Minha Casa Minha Vida Security Issue

Imagine that you are a low-income person living in Brazil.

Prior to 2009, your chances of accessing quality housing were slim to none. You and your family had no other choice but to live in (at best) subpar housing in a favela, sometimes even having to share already limited space with other people.

Then, you were given hope when the federal government announced a housing credit plan called Minha Casa Minha Vida (My House, My Life).

Even though you still lived in a historically vulnerable area plagued by violence and poverty, you were now assisted by the government and did not provide a down payment given that 1) you were a first-time housing assistance beneficiary, 2) you were not a homeowner and 3) you fit the income limit requirements.[1] OK deal, right?

The Program

Minha Casa Minha Vida (MCMV) was created with the goal of resolving Brazil’s housing deficit by constructing 1 million new homes by 2016, thereby also creating over 1 million jobs. An implicit expectation was that state and local decision makers would band together to implement the gathering of funds, land donation, infrastructure, tax reductions and demand accumulation.

The Ministry of Cities recently estimated that 7.6 million people are currently living in MCMV residences: an unprecedented housing assistance aggregate investment of R$ 241.3 billion.


Apart from overwhelmingly high fixed and variable costs of meeting demand, an ongoing concern for the supposed beneficiaries of MCMV is that a significant number of them live in historically unsecured favelas – the cheapest and most appealing locations to build – where they are dangerously susceptible to illegal occupation of (their) apartments, and correlated drug trafficking and violence.[2]

The Ministry of Justice has received over 100 complaints, mapped here, from MCMV residents across sixteen states. Not only do 70% of these cases involve the presence of drug traffickers; but also, said traffickers have resorted to threats, attacks and even homicide to obtain the homes.

One case in Rio resulted in the arrest of 21 gang members who were making R$ 1 million per month by collecting taxes, making sales and enforcing rent from six MCMV complexes. The punishment for residents who did not comply? A harsh beating, or death.

In this vein, occupation of apartments now constitutes the second-most prevalent complaint after trafficking – clarifying the correlation between occupations and drug crime.

All of this leads to the question of whether a policy meant to empower populations marginalized from the basic need of housing, has actually made life worse for those populations by adding fire to the proverbial flame of a security crisis?

Moving Forward

Something important to note is that the abovementioned complaints reflect a new (Ministry of Justice) Group’s outreach in an effort to ‘develop integrated action with security organs about illicit conduct within the scope of housing programs put into place’ by policymakers.[3]

Addressing the problem of too much freedom for construction firms in deciding where to build, a Ministry official coordinating the Group recently commented that the government needs to be more involved in the design-side implementation of the program to diminish the capitalizing on vulnerable areas.

A sociologist at the Institute for Labor and Society also identifies issues of administration of the program’s complexes as precursors to security issues. Informal payment arrangements along with inexperienced residents serving as building managers make the residences vulnerable to criminal acquisition and control.

In fact, the additional income insecurity and consequent unmanageable needs of residents sometimes leads to the desirability of new people in charge – the militias or traffickers. This issue highlights the need for more support for residents and managers through expanded program financing (currently constituting no more than 2% of initial investments).

An integrated response is certainly necessary, as it is no coincidence that notable portions of complaints were in states like Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, and São Paulo that face high levels of myriad other social welfare issues like drought.

As an actual low-income Brazilian reliant on the program commented recently, “the only right you have [as things now stand] is to keep your mouth shut” and obey – in their particular case – the local militia.[4] “When they want to play, they kill people with a sledgehammer.”

Aliza Kazmi
MPP ’16

[1] Novais, Andréa. “Introduction to the Brazilian Housing Program Minha Casa, Minha Vida.” The Brazil Business, October 6, 2011. http://thebrazilbusiness.com/article/introduction-to-the-brazilian-housing-program-minha-casa-minha-vida

[2] Rogero, Tiago. “Minha Casa Minha Vida tem denúncia de tráfico, milícia e invasão.” Estadão, January 4, 2015. http://m.estadao.com.br/noticias/brasil,minha-casa-minha-vida-tem-denuncia-de-trafico-milicia-e-invasao,1615122,0.htm

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Expulsos do ‘Minha Casa, Minha Vida’ milícia no Rio denunciam mortes.” Globo, July 4, 2014.


