This week, a study by Amnesty International revealed that 80% of Brazilians are afraid of being tortured by their own police force on arrest. In a survey across 21 countries, Brazil was found to be the country where people feel most unsafe in the hands of authorities, almost twice the international average of 44%.
In Rio de Janeiro this fear is very real. Although the media has reported the efforts to pacify favelas across the city, armed violence has once again escalated in the city – weeks before it will receive thousands of football fans for the 2014 World Cup.
Back in 2008 favela residents dreamed of a life without violence as the government unveiled a project to build Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) in which policemen would be stationed to take back territory controlled by drug gangs for decades. Today the failures of this programme are starting to show – and a corrupt and violent police force is the main cause.
Despite claims that Rio is now better off, the Brazilian Institute of Public Security says the number of deaths in conflict with the police rose by 69% from 2013 to 2014. Last year, the builder Amarildo who lived in Rocinha was tortured and killed by UPP policemen; last month a young dancer was found shot dead in the favela Pavao-Pavaozinho – allegedly killed by UPP officers; and in April, a woman was shot by cops and dragged by a police car on the way to the hospital, where she later died.
These are not the only cases. According to Amnesty International's study, Torture in 2014: 30 Years of Broken Promises, "reports of police abuse have increased [in Brazil] around protests in advance of the 2014 World Cup and during military operations in [favelas]".
Despite this, the Brazilian media has regularly painted UPPs in a positive light. But ask any resident of Rocinha, Brazil's biggest favela, and they will tell you that the policemen placed in the pacifying units are untrained and abusive, and often use unnecessary violence. Although they claim to be there to protect the population, there is hardly any policing during the night, which allows crime to roam free; there are numerous dark alleys, and streets that are neglected during the night.
It's becoming increasingly clear that UPPs are a PR move, not a public security policy. They are designed to hide the violence and drive the drug gangs away from the places that will be popular during the major global events Rio is hosting. Sure, clearing the streets from drugs and guns is great, but the UPP project doesn't have any other aims, it doesn't seek to integrate marginalised people into society, it doesn't work towards long-term solutions. In most cases, the UPPs are simply an endless military occupation that fails to protect the people.
Residents of Rocinha, Complexo do Alemao, Complexo da Maré and scores of other favelas still don't have basic services. Perhaps the project was doomed from the start: placing recently graduated policemen in unknown territory is a recipe for disaster.
The group Rocinha Without Borders has tried many times to establish a dialogue between the residents and UPP officers, without success. But in the mainstream Brazilian press, the problem of communication between authorities and residents is hardly touched on. This is the biggest reason why this project is failing so hard. The violence in the favelas is a reflection of lack of communication between the authorities and the people.
Favela News Agency writer and researcher Marcos Barreira writes that UPPs are a form of "urban marketing" that seeks to lift the spirits of public opinion as opposed to a public security reform. The peaceful favelas are located around points of tourist interest. It's all about promoting a placated Rio de Janeiro, when in reality drug gangs have moved on to other locations.
The urban marketing might work during the international events Brazil is hosting, but the lack of long-term solutions to keep the next generation out of crime will result in a never-ending civil war, where the people are forgotten while international visitors drink caipirinhas and watch the football.
Nicole Froio is a freelance journalist and political blogger based in Brazil, and a University of Sheffield journalism graduate.