsidised restaurant. Nearby, two young women are signing up residents for the electricity company, which offers new fridges and energy-saving light bulbs as an incentive to submit to higher bills.

So far the plan is little more than an experiment, albeit a promising one. The UPPs cover only around 140,000 people. The traffickers are lying low and have hidden their weapons, but they have not disappeared. The police must still overcome the mistrust of the community, says Tião Santos of Viva Rio, an NGO. The police in both Rio and São Paulo are still too trigger-happy: Human Rights Watch, a campaign group, recently noted that between them they kill more than 1,000 civilians a year.

City of the unholy trinity

Most of Rio’s 1,000-odd favelas are still more or less controlled by three trafficking gangs or by criminal militias set up by rogue police and firemen. But even in some of these places there is hope. Take Vigário Geral, a small favela where 21 people were massacred by a police death-squad in 1993. On a recent visit, the footbridge over the railway that leads there was guarded by two young men, one with a bulky revolver tucked ostentatiously into the top pocket of his jacket. But back in the 1990s there were a dozen youths with rifles guarding the bridge, says José Júnior of AfroReggae, an NGO which has just opened a large cultural centre in Vigário Geral, financed by government and private companies.

Boosted by falling crime rates (see chart), Mr Beltrame, a former federal police chief, plans to install 40 UPPs covering 500,000 people over the next four years. By then he hopes Rio’s murder rate will be similar to that of São Paulo, which reformed its police in the 1990s.

If he has a good chance of achieving this, it
is because Rio is enjoying “a magic
moment [in which] everything is conspiring
in its favour,” says André Urani, an
economist who studies the city. The
economy is growing strongly and creating
jobs. Rio is the hub for Brazil’s offshore
oil, but it is also attracting new industries.
After decades of populism and political
conflict, public management in the state is
being transformed. Sérgio Cabral, the state
governor, and Eduardo Paes, the mayor, are
both allies of Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (all three turned up to open the clinic in Cidade de Deus). So federal money is pouring into the city. The state government, having cleaned up its chaotic finances, has room to borrow.

The extra funds will pay for an upgrade of the city’s transport system for the 2014 World Cup (the final will be played in Rio’s Maracanã stadium) and for the Olympics. Having secured the games with a conservative bid that put most of the events in well-heeled Barra and Copacabana, the authorities are

now tweaking the plan. Mr Paes wants to revamp the seedy port area by getting private developers to build accommodation there for the 20,000 journalists who will cover the games. Some of the new money is also going on installing the paving, lighting and sewerage that turn favelas into neighbourhoods.

There is still much to do. Complexo do Alemão, an agglomeration of favelas spread over hillsides in the north of the city, is dotted with new housing projects and the concrete pillars of a 5km (3 mile) cable car that by later this year should link it to the suburban railway network. One of its muddy streets of small shops boasts a branch of Banco Santander, opened last month—the first bank inside a Rio favela. Guilherme Nicolas, the branch manager, hopes to sign up 10,000 customers. But he says most residents earn less than 1,000 reais ($600) a month, and some want loans to buy food. Insecurity and poverty have gone hand in hand in Rio. A safer city has a better chance of becoming a less socially divided one.

Published by Janar Wasito

Janar Wasito is the manager of Magis Capital in San Diego, CA. He is a graduate of Harvard and Stanford Law School, and a former Marine Officer.

9 thoughts on “Success of Rio, Brazil, Pacification Police is a story business journals need to cover more

  1. I’ve spoken at length with an acquaintance of mine who was formerly employed by Policia Federal in Sao Paulo, and now is director of security for a large Brazilian company. It is my impression from the conversations that Brazilian police and security forces have far more experience at security operations than either the LAPD or the US military; and, I must say from some of the things I’ve seen (personally) and heard, the Brazilian police are extraordinarily effective at accomplishing their objectives (as opposed to what foreigners think their objectives should be).

