About: Thomas Salem has just finalised his master thesis in social anthropology at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen, named “Taming the war machine: Police, pacification and power in Rio de Janeiro” . In that regards he received additional funding from the Egalitarianism project to help out on his fieldwork . The following text is based on his thesis which received a price for best master-thesis from the Norwegian Association for Development Research .


Picture 1: The main base of UPP Alemão strategically perched on a hilltop above the favelas

Tomas Salem

After decades of soaring violence, partly as the result of a public security paradigm articulated through the rhetoric of war on drugs, and of aggressive and militarized policing, the first Pacifying Police Units (Unidades da Policia Pacificadora, UPPs) were established in the city of Rio de Janeiro in 2009. The UPPs or Pacification Project, as it is also known, allegedly sought to bring peace and security to the city, and to the impoverished residents of the favelas [informal settlements]. Arguably, the pacification strategy represents the largest shift in the local government’s policy towards the favelas since Brazil’s return to democracy in the mid 80’s. Between January and July 2015 I followed police officers at three different UPPs, as part of the ethnographic fieldwork for my MA thesis in Social Anthropology at the University of Bergen. My objective was to analyze the changes in the exercise of state power towards favela residents through the pacification. Specifically, I focused on how patrol officers at the UPPs enacted a particular state order in the favelas, and at the institutional attempts at producing a new police subjectivity through a taming or pacification of what I describe as the wild masculinity of patrol officers. In my thesis, I tied the process of pacification of the favelas, and of the police, to larger political and economic dynamics on a national and global scale. This text is a brief summary of my main findings and conclusion.[1]



The Pacification Project

The main objectives of the Pacification Project was to reclaim state control over the favelas—poor neighborhoods formerly dominated by drug cartels—and to reform Rio de Janeiro’s Military Police (Policia Militar do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, PMERJ), transforming it from a war-oriented police force to a citizen police force through an adaptation of the community-policing paradigm called proximity policing. Local government and police officials presented proximity policing as a new strategy of policing based on collaboration and dialogue with local residents, and preventive policing techniques rather than repressive ones. The approach was seen as a way to improve the relation between the police and local residents, which had deteriorated after decades of police corruption and hard handed practices of policing in the favelas.

Furthermore, policy makers argued that police presence in the favelas would pave the way for the involvement of other state agencies, addressing pressing concerns, such as infrastructural improvements, public health issues, culture, and education. Thus, the Pacification was grounded in the rhetoric of social inclusion, and presented as a way to bridge the gaps of a city hierarchically divided between historically excluded favelas, and the “formal city”, locally knowns as the asfalto [lit. tarmac]. Put differently, the argument was that the UPPs would promote the social inclusion of the city’s poorest residents through a public security reform that would lead to a reduction of the levels of lethal violence in the favelas; it would bring peace and development to areas that had suffered from years of abandonment and neglect by the state, and to populations that had lived under the terror of the drug cartels, at the mercy of powerful drug lords.

However, while the UPPs where legitimated through a discourse of social inclusion, the project has been tied to the economic and political demands of the global economy. When the first UPPs were established, the Brazilian economy was booming. Local and national authorities had adopted a business strategy of hosting mega-events—such as the World Cup and Olympics—in order to attract foreign investments and position Rio as a global capital. However, Rio’s reputation as a violent and dangerous city, as well as recent international critique of human rights violations by state agents, was not compatible with the authorities attempt to present Rio as a modern and attractive city for investors (Saborio 2013). The UPP approach was tailored to the needs of Rio’s business strategy: it addressed controversies on human rights, whilst showing that the government was commited to sorting out security concerns during the upcoming mega-events. Between 2009 and 2014 a total of 38 police units were established in selected favelas, most of which were strategically located close to the future World Cup and Olympic venues; near the city center; and in the affluent and touristic South Zone of Rio. When I arrived for my fieldwork, the UPPs were present in 264 of Rio’s roughly 1000 favelas.


The involution of the UPPs

While the Pacification initially received widespread public support and hail by the press, the year preceding my stay in Rio had seen a marked increase in tensions between local residents and the pacifying police forces, as well as the abandonment of many of the social interventions that had been promised. At the time, these developments were challenging the rhetoric of social inclusion and proximity policing. Significantly, the fragile “armed peace” that had initially been achieved through the UPPs, had turned into an outright war in many favelas, with shoot-outs occurring daily in several pacified areas.

