Barrio Counterinsurgency


Newsweek’s Mac Margolis has an excellent report from Rio de Janeiro outlining the scale of police action it will take to make real inroads into our own problem with urban violence. Really essential reading.

Brazil’s approach is…not for the fainthearted. It relies on mobilizing massive, unprecedented police and military resources to short-circuit the spiral of violence in the most dangerous slums. In some of Rio’s favelas they’re having to bring in one cop for every forty residents to keep on top of the gangs. That’s basically an occupation force: barrio counterinsurgency.

That’s not even hyperbole, because what they’re doing in Rio’s slums amounts to Clear & Hold. Rather than one-time incursions to dismantle drug gangs, the strategy calls for police and the military to go into the worst favelas in numbers and then stay there for an extended period of time, “pacifying” the neighbourhoods long enough to impose a new, non-violent normality.

Needless to say, the financial and logistical costs are stratospheric. But they are showing that, even starting from a baseline of extreme, drug-fueled violence, bringing some semblance of law and order is not impossible.

Hard? Yes…but not impossible. 

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  1. A Message of hope
    “Nearly 1,000 rogue cops, including two former police chiefs, have been cashiered. Dozens have been thrown in jail for selling protection or skimming off the drug trade”. This is big
    1 policia por cada 40 personas y eso es en los barrios ya “pacificados”, que definicion de paz que tienen esos brazileños

  2. Who woulda thunk, Dilma Rousseff applying the techniques of the “surge” in Iraq that Bush successfully employed.

  3. You should watch “Tropa de Elite 2 – O Inimigo Agora É Outro” a brazilian movie. I know it is a movie but shows what happens if the things go wrong.

  4. I remember suggesting this years ago (military presence in the barrios) either here or at Daniel’s and being told that it would create 1998 all over again and that it was a horrible idea.

    • Well, the Rio strategy might as well be called the Can of Worms Opener. Maybe Brazil’s BOPE receives specialist training on policing operations, but which part of the Venezuelan military gets that?

      I don’t want to soft-pedal the huge, HUGE challenges involved in bringing Rio’s strategy to Venezuela without unleashing a human rights disaster. I shudder to think what would happen if you just sort of winged it, sending 19 year old soldiers with Kalashnikovs and no police-training into the barrios to “clean them out”.

      Applying a joint military-civilian approach will in no way be straightforward.

  5. Brazil is pretty much at the forefront of these driving-edge attacks on crime. You hear the internationalists complain about it all the time, but the truth is that it works. Granted, simply sending more and more troops in without any social investment is just a waste of time, but allowing barrios to fester and become strongholds for criminals is no solution either. And yes, Tropa de Elite is a very good depiction of the sort of policing that goes on in Brazil. I remember watching something about how the police even had a blimp with enormous cameras on it patrolling over some favelas so that they had permanent coverage of the place. If Chavez ever put up an anti-crime blimp it would probably be some home-made monstrosity sewn from thousands of discarded red t-shirts.

  6. Let’s just kill the poor. That would solve a lot of problems. Oh, it could also be interesting for so much money to be spent on tracking down tax dodgers and speculators.

    • Verga Arturo.
      You really are an idiot.

      What’s YOUR solution? Seriously. Rather than some stupid, flip remark, why don’t you tell us how you would solve the problem?

      Or are you going to insist that 35,000 murders in the last 2 years are a product of the evil media that hates your idol Chavez and the problem doesn’t exist?

      You keep forgetting that keeping your head in the sand only leaves your ass hanging out. Grow up!

    • Arturo,

      Many more poor are murdered now than in 1998…and I am not talking “only” about absolute numbers but about ratio…I know you, as a chavista, have trouble understanding the concept of rate, but the murder rate has more than tripled since the milicos you admire got to power in 1999 in Venezuela. And most of the people who get murdered (over 16000 last year) are poor. So: it seems you are not precisely the one to come here and say you care for the poor. You don’t, you just care for your state job, probably, for the boliburgueses and perhaps for the little badge you have that makes you feel you are a “socialist”.

    • ‘Speculators’ are the Chavistas’ go-to bogeyman when all else fails. They’re like 1984’s Goldstein or Animal Farm’s Snowball, in that more and more outlandish actions get ascribed to them. Speculators don’t make domestic food production untenable. Speculators don’t embezzle millions upon millions from PDVSA. I’m sure if we locked up all the tax dodgers and speculators….Venezuela would still have 30%+ inflation and a schizophrenic economy. I still think it’s hilarious that Chavista news sites celebrate the 25% minimum wage increase. It’s a sign of desperation when you have to raise salaries by 1/4th just so that people can sort of keep up with inflation. The minimum wage hike will in turn raise labor costs which will then raise consumer prices and contribute to more inflation. It’s like the entire government rides the short bus to work every morning.

  7. The oversimplification on Brazilian issues has become a 2011 classic on this blog, it seems. Just like the first post of this year, on which Brazil was portrayed as the next South Korea, this post on the UPPs (Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora) eats the entire crap coming from the Dilma-supported Rio de Janeiro state goverment.

    For some reason, you have chosen to take Margolis’ report at face value instead of analyzing the logic behind Rio’s Police Chief claims. For instance, where did all the drug traffickers and their soldiers go? Did they just switch jobs -maybe to business administration- or decided to call it a career, so to enjoy their ill-earned money?

    Actually, it’s in São Paulo where the best crime-fighting initiatives have taken place. Despite an 18% decrease in the homicide rate in Rio from 2009 to 2010, it is still at an alarming 30 per 100k. São Paulo, on the other hand, is at less than 10 per 100k over the last 12 months. For what is worth, the U.N. considers that where there is a <10 homicides per 100k people, violence is not endemic.

    In Rio, the so-called top cop and his police warn the criminals over the morning's paper that this and that favela will be occupied. The criminals know that the police is coming and just escape to the next favela. According to reports, they are already migrating to southeastern neighboring Minas Gerais. The Rio police does not jail the criminals, they let them go somewhere else and call the favela "pacified". Gimme a f*&#ing break!

    Proportionately, Rio has 33% as much criminals in jail as São Paulo. Guess what, the more criminals you lock up, the more crime goes down. Who would have thought, huh?

  8. Yes, it is possible to reduce violence and crime. But not with the current police and military, and not without a deep understanding of the needs our barrios first. We should serve them and care for them first, to avoid that a plan like this ends up in a human rights disaster, as Francisco rightly says above.


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