    The issue as I see it is that Brazil is optimizing cost-weighted security risk, while the US is simply minimizing security risk with relatively few constraints on cost. I think the Brazilian view is that they would be very pleased to have better security, but are unwilling to pay substantially more than the country is paying now for it: They understand the risks well and are paying roughly the amount they think necessary to conduct security operations and keep security risk at a level acceptable to them. Following Hayek (1945, “The Use of Knowledge in Society), it seems a bit presumptuous for we Americans to tell Brazilians—who arguably have substantially more experience with internal security risk management than do Americans (US)—either what their specific security objectives should be, how the conduct security operations, or how much they should be willing to pay to achieve them.

    Cheers, MMc


  2. You’re probably right that Brazilian security is better per unit cost. But my point is that it is a matter of telling that story to the world. This is where Brazilians working at English language magazines may have a role to play.

    Many foreigners perceive Brazil through Tropa de elite 2 on Netflix. My point is that if a lot changed since 2010 then tell that story ahead of 2014 and 2016.


    1. Diego: Thanks for the comment. I will respond in two parts: First, my impression of a barrio affected by the rise towards world cup and olympics, Tijuca proximo Maracana. Second, about the future.
      So, about Maracana. I think it is actually a great little neighborhood. I like i better than the tourist areas, Niteroi (sorry Hildete), Pao do Azucar, Cristo, certainly Copa and Ipanema (though I like PUC-Rio, and Colegio Santo Inacio). Why? Well, Tijuca is trending, as they say on the internet. The trend is from Favela to middle class. Especially Sans Paena Metro and proximity, which is a nice walk to Maracana. My favorite restaurant is Aconchega Carioca, eu gosto bolinhos de feijoiada, e bolinhos de carne seca. Maracana is opening June 2013. This will provide a big economic boost. I hope not too much, as I like this barrio. I don’t want it to become crowded by Gringos.
      Second, the future. The issue is whether Brazil’s politicians can reconcile inflation and interest rates. About this, I know not, but to quote Tom Jobim: “Brazil is a great but horrible country, America is a horrible but great country” or words to that effect. Maybe some one here can find the right quote.
      Currency trends now in the short term are interesting. Makes an American want to go to Brazil again, but my Brazilian friends in America tell me they come here because things are cheaper here. It is true. a bottle of Red Bull is so much cheaper in America than in Rio. Why? Well, I don’t know. I just know it is true.
      Obrigado for your comments


  3. Dear Hildete, Janar,

    My point is that I do not think that the support of UPPs will be sustainable in the future. I consider it as a very good short term solution to make the country and Rio in particular look better for the World Cup and Olympics, and to make areas like Tijuca more trending and appealing. However, the infrastructure and the problem of the favela itself is not being solved, and once the Government runs out of budget to support the patrols, the crime may well come back.



  4. Diego, thanks for your input. This is good food for thought.

    FWIW, I take the side that the favelas do not regress back from progress made by UPP. But, I say this as a non Brazilian, but as a person who has studied pacification.

    I think Rio is going to be very high profile for the next few years with Copa Mundo (forgive my spelling, just trying to work on my porto) and the Olympics. Olympic cities remain so for a long time, if not forever. So, the authorities probably have a interest in keeping the gains.

    Pacification gives an opportunity for the population, the 95% of non-criminals, a chance to decide a better future. So it is up to the Cariocas. Do they build small businesses (micro loans, etc)? I don’t have any great insight in this. But, walking around, say the area around Sans Paena metro, I see a calm, quiet, tree lined district that I would love to live in for a good part of the year. A walk from Sans Paena to Maracana is a very nice experience, past Colegio Militar. With metro it is 30 minutes from Botafogo or Zona Sul, and less for Centro. The key is how many of the lowest economic class can move up one or two rungs on the ladder and stay at that level.

