In 2009, Brazil introduced “one of the boldest experiments in policing ever witnessed in the democratic world”—the Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora, or UPP—to rid its poorest neighborhoods from the grip of drug traffickers and violent militias before the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics:
‘Everybody in Rio knew – every taxi driver, every senator, every sociologist and every journalist,’ he says with a hint of controlled anger. ‘They all knew that Rio was a divided city. But for 40 years, nobody did a single thing about it.’
The favelas, Beltrame argues, were islands from which the state had just decided to absent itself. Their residents were forgotten and ignored, stewing in a toxic juice of extreme poverty, domestic violence and, from the late 1980s onwards, the omnipotence of Uzi-wielding drug cartels or their vigilante alter-egos, the militias, who specialise in blackmailing entire communities. Regular police raids peppered by arbitrary killings and extortion ensured that favela residents regarded the state not as an ally, but perhaps as their worst enemy.
Appalled by this collective inaction and the stain on the city’s reputation, Beltrame decided to do something about it. In times past, he would have struggled to receive the backing from the governor of Rio state to divert public funds into the favelas. But with the World Cup and Olympics looming, the moment for the UPP had come.