The fluctuations in violence at the UPPs can partially be understood when considering the logics of violence in Rio. Armed confrontations between the police and the cartels has been explained as a violent negotiation between the parties over bribes and corruption money: the police uses violence as a coercive strategy to “sweeten the deals” that they strike with the drug cartels, specifically, to increase the price of the bribes that they charge for “liberating” selected areas for drug trafficking (Lessing 2015). In this vein, scholars have noted how, as corruption schemes and bribery-relations collapse, violence tends to increase (Penglase 2015).

In Rio’s favelas, the practice of charging bribes was so common that there is a separate name for it: arrego [lit. agreement]. It was widespread prior to pacification, but generally thought to be incompatible with the discourse of pacification and the permanent police presence in pacified favelas. Thus, the expansion of the UPPs had placed significant constraints on the local drug trade. Initially, conflict had been avoided through the migration of drug dealers and gang members to neighboring favelas, but as these communities were also “pacified” the cartels reacted by facing the police through armed resistance. In turn, this forced the police at the UPPs to adopt the warfare techniques of policing that the project was supposed to replace, in order to guarantee the territorial occupation of the favelas, and prevent the cartels from regaining control.

During my time in the field, I first-handedly observed the deterioration of proximity-policing and trust-building approaches, and the escalating tension and persisting armed confrontations between military police forces and gang members. The following words of a patrol officer from Complexo do Alemão (CPX), one of the largest pacified favelas in Rio, express a fairly common understanding among patrol officers at the UPPs, and highlight many of the challenges of the project that will be discussed in this text.

  • We [the patrol officers] have lost the fear of dying. Maybe it’s just what we are waiting for here at Alemão. We are waiting for our hour to come—doing what is expected of us, and waiting. That’s what it’s all about: you put up a fight so you won’t die, but at any moment the news of your death might arrive at your home. […] When I come to work here I don’t feel that I’m doing police work, I’m doing guerrilla work. I come here, get my rifle, holster my gun, head for my sector… Do you know where my patrol sector is? It’s at the Canitar base. I stay in a trench, surrounded by sandbags and barrels, waiting for the attack, or attacking. I’m not there to do anything. You tell me, what kind of police officer can I be there? A proximity police? A pacifying police? In a battalion [military police station] you attend to occurrences, to domestic disturbances. Here nobody is going to call for you if there is a fight between a husband and wife, they are going to call for the guys at the boca [the drug dealers]. They aren’t going to call for the police—there are even places here we won’t enter. So, my service here is practically that of a guerrilla: I grab my rifle and I wait to see if the vagabundos [lit. ‘vagabonds’; criminals] attack, you know? They attack us, we attack them, bullet against bullet and that’s it. That’s it, that’s the duty I carry out here. I know that that’s my job: come here to be shot at and shoot back, that’s my duty. […] I am a guerrilheiro [guerrilla warrior] of the State, and this is an urban war. […] In the past, when we had a different police, there was respect. Today there’s not, you know? The respect that we enjoyed in the past was through authority, often with truculence, but it was what had to be done. Today you’ve got the human rights that only defend the bandido [lit. ‘bandit’; criminal], you know? They don’t defend the good citizens—they [‘the human rights’] go to jail to defend the rapist, not the family of the person who was raped. The inversion of values in our society is very big, you know? I see it more and more.
    •                                                                                                                                                                     PMERJ Soldier at UPP Alemão


Picture 2: The “advanced base” at Canitar, Complexo do Alemão


Explaining state violence: War machine and state dynamics

 Traditionally, scholars have offered two competing explanations to the violence of Brazilian police forces. In the first approach, police violence is seen as an expression of the government’s inability to control its own agents; as the state’s failure to monopolize the use of force. The second explanation sees it as a violent effect of a highly unequal society, arguing that the main purpose of the police is to patrol the divisions that separate the neighborhoods of the wealthy from those of the poor, and that the violence is functional to upholding the Brazilian state order (see Penglase 2015). I have tried to avoid a structure versus agency approach, and incorporate both explanations in my analysis through Deleuze and Guattari’s (1980) concepts of war machine and state dynamics. While they are described as contradicting dynamics that coexist in all social processes, they are particularly well suited to the analysis of state processes, and the resistance and opposition towards these.

