25 May 2011

Big White Men in Small Black Boxes

This week is the XIV Congress of the National (Brazilian) Association of Urban and Regional Planning. (Link to conference here.) On Tuesday, I attended a session entitled Order/Disorder: violence and the politics of security in the city (Ordem/Desordem: violência e políticas de segurança na cidade). The main attraction was a possible clash between Marcelo Freixo, State Deputy of the PSOL political party (the only remaining progressive party in Brazil) and Rio State Secretary of Social Assistance and Human Rights, Ricardo Henrique.

Freixo was preceded by Julita Lemgruber (fomer head of the Rio State penitentiary system) who talked about the challenges and benefits of the UPP (Police Pacification Units) being installed in select favelas in Rio. While I touched upon many of the same points in my earlier discussions of the UPPs, what follows is what I took away from Professor Lemgruber’s talk.

Benefits of UPPs:
Residents look to resolve their conflicts through legal mechanisms
Stimulation of micro and neighborhood economies
Reduction of lethal violence
The rivalry between Rio’s two major drug factions, the Terceiro Comando and the Comando Vermelho has been eliminated, allowing for more freedom of movement between favelas
Increase in home values
A sense of tranquility

How can the installation of UPPs in favelas result in a consolidation and expansion of territorial control in the city? This is expecially true in the vast areas of Rio that are controlled by milicias (the subject of the Tropa do Elite 2 film).

Is it possible to control the violence and corruption of the police? The police are poorly trained and always have their fingers on the trigger. There is almost no presence of non-lethal weapons in the UPP forces and NO police will consent to move through the favelas unarmed. When will the police cease to fear a re-taking of the hills by drug gangs, even though such an event has never occurred and start non-lethal policing of the favelas?

How is it possible to turn the regime of the UPP into something that is non-authoritarian? The UPP commanders determine what can and cannot occur in the favelas. There is a generalized ban on baile funks, one of the primary source of weekend entertainment and a source of cultural identity.

When will an effective social politics take the place of an effective security politics?

How will the UPPs be used to stimulate the political and administrative roles of community leaders?
How will the police trained and paid to enter the UPP project be convinced that their job is worthwhile? As it stands, 70% of the police think that the UPP project is directly associated with the impending mega-events and that they have become “doormen of the favelas”. There is a distinct lack of esprit de corps among the UPP police and 70% are actively looking for another posting within the MP.

The activity that the MPs most engage in is the revision of suspects. There is a popular saying in Rio that goes something like this: “Young, black and standing: suspect. Young black, and moving: guilty.” The culture of extreme violence that characterizes the Rio State Police is not meted out evenly across the population.  
In talking with several people about the installation of UPPs over the last several days, there is no question that they have brought a generalized sense of tranquility to both the places in which they have been installed and their surrounding areas. However, the generalized feel-good nature of the “change” has not significantly altered the ways in which favela residents (primarily poor and black) are treated by the government. There is a sickening infanitlization of favela residents which suggests that everyone who lives there, if given half the chance, will turn to crime as a way of life and that without the strong hand of the state behind a gun, the chaos and violence will return. The sense of security is limited to those who are not in the way of massive construction projects, who own their own homes, and who are not subject to the spray paint cans of the Municipal Secretary of Housing.

One of the more astounding figures mentioned by Professora Lemgruber was that only 8.5% of MPs working in UPPs have completed high school. 63.5% have completed middle school. With this level of education, how is it possible to begin to address all of the above problems? To make matters worse, the MPs live in sub-human conditions, have little or no orientation about their project, and lack training specific to the job. It’s hard to tell where this UPP project is going but it is far from the unqualified success that the government is portraying (big surprise, I know).

Ok, on to Marcelo Freixo. Friend of Apa Funk, supporter of the ANT, a man with a price on his head for taking on the Western Milícias, Deputado Freixo is one of the most sought after speakers in Rio and has long been a champion of social justice. For those of you who have seen the Tropa I and II movies, the intelligent agitator who goes into the prisons is based on Freixo’s character. Some highlights from his talk:
Two things occurred around the same time in the mid 1990s: Brazil was consolidating as a democracy and becoming hard-wired as a neo-liberal regime of flexible accumulation.  

What does it mean to have a secure city? Freixo drew attention to the fact that 100% of BOPEs actions take place in favelas and that in the new center of operations that is currently under construction in Maré, there will be a “favela scenario” for the most lethal and well-trained urban fighting force in the world to train. In Rio, the question of security is relative and localized and needs to be expanded if effective and coherent public policies are to be developed.