    Down in Botafogo, I was chatting with a Jesuit at Colegio Santo Inacio (I used to teach at a Jesuit high school, or what is called “Colegio” in Brazil, here in Estados Unidos) who said they try to help with the local Favela by having some kids from that favela go to their school, where kids start at 5 years, and it includes 4000 total students, including 1000 overnight students. These types of NGOs will make a difference for at least some favelas.

    But, I appreciate your comments. I am an optimist. It’s good to have a Devil’s Advocate in any discussion.


  5. Anyone can believe what they want, whether as an optimist or as a devil’s advocate — however, the reality of the situation will always strike. Example: just because a criminal does not believe in capital punishment means extremely little once that firing squad is told to fire, the chemicals are injected, or the switch is opened to an electric chair… The reality is the criminal is not going to live very long and cannot over come it with belief…

    For ANY sovereignty to improve itself, it must plant seeds — and that seed for any sovereignty is its youth. Without an improved, commited, disciplined, and focused education system, any sovereignty that has made structural, infrastructural, security, or other other improvements, is only going to collapse in and on itself due to the weight it has created and money it would take to maintain itself without an educated society. Without a future generation that has learned where it has come from, has learned to dream and have visions bigger than its present, as well as learned HOW to think instead of being taught what to think, then what good is it to be building a castle in the air?

    Brasil, or any country for that matter, is where it is because it tolerates some things while making improvements that are good and hopefully are noticed by many on other things. But WHAT is tolerated and WHAT is improved is where many get into trouble… Whether it be for tradition, for culture, for whatever reason, the toleration for accepting the status quo is still extremely comfortable for many and what isn’t improved is usually very uncomfortable for the educated as well as those with a great level of discernment.

    Brasil does have a great future and lots of potential, there is no doubt about that from anyone’s perspective…

    However, potential and beliefs as well as R$5 will get you a cup of coffee anywhere… Brasil has much to over come as it is the least competitive of the BRICS. It is the 6th largest economy due to its agriculture and livestock — with IT growing extremely quickly. The burden however that the government has placed on itself comes from the tax structure it is elected — the same car sold to Brasilians can exported to and bought in Mexico at HALF the same price due to the tax structure in Brasil. When it comes to imports, a car in the USA could be bought 5 times for the one bought in Brasil. The concept of applying 6 or more compound taxes by the time a product is sold definitely affects quality as well as price — something sorely lacking in any Brasilian product, but thankfully is something that services can overcome to a certain extent (they too get hit with compound taxes).

    Agriculture is a good back bone for any economy as it is one of the 3 basic essentials (food, clothing, shelter) — but it is as tempermental as any disaster, one growth season and it will domino through the economy as fast as someone falling once stepping on a banana peel.

    Brasil is also very dependent upon ONE state – São Paulo — as it is responsible for 45% of the GDP and is only a small fraction of the total area of Brasil. The infrastructure of Brasil needs desparate replacement and repairs — but majority of the population lives in only 3 cities. The automobile opened up the internal areas of Brasil but progress has been slowed for many reasons mainly due to a principle that applies to a person as well as a sovereignty, you can’t resolve a problem by burying it with money — you have to open the problem, take it apart and resolve everything that is contributing to the problem. And most of the time, it is not money but changes in beliefs that will resolve the problems.

    All this said, security is a good thing yes — but it is not the total answer. At best, security can only protect what is already in place, at worst it crumbles with any corruption. But like a castle built in the air, it too needs a good foundation through an educated youth that are capable of dreaming and having a vision that can be carried out to fruition, and capable of knowing how to think through its problems so the future of its own youth can build upon the foundation laid before it…


  6. Sorry for the grammatical errors, I need to remind myself to reread what I write before posting…

    * The concept of applying 6 or more compound taxes by the time a product is sold definitely affects quality as well as price — quality is something sorely lacking in any Brasilian product, but thankfully is something that services can overcome to a certain extent (they too get hit with compound taxes).

    * but it is as tempermental as any disaster, one bad growth season and it will domino through the economy as fast as someone falling once stepping on a banana peel.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s