The "take-over" of Rocinha, one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favelas, by heavily armed police and military units was seen by some as a media spectacle and by others as part of a successful strategy of regaining state control over an area ruled by armed drug gangs. Less than three hours after 3,000 police and soldiers occupied the favela or in the south of the city, Rio de Janeiro state Secretary of Public Security José Mariano Beltrame announced the "recovery of the territory" by the state.
The police blitzes in this Olympic city’s biggest slums are meant to show the world that Rio is winning the fight against violent drug gangs that have ruled the shantytowns for decades. With this weekend’s occupation of the Rocinha slum, home to 100,000 people, authorities secured key areas near athletic events planned for the 2016 Games. Since the security program began three years ago, 19 permanent “police pacification units,” or UPPs, have been created. The problem is of such scale that even the main architect of the program acknowledges that policing alone will not halt the drug trade. Instead, the goal of the invasions is to win back strategic territory and take guns away from the gangs.
About two decades after the U.S. emerged from the worst of its own crack epidemic, Brazilian authorities are watching the cheap drug spread across this country of 190 million people. They have far fewer resources to deal with it, despite a booming economy that expanded 7.5 percent last year. Walter Maierovitch, a former drug czar, proposes programs that offer adults health services and a safe place to use drugs. "Insisting on programs that demand abstinence doesn't work," he said.
Brazilian demonstrators held marches on the weekend calling for marijuana to be legalized after the country's top court ruled the gatherings could go ahead in the name of freedom of speech. The demonstrations were held in 40 towns and cities late Saturday, according to Brazilian media.
Four decades after Washington declared its "war on drugs" and began to spread the doctrine south of the U.S. border, the government of the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro decided to shift away from that approach towards a strategy focused on community policing. The new focus has already produced results in some of the city’s favelas or shanty towns, which were long off-limits to outsiders, including police. The process began in 2009 with the installation of "Police Pacification Units" (UPPs) in the favelas.