Observations about Rio

I'm no expert on Rio, but I have visited the city twice, have taken a favela tour, been in a police vs. drug gang shoot out (not as a shooter), and read quite a few books about the place, so here are my observations on the latest events:

1. The authorities will not win until they have a superior ability to supply local public goods in the favelas.  That is a ways away.  (The broader lesson is you should not take in more immigrants than you can supply local public goods for, and that is why fully open borders is not a good idea in every setting.)

2. On a day-to-day basis, the police are outmatched in terms of weaponry and also will to win.  The military cannot remain deployed forever and a tank cannot rule a neighborhood.  I am skeptical about current victory claims, which from my comfortable perch in Fairfax I suspect are temporary at best.

3. Sometimes the Rio police push out the drug gangs, but the alternative is paramilitary groups which then run the drug trade.  (Those groups, by the way, employ a lot of former policemen.)  A police victory is not always the solution.  Here are the different types of police in Brazil.

4. The Brazilian state has extended its governance, throughout the country, much less than you might think.  The current battles are, among other things, an exercise in nation-state building, which historically has not come easily to most regions.  Furthermore relying on the military for a (partial) victory is in the longer run a double-edged sword, especially in a nation with a history of military coups and military rule.

5. For a different and now shocking look at Rio (the hills are mostly empty), watch the stunning 1959 film Black Orpheus.  Very good trailer here.

6. One of my favorite non-fiction books is Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil, highly recommended.

7. The Brazilians are now building high-speed rail between Rio and Sao Paulo.


great post!

that is why fully open borders is not a good idea in every setting

I can't believe you actually said that. It would be as if I said that women should shave (of course I'd pull my tongue out with pliers before saying that, but you get my point).

I live in Rio since I was born, and I think your views are mostly right.

However, I think you overestimate the risk of a military coup. Paramilitary groups taking over territories is definitely a major issue (it´s increasingly clear to people living in poorer neighborhoods - like me).

You miss the recent UPPs (acronym for Pacifier Police Unit), implemented by the current governor and cited in the presidential campaign as a model to be followed by the next president (Rio governor Sérgio Cabral is an ally of Dilma Rouseff - police forces are run by the state of Rio, not the city).

Page about the UPPs: http://upprj.com/wp/

Things about the UPPs work like this: police officers warn gang members that they will take over a favela. Then, the gang members flee and the police can enter the favelas (in most cases) without conflict.

Unfortunately, those gang members were not arrested, so they were hidden somewhere else.

Some alarming numbers about crime in Rio (2009):

Solved homicide cases (% of all cases): 2,8%. Yes, you can kill someone and walk free in 97,2% of the cases.

Homicide rate per year per 100000 inhabitants: 34,36 (obviously underestimated, because of territory issues discussed above).

The Brazilians are now building high-speed rail between Rio and Sao Paulo.

Nice to see that they've got their priorities in order.

Like most other people of generally libertarian mindset, I'm for drug legalization. But I think it should begin on a limited and controlled basis with the outcomes carefully analyzed. Addictive drugs remove volition, and therefore I think those drugs are very different from other drugs.

A big blow to my beliefs came when I spoke with a native of Jamaica. He said that decades of decriminalization did absolutely no favors for that island nation.

I really don't believe the libertarian purists have thought out drug legalization. They haven't looked at existing models except those which confirm their biased beliefs. They have drawn the wrong lessons from prohibition. They underestimate how drug cartels will squeeze out legal competition. They don't realize that many people do not use these harmful substances merely because they are illegal, although I'm sure a few people use it only because it's illegal. Then there's another massive bureacracy to tax and regulate the drugs, safety standards, drug warnings, etc. You can't have Jack Falstaff and have him thin.

As for Brazil, I'm shocked this is not a bigger story in the media. It looks like the BRIC is about to smash some windows.

The problem in Rio is not the drugs. You got it right, the problem is that the state cannot supply public goods to everyone, so other groups come in and to that.

Drugs are only a minor part of what the criminals supply. They supply illegal electricity, cable TV, security. And besides that, they are very close to some politicians and able to intermediate the contacts between the state and the communities.

But the UPPs (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora) are really working, and Beltrame the Secretary of Public Security of the State of Rio is one of the sanest politicians I've ever seen. Look ate this:

"As ocupações que estamos fazendo não significam que vamos acabar com o tráfico, com a violência. Isso vai existir e o tráfico vai migrar. O tráfico vai existir sempre onde existir viciado. O que não vamos admitir é essa territorialidade que o tráfico tem, essa exclusividade do território."