UPPs Take on Social Development

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.[1]

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.”[2]

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.

Katie Collins
MPP ’15

[1] http://www.insightcrime.org/news-analysis/rio-pacification-limits-upp-social

[2] http://www.rioonwatch.org/?p=2592

Please consider making a tax-exempt donation to help fund IEDP’s trip to Brazil. Your gift is indispensable and will help defray critical program costs. To make a secure donation through the University of Michigan, follow this link, enter the amount of your donation, and type “for IEDP” as a comment on the next screen.

Challenges Facing the UPP Program

Pacifying Police Units, known as UPPs, were a policy solution designed in 2008 shortly following the announcement that Rio de Janeiro would be hosting the 2014 World Cup. At the time, Rio was one of the most dangerous cities in terms of crime and violence in the world. Government officials knew they needed a different, visible approach to make the city safer for international tourists.

Enter UPP, the Rio State government’s solution branded as “community-based policing.” The rhetoric surrounding the introduction of UPPs in Rio centered on expelling criminal and gang elements from favelas and improving city services for favela residents.

As with many ambitious policies, the implementation of this vision has stumbled in some key ways. Favelas with established UPPs, which are mostly around the tourist-heavy areas, have seen only mixed results in terms of improved safety. While personal safety has improved somewhat, there are abundant accusations against the police regarding human rights violations.

While favelas with UPPs have seen a 78% decrease in violent death rates, there has been a simultaneous increase in disappearances and a rise in other lower crime reports such as threats, rapes, and domestic violence. It is possible the growth in reporting is because the police are actually present in the community now and thus able to take reports, whereas before favela citizens would take their complaints to the drug lords. Besides the increase in disappearances, there has been a sort of “squeezing the balloon effect” that pushed the drug activity to nearby favelas without UPPs instead of eliminating the activity entirely. This has increased violence in other favelas. As recently as January 19, 2015, the BOPE (a special battalion of Rio’s military police who specialize in urban guerilla warfare against drug lords/gangs) invaded Morro do Juramento, a favela without a UPP that has seen an recent increase in violence.[1]

Beyond the questionable impact on security in Rio, the establishment of UPPs coincided with a rise in police brutality. Police kill an average of 6 people per day in Brazil and are often not prosecuted for the deaths even if the evidence indicates the death was execution-style.[2] Human rights complaints by groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch allege police officers regularly engage in brutal tactics against accused drug traffickers such as beatings, electric shocks, and use of plastic bags/toilets to simulate (or perpetrate) suffocation/drowning.

The long-term capacity of the Brazilian government to continue funding the existing UPP program, much less expanding it to other favelas, is unclear. Brazil continues to deal with an enormous national debt and once the international spotlight leaves Rio post the 2016 Olympics, it is hard to imagine a national (or even state-level) willingness to continue the program long-term.

Lauren Burdette
MPP ’15

[1] Flueckiger, Lisa. “Rio’s Military Police Enter Favela After Weekend Shootings.” 19 January 2015 Rio Times Online <http://riotimesonline.com/brazil-news/rio-politics/rios-military-police-enter-favela-after-weekend-shooting/&gt;.

[2] “Brazilian Police Kill more than 6 people a day, study finds.” 12 November 2014 CBS News/Associated Press <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/brazilian-police-kill-6-people-a-day-study-finds/&gt;

Please consider making a tax-exempt donation to help fund IEDP’s trip to Brazil. Your gift is indispensable and will help defray critical program costs. To make a secure donation through the University of Michigan, follow this link, enter the amount of your donation, and type “for IEDP” as a comment on the next screen.

