Rio: Three Police men walking

While they are preparing for their first World Cup in 2014 and their
first Olympic Games in 2016, Brazilians can make history for an even better reason. If only they succeed in pacifying one of the most violent and ungovernable cities in the world, and becoming a model for all megacities. Is Rio going to score the goal? And at what price?

It was almost as if Brazil’s military had just taken back key territory from a foreign army after a long, exhausting battle. Except that when Rio de Janeiro’s police raised Brazilian flags on the highest point of Alemão favela complex, they were not taking the slum back from a foreign military, but rather from the grasp of Alemão’s pernicious drug traffickers. The most striking feature of the 2,600-man take-back of the favela in 2010 was not just the few hours it took or the fact that it marked the return of the state’s presence to an area from which it had been absent for decades. The most striking feature of this unprecedented police operation was that this time, the police came to stay. And as never before, citizens took to the streets to welcome them with open arms and jubilation. Rio de Janeiro’s police had probably never received such a warm welcome, so they knew the population had finally come to accept them in their new role, as peacekeepers.

Months before Rio de Janeiro officially launched its bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games, Brazilian authorities were well aware that the skyrocketing violence of the city’s protracted war on drugs would be the greatest challenge to a successful bid. By 2007, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially launched the bidding process, Rio had become internationally renowned as one of the world’s most violent cities. In 2007, Rio’s homicide rate of 45 persons for each 100,000 was far above the global average of 7.6 per 100,000. Rio’s authorities knew that if they were to become serious contenders against much safer cities like Tokyo, Madrid, and Chicago, they would have to show the IOC that they were both willing and able to truly transform the face of urban violence in their city.

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by Albert Souza Mulli
photograph by Lalo De Almeida