Territorializations and deterritorializations

State dynamics are usually described as hierarchical, bounding, or territorializing processes, oriented towards the conservation of organs of power, while war machines are understood as a-hierarchical, counter-systemic, boundless, or deterritorializing processes or assemblages, oriented towards the destruction of the structures and hierarchies created by the state. War machines are generally characterized by their exteriority in relation to the state and its rules and regulations. They normally link in illicit or illegitimate ways, and engage in predatory and often violent forms of accumulation: the drug economy and arms trade in Rio exhibit many of the traits of this dynamic, and perhaps less evident, so does the corporate interests of global capital, which continually resist and challenge the rules and regulations of national state orders (see Kapferer and Bertelsen 2009).

According to Deleuze and Guattari (1980), militaries are war-machines that have been captured by the state in order to harness their destructive potential. As war machines, militaries continually causes problems for the state, which explains the mistrust that States have toward their military institutions. In other words: while the Brazilian state might use its military police forces to uphold a particular social order through the use of violent force, this does not impede that parts of the police, or even parts of the entire state apparatus (politicians, bureaucrats, etc.) from acting (semi-)autonomously at times, subverting the state order in pursue of their own particular interests.

As I argue in my thesis, the Pacification project can be seen as an ongoing state attempt to capture and control both the war machine dynamics of the favela based drug cartels, and the war machine dynamics that operate at the heart of the repressive apparatuses of the state: specifically within PMERJ.

Integrating different approaches to (police) violence

In my thesis, I trace the war machine dynamics of PMERJ in the patrol practices of militarized policing—oriented towards the destruction of the parallel states of the drug cartels; in the practices of corruption and abuses of power by the police; and importantly, in the gendered norms of the institution, showing how these dynamics run counter to the attempts at institutional reform. Conversely, I understand the reform process as the expression of a state dynamic aimed at enforcing effective control over low-level commanders and patrol officers within PMERJ, streamlining the state’s use of violent power, and making it more targeted and efficient—i.e. through the training of patrol officers in standardized protocols and crime-prevention techniques. I also argue that state dynamics are expressed in PMERJ’s attempt to guarantee the territorial control of the favelas; in the attempts at establishing a Brazilian state order in communities previously dominated by drug cartels; in the trust-building approaches of the UPPs; and also in the gender politics of proximity policing, among others. In my analysis I show how both of these dynamics—war machine and state—produces violent effects, avoiding an “either-or” perspective.

In order to analyze the violence-producing relation between historical, social, cultural, and economic forces and the police, I have drawn on Bourgois and Scheper-Hughes’ (2004) concept of a continuum of violence. This concept highlights the existence of multiple forms of violence—structural, symbolic, moral, and physical or everyday forms—and shows how these feed into each other, and are continually reconfigured and transformed. Furthermore, I use the concept in order to highlight how the production of the subjectivity of patrol officers—their becoming police—is fraught with violence, which allows me to challenge the victim:victimizer dichotomy.

In addition to offering an explanation of police violence, my goal has been to bring to the fore the dilemmas and ethical challenges that I faced during my fieldwork, as many of the police officers that I came to care for and empathize with, openly admitted to, defended, or justified power abuses, extra-judicial killings, and torture as a legitimate crime-fighting tool. I found that understanding the processes whereby these acts and opinions came to be produced and reproduced posed a significant scientific challenge. This dilemma was reflected in the fact that the patrol officers that I spoke to were often powerless within their own institution and as civilians: Many, if not most, were economically marginalized men: I spoke to several patrol officers who had been homeless or lived in favelas prior to entering the Police Academy. Furthermore, a significant proportion of patrol officers were black, and thus part of a socially and historically excluded population in Brazil. Simultaneously, their status as police placed them in a position of power in relation to the residents of the communities that they patrolled.