In Rio, dying while resisting arrest, is called an “auto de resistência”. That means, for those of you who have seen the movie Bus 174, cross paths with the cops with no one around and it’s curtains. The data: Under the Anthony Garotinho government (he who was so recently convicted of a slew of charges yet managed to take office), there were 2209 such deaths, or around 550 a year. His wife, Rosinha, was the next governor. Under her watch the body count doubled to 1900 auto-de-resistências per year. The current governor has kept pace with around 4400 deaths while resisting arrest during his first term in office.

Worse are the staggering numbers of homicides and disappeared. Under Rosinha 18.300 people were killed or disappeared in the State of Rio de Janeiro. Under Cabral, 20.600. In eight years, 38.900 people have been killed or disappeared in Rio de Janeiro state. That is more than during the dictatorship in Argentina, in less time. So, the question is, for whom is the city being secured and how?

There is a clear attempt to follow the USAmerican model of incarceration in Brazil. Between 2000-2009, Brazil had an 11% increase in its population and a203% increase in its prison population. Like the USA, a huge percentage of the prison population is wither awaiting trial or stuck there for non-violent offences. For those not familiar with the film Carandiru, there ain’t no cable tv, weight room, or laundry service in Brazilian prisons.

The issue of the UPPs and “security” is very much related to the Olympics and the World Cup. The discussion and discourses surrounding “security” are woefully limited and tend to be dominated by notions of physical security in the face of criminal elements. What most people in Rio (and the wider world) mean by security is the right to private property and personal integrity. This goal has largely been accomplished in the Olympic Ring (O-Ring) of Rio through the installation of UPPs and a public policy of extreme violence exercised against a highly select population. However, the real issues of security and society are unfolding in the West Zone of Rio where the milícias have taken control.

The spectacle of security is very much part of the spectacle of the mega-event. The invasion of the Complexo de Alemão last year was as much a highly coordinated media campaign as a military exercise. The abandonment of the Zona Oeste and the new public housing complexes in Campo Grande and Cosmos to the milicias is a deliberate public policy. As Feixo pointed out, there is not a parallel system of government in the favelas or in the areas controlled by the milicia. Evidence for this was that Sergio Cabral’s candidate took 75% of the votes in the Complexo de Alemão in the 2010 elections. His question to the audience was: who is in charge there? Traficantes or the Governor?

Following in the left-foot-heavy footprints of Freixo was Ricardo Henrique, state secretary of Social Assistance and Human Rights. In beginning his talk about the theoretical roots of the UPP Social program, Henrique drew a line between the “secure city” and the “integrated city”. This division, he suggested, has resulted from the fragmentation of the urban and social fabrics as a result of different practices and politics aimed at different publics and social sectors. The result of these policies has been to reproduce divisions both horizontally and vertically within spheres of government as well as within civil society. Thus, the UPP social project is an attempt to retake the project of developing a republic based on equal rights and accessibility to rights before the law through a more consistent implementation of public policies directed at social development.

Fine. I agree. UPP Social is a necessary but not sufficient condition for reconciling the structural conditions that result in social and spatial fragmentation. What Henrique failed to address in any way, was that at the same time that UPP social is working towards a project of regeneration and de-fragmentation, the rest of the government is working in the opposite direction. While the UPP social programs may be benefitting the 14 favelas in which they are (partilly) implemented, the BRT lines are fragmenting and re-territorializing the rest of the city…FOREVER!

The result: while we can be optimistic that where the UPPs are installed we have seen a sharp decrease in violent crime and a slew of economic and social benefits, there is much work to be done to make these benefits permanent. The lack of long-term planning in Rio’s political system is endemic, systemic, and generalized. There are no guarantees here, only hopes. There are 1.020 favelas in Rio de Janeiro, the UPPs have been installed in 14 of them – the vast majority of which are within the O-Ring and designed to protect Rio’s zones of accumulation and to project the spectacle of security to the world-at-large. The transportation and stadium projects getting crammed into the city are intentionally fragmenting and dividing the city, not attending to effective demand, and benefitting select areas of the city. All of this through the erection of extra-legal forms of government that use the mega-event as a state of emergency to justify extraordinary measures similar to a state of war.

The city government is operating with a heavy, autocratic, and brutal hand as a slew of international media reports have recently shown. Last week the UN commission on housing rights and evictions paid multiple visits to communities that are being brutalized by the city. The tactics are Machiavellian, the results Dickensian. People throughout Rio de Janeiro (and the rest of the World Cup cities) are living in fear and insecurity. When the SMH comes with their spray can, the scarlet letters do not indicate a brighter future but imminent removal at the hands of an authoritarian state whose strings are being pulled by huge white men hidden in small black boxes.

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