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What are Rio's security crackdowns accomplishing?

How effective is Rio's 2008 public safety policy, if it pushes crime out of one neighborhood and into another, asks guest blogger Julia Michaels.

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Corruption came to the fore in Rocinha, where it became clear that the police hadn’t occupied the authority vacuum left by trafficker Nem because they were on the take. It’s probably everywhere, to some extent. The fact that this week Mangueira favela shopkeepers followed an order (given by a cruising motorcyclist) to close as a sign of mourning for a deceased drug trafficker indicates similar troubles there.

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Beltrame is grappling with both issues; today he was expected to announce a series of measures to deal with crime in and around Niterói.

Rio’s public safety policy is clearly messing with long-entrenched markets, attitudes and relationships, and many of the stacked dominoes aren’t in plain view. Drugs aren’t in the purview of favelas only, as a fellow combatant reminds us:

“When I was minister of defense, we were very successful. We took down all the members [on] the list of high-value targets in the drug trafficking, all of them. They are either in jail or dead. We confiscated unprecedented amounts of cocaine. We eradicated unprecedented amounts of hectares of coca, and the DEA director came here and congratulated me and congratulated our people, saying we are doing very well, ” Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos told the Washington Post this week (in English).  ”And you know how success was defined? By the price of cocaine in Los Angeles or in New York or in Washington. And so, because the price went up, we were being successful. But at the same time, if the price goes up, the incentive goes up. So there is a structured sort of contradiction in the whole setup.”

It’s probably exactly that incentive which has led competing drug gangs to pay off the cops and engage in warfare in Rocinha. Quite likely the success of   occupation and pacification rest on the state government’s ability to clamp down on this – a place so much at the heart of Rio de Janeiro.

Of course the two lines of thinking described above aren’t mutually exclusive. The picture is muddy, and the way we see it is colored by our experience and preconceived notions. Some of the actors are diehards, some are chameleons, and maybe a few are Brazilian Galileos.

For now, Beltrame has the last word.

“I see that things may not be very good, but they’re better than they were,” he told O Globo newspaper yesterday.

– Julia Michaels, a long-time 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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The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Latin America bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

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