The notion of a continuum of violence also allowed me to explore the violence-producing relation between the institutional structure of PMERJ, and expressions of police violence. Among other things I analyzed how the different forms of violence that recruits were subject to at the Police Academy—specifically the forms of violence that Didier Fassin (2013) refer to as moral violence (i.e. humiliations) and Erving Goffman (1976) calls mortifications of self (different techniques aimed at destroying the self-perception of the person they are directed towards)—were productive of the violence carried out by patrol officers against the population in the favelas. As low-ranking military personnel within a hierarchical military institution, recruits and patrol officers were expected to follow the orders of their superiors without objection, and would be severely punished for violations of a disciplinary code of conduct excessively focused on decorum and on PMERJ’s institutional image (see Cano and Duarte 2012). One patrol officer that I spoke to reported having been sentenced to twenty days of disciplinary confinement for eating his lunch inside his private vehicle with his uniform on, another patrol officer spent four days confined for not wearing the beret of his uniform. Verbal and physical abuses by superiors—including different forms of torture—were also commonplace, and have been reported both at the UPP bases and at the Police Academy. These forms of violence would stimulate the aggressive behavior of patrol officers.

Picture 3: Bullet hole in the locker of one Soldier at UPP Alemão. The base was constantly targeted in attacks by gang-members, and innumerous bullet holes were scattered across the walls of the building.

Additionally, the armed conflict with the cartels in the favelas would amplify the effects of the moral violence and mortifying effects of PMERJ’s institutional hierarchy, and also fuel the police’s desire to exercise violence in revenge. But the situation of war in the favelas did not only stimulate the police’s desire for revenge, it also placed demands on patrol officers to be aggressive as a means of self-preservation. The lack of aggression could be interpreted as a sign of weakness, which would—according to the police—make gang members more prone to carrying out attacks against them.


The warrior ethos

 In my thesis I also argue that another contributing factor to the high levels of (police) violence in Rio were the gendered norms that are common throughout Brazil, but are amplified within the military police. In Brazil, as in many other places, the capacity and willingness to exercise violence is seen as a typical masculine trait. In militarized societies, this capacity often becomes one of the defining features of manliness, and a particular form of masculinity, often referred to as militarized masculinity, becomes the hegemonic or dominant form of being a man (see Bourdieu 2001; Jaffa 2014).

Among young and socio-economically marginalized Brazilian men, recurrence to violence has been a way to make status claims, and reassert their manliness, overcoming the emasculating effects of social exclusion. Young men growing up in impoverished neighborhoods can follow two paths to violently assert their masculinity: they can either join a criminal network, or one of the state’s security forces to tap into the power that comes from wielding a gun. This was sometimes express by patrol officer through the affirmation that “either you become a police officer, or you become a traficante [drug dealer]”. Consequently, some scholars have argued that the violence in Rio should be analyzed as a male generational conflict, fueled by norms that see violence as an inherently masculine trait (see Zaular 2010; Robson 2014).

Within PMERJ, the warrior ethos was the dominant or hegemonic expression of masculinity available to patrol officers. The warrior ethos is based on an ethics of moral superiority, heroism, honor, and bravery, and a grammar of violent virility (Murão 2015). Through this ethos, the police glorified violence as a heroic act, and demonstration of manliness. Within this framework, killing (the enemy) became the epitome of being a real man and a real police officer. Furthermore, and following the logic of sovereign power, the exercise of violence was a powerful assertion of authority. This was expressed in a common saying among police officers that “the police are only respected for the harm it can do”.

Implicit in this affirmation was the claim that the adoption of the proximity policing paradigm had contributed to a loss of respect (or fear) for the police by gang-members and favela residents alike. Oriented towards dialogue and collaboration with local residents, the proximity policing approach was often at odds with the warrior ethos. It was perceived as a “soft” approach to policing and crime fighting, and was, together with the human rights discourse, seen as the main cause behind the perceived “loss of authority” of the police, and “inversion of values” of the Brazilian society (see the patrol officer quoted earlier in the text). Interestingly, while patrol officers often complained about the corruption within the force, they did not associate the loss of respect for the police with the high prevalence of corruption and collusion at PMERJ.

The gendered politics of police reform

Indeed, the proximity policing approach was firmly embedded in a gender policy. Both the selection of female commanders at the UPPs, as well as the increasing proportion of female patrol officers, suggest that qualities that were traditionally associated with the feminine were considered key components of proximity policing. In the words of one of the staff psychologists: “proximity policing […] requires approximation, it requires dialogue, it requires listening to the other, things that […] we still associate a lot more with the woman than with the man.” Due to the patriarchal structures of Brazilian society, the association of proximity policing with the feminine, contributed to a devaluation of the approach among patrol officers, and a generalized disdain towards both the proximity policing paradigm, as well as the human rights discourse, and, subsequently, it fueled internal resistance towards the police reform. The strategy of incorporating women at the UPPs had aimed at transforming existing gender norms within PMERJ, but its effects have allegedly been limited. Rather than challenging the warrior ethos, female patrol officers would either adopt it, or be relegated to administrative positions at the police stations, as they were generally not considered to have the skills required to carry out the militarized forms of policing common at the UPPs.