"The occupations we are doing do not mean that we are going to end drug traffic, or violence. This will continue and the drug traffic will just migrate. Drug traffic will always exist where addicted people exist. What we will not admit is the territoriality that the drug traffic has, this exclusivity over the territory" (Sorry, I’m not very good with translations)

There’s a long way to go in Rio, but they at least know what they are doing. The main goal of UPPs is supply the public goods the poor communities demand, so the crime won't have a market for them anymore.

Two really good movies about the public security problem in Rio are The Elite Squad one and two.

As Rafael above, I was born and live in Rio. In fact, I live in the region the major operations took place. Your comments are not untrue, but they don't reflect the situation in Rio today. The operations in the last few days may seem the same old method, but that's just on the surface. As Rafael pointed out, the UPP prove that something has changed in our security policy.

But, just out of memory from the last 15 years (I'm 31), I can tell you that these operations are quite different in many points:

1. The Police commanded the action, according to our Federative rules. The Armed Forces were only used as support to the policemen and policewomen.

2. The actions were conducted legally, in all aspects. The Police have warrants, the operation was not just a "response" to the gangs' actions.

3. For the first time, the number of people arrested is bigger that of people killed. In a city with a history of police violence, that is something to take on account.

4. For the first time, the action was to take territory, not to make a "drugs bust". This means that the presence of the state will have the chance to be effective, continuous. Not only in the favelas of Alemao and Vila Cruzeiro, but in the surrounding neighbourhoods (for instance, where I live).

FWIW, <a href = "http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0861739/">here is a movie about one of the special police forces (BOPE) mentioned at the site to which you link that is worth watching.

Are there some statistics on how much money Americans spend on drugs, stratified by income, by what the the drug is and by where it comes from?

From the Nation article linked:
"Soon I can understand why: he wants to sell the solid whitewashed cottage he built on squatted land, which he now owns, thanks to recent urban land reform. He thinks he can get $50,000 for it."

That was the main debate I engaged in while in Rio a few years ago. Why aren't the squatters given rights to their land? So apparently that has happened in some cases. Does anyone know if the hillside squatters with the awesome ocean views now own their land?

I wonder to what extent the gang income in favelas comes from drug dealing. Sure, having a haven for illegal commerce puts you in a position to profit from it, but you still need a network to distribute. It's not the faveleans who are paying serious money for their drugs; it's the urban middle class.

The value of the haven and distribution network is proportional to the seriousness of enforcement against it. Does Brasil really enforce drug laws enough to make it profitable?

How much of that favela gang income is really coming from water, sewer, police protection, and road building payments collected from tenants? In other words, how much is income created by foolish national policy (drug money) and how much by local taxes assesed by the local authorities for public services?

1. Acctually, most of the 'immigrants' in Rio's favelas came from Brazil's northeastern states.
2. If, by any chance, your interested in the 'favelização' ('slumification') process, take a close look at FlorianÃ&sup3;polis, Brazil. By the stories I've heard from a friend, this process is happening right now.

I think it is clear that the best policy is to find the moderate gangsters and appease the hell out of them while absolutely forbidding the use of force by any member of the military unless 1)they have been shot, twice 2) there are no civilians nearby 3) its Sunday (many Brazilians are religious; its important to demonstrate cultural sensitivity). This should result in the spontaneous decision of the gangs to disband or possibly form dance troops to express there latent expressive potentialities. Note that this prescription works from Detroit to Kabul.

The favela stuff does not sound like a big deal to me, though I may have missed the point.

It looks like drug dealers etc had fortified some favelas and their own private armies ran their own private governments there. The government didn't like that and has started persuading them to leave. If the government does that effectively enough, then drug dealers will hide in other places (perhaps including prosperous neighborhoods) and will do without the benefits of great big forts. Not so very important to them, unless the government does crack down on them.

The government moving into favelas will provide higher taxes, water, roads, electricity, etc, at higher prices than before. The people who cannot afford that will have to move, perhaps to create new favelas. They may be able to sell their homes or plots of land for significant money, at least significant to them. So the previous favelas get gentrified. No big deal.

The government removes pockets it did not control, perhaps creating new pockets in places it cares less about. Everything else continues as before, except that possibly drug dealers will tend to hide instead of control forts.

>I really don't believe the libertarian purists have thought out drug legalization.


>As for Brazil, I'm shocked this is not a bigger story in the media.

Our neighbor Mexico isn't even a big story in the US media, and it makes Iraq look like Norway. Why would anyone care about Brazil?

Thanks for linking to me about the types of police. I agree with you on the nation building, but one of the biggest issues that seems to be ignored by a lot of the media is rule of law. Government control of the favelas, and making the favelas a part of the city itself and within and under control of institutions are important, but until the judicial and penitentiary systems are really reformed, it's hard to expect that organized crime will be eliminated.

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