Territories of Peace: Democratizing favelas in Rio de Janeiro

Favelas are underprivileged communities crowded in the interstitial spaces of the city of Rio de Janeiro. These territories have been historically neglected by the state, marked by the violence occasionated in the war that the state is constantly waging on the drug trafficking gangs that since the 1980s gained the control over these areas, as well as by the violence of the traffickers themselves. 

In the past two years the government of Brazil started a program called "pacification." When a favela is "pacified" it means that military forces invade the territory, take over control by capturing or sending away the traffickers and build a police station. The goal is to bringing back to the state the rule over these territories. But, how can these communities be suddenly reintegrated into the political agenda of a nation that has marginalized them for decades?

These communities exist all over Brazil, but the program so far has only been implemented in Rio de Janeiro, in 20 of the around 750 present favelas in the region. The police that is in charge of this operation are a special unit called UPP (Unit of Pacification Police), that intends to introduce agents who receive a special training in human rights and a higher salary to try to keep them away from corrupt practices. However, police units only take over issue of security but there is much more to the reintegration of a territory and a community than just providing safety and imposing rule of law.

UPP developed for this reason a branch of the program named UPP Social, with the aim of spreading democratic practices and taking care of the social aspect of the reintegration and pacification processes. UPP Social soon went to function under the goverment of the municipality and take charge of issues such as garbage collection, "legal" gass and electricity provission and housing. Another program was developed by the government of the State of Rio named Territories of Peace (Territorios da Paz) that is more focused on long term development in terms of education, health and other social services. This summer I will be working for Territories of Peace, and I will be recording in this blog the experiences in bringing back into the state communities that have been excluded for years from the life of the city, while geographically situated right in the middle of it.

The pacification processes have received several criticisms: many see UPP Social or Territories of Peace as counter-insurgency mechanisms, others feel that they are imposing the government’s will on uninformed population, while some feel that their actions are temporary and just focused on creating a proper climate for the upcoming World Cup and Olympic Games events, but all that devoted to long term goals will not really be sustainable. I will recall my experiences to try and provide at the end of my journey an opinion on the effectiveness of this project and how it can or cannot bring communities into democracy.  



Favela do Vidigal
Rio de Janeiro, RJ
  • Carolina Barry Laso | September 3rd, 2012
    As my internship comes to an end I will try to evaluate how in these past three months our work has made a difference in the way in which public policies are being implemented in the community of Vidigal. The process has been and is still a very...
  • Carolina Barry Laso | August 8th, 2012
    For these past two weeks I took advantage that my boss and her assistant were on holidays to pursue a project that I hope will be helpful for my experience and for all those who are making it happen. I have recorded several hours of interviews with...
  • Carolina Barry Laso | July 23rd, 2012
    It is often seen how some sectors of Brazilian society historically display a paternalistic behavior.  When I was studying abroad at the University in Rio de Janeiro, our Portuguese teacher explained us that such behavior comes from the times...
  • Local with a tattoo that reads: Happiness
    Carolina Barry Laso | July 13th, 2012
    On Wednesday I joined another manager from the program I work in, Territories of Peace, and her assistant to accompany their work in a community of the north area of Rio de Janeiro. There is a great difference between the “zones” in which locals...
  • Carolina Barry Laso | July 4th, 2012
    One of the aspects that I enjoy the most about this job is that I get to work on all the stages of the process, and thus I am able to see how the reintegration of this territories works from the two sides of the equation: from the point of view of...
  • Girls in Cantagalo photograph by Daniel de la Calle
    Carolina Barry Laso | June 27th, 2012
    In the past few days at work and as I have reflected in the past blog entries, I have been very careful not to disrespect the differences on the way in which things function in this context where I am now working and living. I have tried to adapt...
  • Carolina Barry Laso | June 23rd, 2012
    In 1980, in the midst of the rise of drug violence in the favelas, the Pope John Paul II visited the favela of Vidigal. There, he made it through rough alleys into a small chapel that had been recently built by the residents. He blessed the chapel,...
  • Carolina Barry Laso | June 20th, 2012
    On Wednesday the 13th, a UPP release informed that there were approximately 300 people gathered in Vidigal’s square at the peak of the pre-event. Residents and visitors from all ages performed and crowded the audience. In a community of 50,000...
  • Carolina Barry Laso | June 13th, 2012
    20 is approximately as many people as were reunited yesterday in the UPP (Pacification Police Unit) meeting room in the community of Vidigal. +20 it makes 40, the approximate number of people who are working and volunteering to put up this event. +...