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Tensions run high in Rio favelas amid 'pacification'

Altercations like this week's fight in Alemão between the army and the local population are expected again as the country adjusts to the irreversible trend of integration.

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Perhaps there is truth in both versions. Maybe both sides are adjusting as rules, behaviors, and expectations change. Democracy is, after all, a process of organizing, presenting, weighing, and meeting or denying demands and interests. It isn’t unblinking obedience to a higher authority, either drug trafficker or general.

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Meanwhile, police shootings of civilians have dropped dramatically in pacified neighborhoods, narcotraffickers and militia members are being arrested, and many crimes are falling all over Rio, though there have been some frightening exceptions such as this and this and drug trafficking still exists (in what city doesn’t it?). Militias do, too.

Does anyone have a better idea than the current public safety policy, which beefed up the Army presence yesterday? ”I’ve said quite emphatically that after thirty or forty years of abandonment of some areas and total drug traffic dominion, no one is going to solve this in the short term,” State Public Safety Secretrary José Mariano Beltrame said in a press conference this week. “We opened a window so that public services and society itself would fill their roles in these communities.”

Though it’s possible to install a recycled rubber riser on a manhole cover to get a smooth street, the carioca crews seem to have taken a cue from local manicurists, who messily splash nail enamel all over your fingers and then clean up the excess with cotton wrapped on a stick, dipped in remover liquid. In contrast, Vietnamese manicurists do the painting as if walking a tightrope, saving on nail polish and remover, both.

The just-so Vietnamese may not have much to contribute to Rio’s public safety pacification policy, implemented in 2008 and up to eighteen favelas now, out of a planned total of at least forty by 2014. With only a few countries to serve as models and a plethora of actors and variables whose behavior can’t be fully predicted or planned for, the process is necessarily as bumpy as Rio’s long and troubled Avenida Brasil – which hasn’t yet been fully repaved.

Julia Michaels, a longtime resident of Brazil, writes the blog Rio Real, which she describes as a constructive and critical view of Rio de Janeiro’s ongoing transformation.

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