The conflict between the warrior ethos and the philosophy of proximity policing is a clear example of how war machine and state dynamics were expressed within the police. On the one hand, the reformists attempt to create a new police subjectivity, oriented towards dialogue and collaboration with local residents, expressed a structuring state dynamic. Meanwhile, the patrol officer’s resistance towards these attempts can be said to express a war machine dynamic (although it should also be noted how the resistance to reform was anchored in the hierarchical structures of gender). Thus, in my thesis I argue that the UPP reform should be seen as an attempt by the reformists within the police to pacify the wild masculinity of patrol officers, or, as the title of the thesis clearly states: to tame the war machine dynamics of gender present within PMERJ.

Picture 4: The ideal warriors are strong, aggressive, virile, and morally superior to their civilian counterparts. Cops often engage in bodily practices to enhance their masculinity, such as tattoos and body-building. Furthermore, their willingness and capacity to exercise violence is constructed as a key masculine trait. Proximity policing is down-valued due to its associations with feminine characteristics, such as an inclination towards dialogue.

Importantly, the defendants of the project pointed to the statistical reduction of police lethality as the main achievement of the UPPs. In other words: while the impact of the UPPs on drug-related violence in the favelas is subject to debate, the UPPs seemed to have effectively reduced the levels of police use of lethal force. However, many of the patrol officers that I spoke to explained the decrease in misconduct as a result of the high visibility of the UPP project (rather than the change in the paradigm of policing), and the multiplication of technologies of surveillance and handheld camera devices, such as smartphones. Deviant patrol officers faced a greater risk of being exposed than just a few years ago—they were increasingly cautious and were also encouraged by their superiors to be wary of situations that could be filmed and produce negative repercussions for the institutional image.


Colonial war and militarization of the favelas

The argument put forth so far mainly follows the explanation of police violence in Brazil as the states inability to control its own forces, and suggests that the UPPs be seen as an example of the ongoing state capture of the war machine. However, while the implementation of proximity policing might initially have reduced the incidence of police lethality in Rio, the UPP project also represented a colonization and militarization of the favelas by the police. I propose that the pacification should not be understood as a “less violent” approach to policing, but as a change in the technologies of exercise of state power in the favelas, and a transformation in the forms of violence exercised against the population living in these areas by the state (see also Saborio 2014). As I show in my thesis, structural forms of violence exercised against favela residents are traceable in the historic account of policing in Rio de Janeiro.

The war on drugs

In the 80’s, the illegal drug and weapons trade emerged with force in Rio. While the drug cartels were mainly composed by former prisoners, the collaboration of corrupt state agents, as well as the relative absence of state policies in the favelas was an important contributing factor to the emergence of the cartels and their control of the favelas. In the 90’s, armed violence soared across the city both as a result of the violent turf wars between cartels, and of the punitive and hard handed public security policies adopted by the state. While the criminal networks and illicit economies that fueled the conflict often involved state agents, including corrupt state security forces, the favelas and their populations were quickly defined as “the problem” and cause of violence, and soon became the loci of the state’s war on drugs. Politicians tapped into the growing fear and sense of insecurity among the population with calls for hard hand policies. In the favelas, heavily militarized police operations, aimed at killing gang members and apprehending drugs and weapons, became the norm throughout the following decades. Through these operations, the state, generally perceived as corrupt and inefficient, appeared as strong, effective, and “tough on crime” (Larkins 2015).

However, while frequent and spectacular police operations in the favelas addressed public demands for state action, they did little to address the underlying causes of the urban violence that came to characterize the city. Rather, these confrontational policies only fed into the increasing spiral of violence: PMERJ boast a shady record of being one of the world’s most violent police forces in the world—in 2007 alone the police killed more than 1200 victims allegedly resisting arrest. International organizations like Amnesty International (2006, 2015) and Human Rights Watch (2009, 2016) have repeatedly criticized the Brazilian police forces, and especially the Military Police, for pervasive Human Rights violations, such as widespread use of torture and summary executions. The militarized approach to public security also affects state security forces: the death toll among Rio’s police officers has been exceptionally high, even by Brazilian standards. It is clear from this historical account that the violence of the police cannot exclusively be attributed to deviant officers, but that police violence is part of a systematic state policy towards favelas. A brief account of the history of policing in Rio highlights how the territorializing dynamics of the state also produces violent effects.

