Over Thanksgiving, Brazil pushed forward aggressively with its pacification of violent slums outside of Rio de Janeiro. This pacification strategy is a counterinsurgency pursued as a police action, albeit with a fair amount of support from the regular military.
The violence and depravity of the Brazilian favelas (which are only the most “colorful” of the Latin American shanty towns) was immortalized in the film City of God (“Cidade de Deus”), which only hinted at disconnect between Brazil’s main cities, namely Rio de Janeiro, and these slums. Saying that gangs thrived here is an understatement. Local governments unwilling to do what was necessary to push back the narco-gangs gradually ceded ground and authority to these criminal elements. Soon enough, gangs oversaw the black market economies and became the embodiment the law. This sorry state was made worse by corrupt policing and random indiscriminate violence on the part Rio’s law enforcement.
Things started to turn earlier this year. On June 10th The Economist ran a story on the seeds of an improbable turnaround in the City of God. Police took the favela back and as opposed to returning the precincts of Rio, they stayed. The articles shows that as of June 2010, there had been one murder in the City of God, compared to 29 in all of the preceding year. The combined police and military actions of Thanksgiving weekend took things even further. Tell me that this does not sound familiar:
“Pacification involves an ultimatum to the gangs to leave, followed by months of heavy patrols and then the arrival of new, specially trained recruits who provide 24-hour community policing. Though there is still plenty of drug dealing in pacified favelas it is discreet and the dealers no longer carry heavy weapons. There are far fewer murders, and other crimes, such as child prostitution, fall too. The plan is that with the UPPs come better schools, health care and leisure facilities. Many gangsters are illiterate teenagers with few other options.”
While this is the not the first time COIN has been performed domestically, basic history of the region explains that; this is the first time to my knowledge that it has been largely framed as a police action. Furthermore, it is, at least based on what I’ve read, one of the more successful Latin American counterinsurgencies in terms of integrating into the disgruntled populace and learning to distinguish hardened narco-operatives from pissed off teenagers.
Which brings me the issue voiced in the title of this post: could similar operations present an opportunity for Mil-Mil participation in the future? We hear a lot about the importance of confidence building measures and participation between our allies and us. But this usually involves our Navy working with others. Perhaps this is another avenue, where by we use our hard earned background in COIN to build positive inter-security relationships with emerging regional powers like Brazil. The only downside would be the intimacy we’d develop abroad and the image that could generate at home and abroad. Still, it is an issue worth debating.
Also…the Brazilians aren’t just doing this for the World Cup/Olympics, although it’s certainly a reason. Rio looks to be the hub of its petroleum export business, so sprucing all of it up for foreign eyes will crucial for the long-term economic picture.