Increased Security in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics

Rio de Janeiro, the primary location for the 2016 Summer Olympics, has been rated “Critical” for crime by the U.S.A.’s State Department for the past 25 years, and statistics for 2012 indicate rising levels of crime in the categories of robbery, rape, fraud and residential thefts.[1] However, Rio’s crime situation may change for the better. In 2008, after the bids for both the World Cup and Summer Olympics were secured, Brazil introduced a “Police Pacification Program” to quell high crime rates and help ensure FIFA, the Olympic Committee and tourists that Brazil would serve as a great host.

Police Pacification Units (UPPs) are specially trained and recruited community police officers that enter and establish a permanent presence in favelas (slums or ghettos) with the goal of expelling drug gang members and other armed criminal elements. The government and independent social investments fund these programs. Since their introduction in 2008, the homicide rate in Rio has dropped significantly from 42 homicides per 100,000 in 2005 to 24 homicides per 100,000 in 2012.[2] Additionally, property values in favelas and bordering areas where UPPs are stationed have increased 5.8 percent between 2008 and 2012.[3]

Public perception of UPPs is generally quite favorable. In fact, according to a 2010 survey conducted by the Brazilian Institute for Social Research of 16 favelas with UPPs and 44 without, more than 90 percent of respondents affirmed that their communities were safer with an established UPP. Over 70 percent more claimed that their lives had greatly improved due to the UPPs, and almost three quarters of residents in non-UPP favelas were supportive of installing a similar operation in their communities.[4]

Prominent Brazilin figures have also voiced their support for the increased presence of UPPs. For example, Eike Batista, one of the world’s wealthiest men and well-known Brazilin oil tycoon, describes the UPP as “a fantastic concept… a model for Brazil and maybe even the world.”[5] As of 2013, Batista committed more than R$100 million ($51 million) over a five-year period in order to help the police train new UPP officers, build the necessary bases in pacified communities, and buy the equipment necessary for pacification.[6] However, Batista fell victim to some financial troubles recently. In fact, according to Bloomberg Business Week, Batista lost approximately $35 billion from 2012 – 2013, and currently has a net worth of negative $1 billion. In August 2013, his EBX group declared that they could no longer maintain their promise to contribute R$20 million annually to the UPP program.[7]

In short, these programs seem to be going in the right direction. But questions pertaining to their effectiveness and permanent presence after the 2016 Olympics still remain. For example, although there was a decrease in homicides since the introduction of UPPs, there has been an increase in resident disappearances. For example, before the establishment of UPPs, there were 85-recorded disappearances. Data from 2011 now records a leap to 133.[8] Corruption within UPPs is also a serious concern. Prosecutors in the recent “Amarildo” case concluded that 25 military police officers from the Rocinha UPP were involved in a [bricklayer’s] torture and death, whose body has yet to be found.[9]

During the 2015 IEDP in Brazil, the security group will interview political officials, UPP officers and citizens in both UPP occupied and unoccupied areas to evaluate this situation. Please comment on this blog should you have any questions or ideas pertaining to this research project.

Matt Ericson
MPP/MS ’16

[1] US Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security. https://www.osac.gov/pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=13966

[2] US Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security. https://www.osac.gov/pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=13966

[3] Crime, House Prices, and Inequality: The Effect of UPPs in Rio de Janeiro, Frischtak and Mandel, 2012. Pages 17 and 29

[4],[5],[6] Stabilization in Rio de Janeiro, Cano et al. 2012, published in Stabilization Operations, Security and Development: States of Fragility. Page 206 and 207

[7] http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-10-03/eike-batista-how-brazils-richest-man-lost-34-dot-5-billion#p5

[8] Before the establishment of UPPs, there were 85-recorded disappearances. Data from 2011 now records a leap to 133. http://www.rioonwatch.org/?p=12748

[9] Prosecutors in the “Amarildo” case concluded that 25 military police officers from the Rocinha UPP were involved in the [bricklayer’s] torture and death, whose body has yet to be found. http://www.rioonwatch.org/?p=12748

Please consider making a tax-exempt donation to help fund IEDP’s trip to Brazil. Your gift is indispensable and will help defray critical program costs. To make a secure donation through the University of Michigan, follow this link, enter the amount of your donation, and type “for IEDP” as a comment on the next screen.