Colonial spaces and the state of exception

As I have already written, the UPPs allegedly represented a shift away from the public security policies that had historically been the backbone of the state’s policy towards the favelas. The intermittent and extremely aggressive operations of BOPE were to be replaced by permanent police presence in the favelas, and by the preventive techniques of proximity policing. In my thesis, I analyze how patrol officers at the UPPs enacted a Brazilian state order in the favelas, which was often at odds with local expressions of social life, and how, in effect, the police were perceived as an invading force in many pacified areas. The favelas, I argue, should be understood as colonial spaces: spaces where security acts as a discursive tool that creates a permanent state of exception where “the controls and guarantees of judicial order can be suspended” and “where the violence of the state of exception is deemed to operate in the service of ‘civilization’” Mbembe (2003: 22ff). The concept of pacification offers an interesting parallel to the colonies, where Mbembe (2003: 22ff) argues that “‘peace’ is more likely to take on the face of a ‘war without end’”: in order to “pacify”, the police first needed to dismantle the resistance of the drug traffickers that remained in the favelas, and this objective was pursued through recourse to armed confrontations that often took the form of urban battles that would extend for hours, turning local schoolyards into battlefields.

Although the Pacification project was aimed at breaking the logic of war that characterized PMERJs policing of the favelas, the UPPs effectively reproduced this logic through the militarization of favela spaces: at the UPPs, the police use urban warfare tactics during patrol, they carry weapons of war as a means of deterrence, and establish military checkpoints at strategic points in the communities, such as main entrances and at vantage points. One some occasions, UPP commanders have even declared curfews in pacified favelas. Furthermore, patrol officers often understand the favelas as war zones. The comments of one of the female officers that I interviewed illustrate how this view shapes the police officers understanding of their own responsibility. The officer held the family of a child who had been killed in a confrontation between gang members and police responsible for the death of their 10-year old son: Why had his parents allowed him to play outside? Didn’t they know that they were in a war zone?
Deteriorated practices of proximity policing
Increased reliance on repressive policing techniques signifies a hardening of the UPP project in detriment of the preventive policing techniques that the philosophy of proximity policing is founded upon. At the pacified favelas, the lion’s share of patrolling activities during my stay in the field was carried out by Tactical Proximity Police Units (Grupamento Táctico de Policia de Proximidade, GTPPs). The patrol practices of the GTPPs were a slightly “softer” version of the extremely aggressive policing techniques of PMERJs Special Police Operations Battalion (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais, BOPE), which is known for its brutality and reliance on urban warfare tactics. The GTPPs patrolled the favelas by foot and in formation, with their weapons raised and in firing position. Local residents were subjected to frequent stops and frisks, unauthorized building searches, and confrontational practices of policing that often left them in the line of fire between gang members and police officers. Furthermore, and in response to the rising tension at the UPPs, patrol officers received training in urban warfare tactics during my time in the field. While their training also included proximity-related techniques such as non-violent communication, human rights, and progressive use of force, schooling on these topics was generally brief and shallow.


Picture 5: In spite of the proximity-policing approach, patrol activities in pacified favelas still take on a highly militarized form, with police soldiers adopting aggressive patrol tactics, seeing the favelas as war-zones rather than neighborhoods

Generally, the so-called ‘practices of proximity policing’ centered on solving problems related to the provision of public services, such as water, electricity, and sewage; or on social outreach projects, such as sports and leisure activities, as well as conflict mediations. These tasks were carried out by a reduced number of patrol officers at each base, and frequently took the form of police tutelage of sorts, where residents were seen as potential informants and collaborators in the police’s war against the cartels. The public services that had initially been promised to accompany the police intervention in the favelas were scant or missing, especially as Rio’s incipient financial crisis produced massive cuts in public spending.

Picture 6: Patrol officers collaborating with local residents as part of the UPP trust-building strategy.

