Stagecoach To Somewhere – Brazil Report January

The sooner England team manager, Roy Hodgson, arrives to sort out the country the better. Rocinha, the favela in Rio de Janeiro, overlooks the affluent neighbourhood of Sáo Conrado.  Located in its plush streets is the hotel that will be used by the visiting England football team during the FIFA World Cup.  Up the hill in Rocinha, Christmas Day 2013 was not quiet.  Police and drug dealers clashed and this led to shoot outs, which presumably the rich below found unsettling.  An officer and resident were injured in Rocinha, and extra police were drafted in to help the besieged.  Life in Rocinha has not been settled since the alleged torture of Amarildo de Souza who disappeared in July after being questioned by UPP police. The UPP police in Brazil consist of 36 ‘pacifying units’ and their main purpose is to seize control of the favelas from the drug dealers.  The authorities are terrified of World Cup visitors being slain by stoned megalomaniacs inside the favelas.  Normally, tourists sidestep the favelas but, as we all know, football fans cannot be trusted to be sensible.

Inevitably, the struggles of the UPP on the front line have provided heroes and heroines.   Imagine 3 football teams filled with

Favela de Rocinha

Favela de Rocinha

Untouchable Kevin Costner wannabees.  But if UPP recruits are strong on action and purpose, and many do have integrity and courage, they can be insensitive to local opinion, which is often complicated.  After all, nobody likes change.   Now 25 officers have been charged with the torture and murder of de Souza, the drug dealers do not appear quite so bad.  Call me squeamish but 25 sounds like an awful lot of torture.  Note, though, that the killing of Mark Duggan in the UK produced a different response within the judicial process of the UK, the country that claims it invented the rule of law.

46 years old mother of five, Jacky Caetano, was a neighbour of de Souza. ‘Now, no one knows who is a criminal, who is police,’ she said.

The great but very bleak Iceland gangster movie, City State, argues that the contamination of urban politics with corruption, ambition and violence is an inevitable consequence of human nature and that the last thing we can expect from police, tempted by powerful flatterers with gifts, is for them to be on the side of ordinary people.  Ms Caetano is not a historian but she also has democratic concerns.

‘People were happier here before the UPP arrived, even with the traffickers,’ she said.  ‘There was respect here, but now, no one can trust anyone.’

Supposedly, Rocinha was pacified in 2011.  It received its ‘pacifying unit’ in 2012.

‘It’s a 1000 times worse since the UPP was installed,’ said Ms Caetano.  ‘Pacification is good if it brings good to the community, if it brings more crèches, schools, people see progress but we didn’t.’

William de Oliveira endorses this view.  He was once president of the residents association in Rocinha.

‘Police can’t solve our problems,’ he said.

If he feels negative now, and the absence of the pronoun implies that he might, wait until he sees the pessimistic City State.

‘We don’t accept living with trafficking nor through trafficking,’ said de Oliveira.  ‘Nor do we accept living with police who use oppression and repression.’

Right now, the people of Tottenham are saying something similar.

Pacification in Brazil can be successful and is often welcomed because the drug traffickers are invariably unpleasant.  But if the police also act like bad guys it must, on bad days, feel like torture here, torture there, torture everywhere.  Pacification succeeds best when the infrastructure is developed and the police avoid making turf wars more complicated.  Without a strategy from government and intelligence from the police the necessary forces of order can soon become a hated presence.

Santa Marta

Santa Marta

Residents of Santa Marta believe pacification in their favela has been successful.  There has not been a murder in Santa Marta for 5 years and there is a rumour that visitors to this favela even notice a resemblance to Tunbridge Wells.

Antonia de Freitas manages a canteen in Santa Marta.

‘It’s changed a lot now it’s been pacified,’ she said. ‘It’s not dangerous.  We didn’t see tourists before but now they pass by all the time.’

This is good news for the authorities.  After all, before the responsibility of the World Cup panicked the Government, there had been an acceptance that the drug traffickers would always control the favelas.

Many complain that the money being spent on the World Cup should have been used for health and education.  They believe that pacification is merely to prevent the oppressed being an embarrassment during the spectacles planned by the Government on behalf of their rich friends.

Pedro Paulo, Civilian Household Secretary, defends the programme.  ‘When a community is pacified the quality (of life) improves.  The greatest achievement is to allow quality public services to enter these communities, reducing the difference between favelas and urban neighbourhoods.’

Some of the statistics are impressive, and there have been results that the poor of Tottenham can only dream about.  In pacified favelas, that is the ones where they do not shoot one another on Christmas day, school exam results have improved by 40%.  Apart from the extra policing by UPP, there is an ambition to provide 100% health care to the favela communities.

Meanwhile, Jacky Caetano claims, ‘It’s a thousand times worse since the UPP was installed.  I left because of the violence.’

Christmas day violence was not restricted to Rio de Janeiro. Manaus is the city that has the Mayor who was recently offended by travelling diplomat Roy Hodgson.  The inadequate football manager said that the city was unsuitable as a World Cup venue.

‘Well, it’s hot, innit?’ said Hodgson.

250 miles from Manaus 45 years old Ivan Tenharim was found dead on the Trans-Amazonian highway.  Ivan was a chief of the


Ivan Tenharim

Tenharim tribe.  The people of the tribe believe Ivan was murdered but the police have said it was an accident.  This was the beginning.  The Tenharim reserve is close to the small town of Humaitá.  3 contractors disappeared from the town and the locals said that the Tenharim had kidnapped them.  400 farmers and loggers invaded the tribal reserve, set fire to some of the homes and forced 140 of the natives living there to flee to a military base for refuge.  Despite excess turkey and Christmas pudding the locals were still lively on Christmas day.  The townspeople clashed with the police and set fire to the headquarters of FUNAI, the department for Indian affairs.  A woman who was passing through at the time and who was called Mary said, ‘It doesn’t bother, me.  I wasn’t looking for a manger here, anyway.’

Not satisfied with setting fire to the FUNAI office, the rioters also went to the banks of the River Madeira and burned the boats used by the Tenharim.

The Army has now arrived to try and establish some kind of peace.  Think of a really big pacification unit.   What is clear is that the indigenous tribe and the local townspeople do not like one another.   Like in the movie, City State, there are villains with bitter memories and groups who have feelings of entitlement that are irreconcilable.  Both groups yearn for a world without the other.

Rosinho Tenharim, another tribal leader, said, ‘They are blaming us, we are innocent, that pains us a lot.’

And he should know about pain.  The experience of indigenous peoples in Brazil has been appalling, for the same reason that there is friction between the Tenharim and the townspeople of Humaitá, an unquenchable desire for land, farming and mineral rights.  Millions of indigenous Indians have been slaughtered in the last 2 centuries.  One would have expected some self-conscious hesitancy from the hotheads who set fire to the local FUNAI headquarters.

Colonel Paulo Fernando Lemos de Menoncą Viana said, ‘We are here to protect the physical integrity of the natives.’

He talks like a man who intends to stop indigenous people being murdered by hardworking and friendly loggers and farmers.  Wish him luck.

If you want to read about what happened to the author when he visited Brazil click here.


One comment

  1. Another highly interesting and detailed piece which again highlights man’s greed whatever the consequences. Perhaps that well travelled ‘diplomat’ Roy Hodgson should improve his knowledge of Brazil before he lands. I really feel for the pampered English footballers, not!

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