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The Rio Narcotic Games 2016

· Sonvela

Wait..? What..? Narcotic? Don’t you mean Olympic?

Nope, you read that correctly. With less than 6 months to go before another major sports event is held in the beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro the Narcotic Games are in full effect. When in 2008 the police took over the first favela named Dona Marta in what the government called the Pacification Project (UPP) many favela residents were skeptic about it’s outcome.

After so many decades of absence in the favelas one of the hardest tasks of the UPP was winning over the confidence of the residents. People feared the UPP project would come to an end as soon as the World Cup and Olympic Games were over, leaving them behind in an even more uncertain situation than before.

My time spend in different favelas in Rio de Janeiro in 2011 and 2013 slowly made clear to me how the propaganda machine of Rio’s state government worked. For a few years different favelas in the city, most of them located in ‘strategical’ places such as the South Zone and favelas on the route towards and from the airport, were occupied by the authorities and in most cases reportedly without a single shot being fired.

Enjoying the amazing view Rocinha has to offer

Images shown world wide of gang members desperately escaping favelas before police operations increased the image of UPP forces being in total control after entering, in most cases after a time of occupation by soldiers of the Brazilian army.

In Borel, a favela in the North Zone of Rio that used to be one of the strongholds of Comando Vermelho (CV) friends made it very clear to me that even though there was a UPP force installed the favela was still dominated by CV. In Rocinha, in the South Zone of Rio words were unnecessary. The hundreds of gunshots fired during my stay made very clear what ‘pacification’ actually meant.

So what has the UPP project brought to the favelas in the last couple of years?

Pacification was supposed to integrate the favelas into the formal city by making it gang free neighborhoods were people could live in peace and, because of the UPP Social much needed development would be brought to the pacified favelas by implementing different social projects.

Rocinha is one of South America's largest favela's

Instead most favelas where a UPP was installed have now again been abandoned by the authorities and because of this way too small and unqualified UPP forces have totally lost control of favelas that had been ‘pacified’ just a few years ago. Many of them today are facing much more violence than ever before.

In the North Zone the Complexo do Alemão has seen 100 consecutive days of shootings (!!) between gang members and the UPP forces in 2015, 5 years after the start of their Pacification project.

In the West of Rio de Janeiro, in and around the infamous Cidade de Deus (who has not seen the movie City of God?) the Comando Vermelho (CV) gang have been involved in a war against Rio’s unrevealed 4th gang, the so called Milicias.

Gangs in favelas such as São Carlos, Jacare and Providencia have also made clear that they are not willing to accept UPP forces in their territory by taking on police in various shootouts. Rumors about enemy invasions all over the city are getting stronger by the day.

Subsequently, the constant migration of gang members from favelas with a UPP have also led to various gang wars between ADA (Amigos dos Amigos) and CV in Jorge Turco and Juramento (North Zone), among others, and recently also in a complex of favelas across the bay of Guanabara, in the city of Niteroi, where the TCP invaded enemy territory.

Standing on my rooftop in the Rocinha favela

Although especially the approach in very large and therefore more complicated communities such as Rocinha and the complex of favelas Alemão and Maré left doubts about the authorities intentions with the UPP project, I had hopes that this would finally bring peace to many thousands of honest and hardworking community members around Rio de Janeiro.

The political elite have never felt the need to get involved in all that was going on in the favelas.

For them what happened high up in the hills or on the outskirts of the city had nothing to do with what happened in and around the asfalto, the formal city. The earnings that were and are part of trafficking in favelas always outweighed all the bloodshed. And so the system continued to allow and even sponsor the drug trade.

The situation in Rio de Janeiro has often been compared to a civil war. As the Brazilian and Rio state government seem incapable of truly fighting corruption and other organized crime, I fear that a civil war just might be what awaits the Cidade Maravilhosa...