In sum, the Pacification project effectively combined the rhetoric of proximity policing with the perpetuation of extended state power under the pretext of security and social inclusion of favela residents, accustomed to the “savagery and barbarism” of the drug cartels. Far from “bridging the gap” between the favela and the formal city, the UPPs accentuated the differences through the extended powers of the military police within these spaces, and can thus be seen to represent a historical continuity between Brazil’s past as a colonial slave state and the current configuration of its urban landscape.


The aporia of pacification

In my thesis, I emphasize the dilemmas and contradictions between the UPPs’ humanitarian rhetoric of peace and social inclusion on the one hand, and the war and violence associated with the military endeavor of territorial occupation of the favelas on the other hand (see also Kapferer and Bertelsen 2009). This contradiction is embodied in the patrol officers at the UPPs, who have to juggle preventive and repressive techniques in a situation characterized by high conflict levels, and are generally inclined towards an increased reliance on the latter, both due to personal safety concerns, but also due to the pervasive warrior ethos and associations between masculinity and violence.

Picture 7: Weapons used by a GTPP unit at UPP Santa Marta, generally considered the most successful UPP. Cops patrol with assault rifles, shotguns loaded with rubber bullets, teargas, pepper-spray, tasers and standard handguns.

Since the pacification of PMERJ mainly rests on the attempt at transforming the subjectivity of patrol officers from a war-oriented police force towards a citizen police, and does not contemplate important structural reforms, such as the de-militarization of the police, or the reform of the disciplinary code of conduct and the hierarchical structure of PMERJ, patrol officers are stuck in a paradox, where they are expected to carry out repressive and preventive tasks simultaneously—to be warriors and diplomats, and to be able to seamlessly switch between these roles. Needless to say, few patrol officers are able to live up to these demands.

While it is argued that the UPP project signifies a shift from the traditional forms of policing in the favelas, my findings suggest that the reform represents a continuation of historical modes of colonial domination of the population living in the favela, and that it is not particularly effective at transforming the subjectivity of police-soldiers towards a citizen police either. Rather, I have suggested that the reform must be understood in the context of Rio’s business strategy aimed at attracting foreign investments, and the hosting of mega-events such as the World Cup and Olympics, which were seen as an opportunity to rebrand and rebuild the city as a global capital. Rio’s entry on the global scene required the local government to abandoned hard-handed public security policies that had proven inefficient and were illegitimate in the eyes of the global audience. By addressing international critique, and adopting a different public security strategy aimed at improving the Rio’s reputation as a violent city, the local government was able to attract investments and win the bid for the Olympics, which in turn contributed to a brief cycle of exceptional economic growth centered around the real-estate and infrastructural business.

 Thus, the UPP project has paved way for massive public and private spending and accelerated economic growth, under the pretext of social inclusion of favela residents. While the economic success of the project depends on the perspective adopted (the State of Rio is literally bankrupt, while private investors have made fortunes), as a public security strategy the UPPs can be said to have had a relative success (at least initially) in a handful of small and generally centrally located favelas, while many more are experiencing continuing high levels of armed violence. The added (democratic) cost of the project has been the establishment of a number of small police-states, were local residents live under the simultaneous tutelage of the military police and terror of the drug cartels. Thus, while the security policies of Rio de Janeiro might be functional to the logics of global capital, they have not significantly altered the relation between the state and the favelas, nor have they been able to bring peace and security to the residents living in them. This has become particularly evident as crime rates as well as the rates of police lethality have increased throughout the last years, and there is a growing acknowledgement among local residents, scholars, and policy-makers that the UPP project has failed. While the situation in the favelas continues to deteriorate, local residents suffer, and so do the patrol officers working at the UPPs, who are sent to the favelas to kill and be killed in a never-ending war against drugs.

Picture 8: Memorial plates of killed police-soldiers at one of the UPP’s were I carried out my fieldwork




[1] My MA thesis is titled Taming the War Machine: Police, Pacification, and Power in Rio de Janeiro and can be accessed at http://bora.uib.no/handle/1956/12823. The thesis was submitted at the University of Bergen in August 2016 as part of the ERC-funded research project Egalitarianism: Forms and Processes.



Cited Works:

Amnesty International (2006) Brazil: “We have come to take your souls”: the caveirão and policing in Rio de Janeiro. Accessed online at https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/AMR19/007/2006/en/ retrieved 10 March 2017.

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