Rio de Janeiro’s unique installation of Police Pacification Units (UPPs) in its favelas is designed to pave the way for a safer, more integrated and prosperous city. While the lower homicide rates Rio has witnessed since the program’s implementation can be attributed to this proximity policing, the simple presence of police did not initially address fundamental aspects of favelas – that their inhabitants are generally poor, with low education outcomes and little opportunity outside of drug trafficking to achieve economic prosperity.
In 2010, two years after the first UPP installation, the Rio de Janeiro State Secretariat of Social Assistance and Human Rights (SEASDH) began implementing UPP Social, a program aimed at promoting long-term social development of pacified favelas, thus responding to the pressing social development needs of favela inhabitants beyond outright security. Its three goals, articulated in its promotional video include: collecting data on the needs of the pacified areas, providing basic public services, and promoting economic development by collaborating with local entrepreneurs.
UPP Social’s structure is set up for success, with community involvement a critical aspect of the three-staged program. Stage one of UPP Social is Pre-implementation, consisting of a needs assessment wherein local coordinators speak with community leaders, residents and local associations to identify the most pressing needs of the community. The next stage is Rapid Participatory Mapping, which assesses the socioeconomics of each favela and convenes a UPP Social Forum, designed to bring the entire community together with local leaders, private sector representatives and UPP police commanders to discuss the assessed demands and possible actions. The last stage involves two or three UPP Social local coordinators being permanently placed in the pacified communities to act as mediators between government, the UPP and service providers.
While UPP Social seems like the ideal development program, it is not without flaws, and many question the efficacy and genuineness of the program. While started under the authority of SEASDH, the state government quickly abandoned UPP Social which moved hands to Instituto Pereira Passos (IPP), a city planning think-tank, leaving a weak link between UPP Social and the UPPs. On August 9, 2014, Rio’s mayor Eduardo Paes announced UPP Social would be replaced by Rio Mais Social, a further disassociation from the UPPs.
Rio Olympics Neighborhood Watch, a program launched by US nonprofit Catalytic Communities to give a voice to favela communities, claims participatory planning meetings are only for show, and that the real decisions are made beforehand with municipal authorities. Ignacio Cano, director of the Laboratory of Violence Analysis at Rio de Janeiro State University, voices skepticism of UPP Social citing, “The UPP today is a police program, and the ‘social’ part is a decoration that hasn’t changed the quality of life in communities.”
Nevertheless, Rio Mais Social claims results. Its website boasts of R$1.8 billion invested in municipalities from 2009-2014, resulting in infrastructure including 60 new schools, 19 new family clinics and 45,000 new beneficiaries of the Municipal Plan for the Integration of Informal Settlements (Morar Carioca) program. Whether these additions amount to lasting social development, however, remains to be seen.
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