In Rio de Janeiro police are preparing to occupy one of the deadliest shanty town complexes in the city. The new chief of police in Rio says some 1,500 police officers will be needed to secure the area. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports on the challenges of the initiative called pacification.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: It's called Mare - 75,000 people live here. It's actually not just one favela, as the shanty towns of Brazil are known, but a complex of 15. It's vast and poor and dangerous. A few months ago an engineer took a wrong turn into Mare and was shot in the head and died. Traffickers openly deal drugs on the streets. Men on motorcycles speed around with weapons slung over their backs. And almost needless to say, most people don't want their names used when they speak to reporters.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Portuguese spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In a lingerie shop in Mare a young woman tells us that people are afraid here.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Portuguese spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This place is run by the drug gangs she says. At this shop we pay them protection money, for example.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Portuguese spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Our children, she says, get involved in trafficking, they have guns in their hands, they hurt people.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Portuguese spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want the police to come here, she says, because I think things will get better. But most people prefer the drug gangs, she says. People are really worried about the police and their abuses. Mare is slated to be the next group of favelas to undergo what's called pacification.

Instead of police coming in to do raids and withdrawing like they used to, they now set up shop inside the favelas with the object of chasing out the drug gangs for good in advance of next year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Pacification has had mixed success so far. Some favelas have flourished and the number of killings in Rio has dropped. But in other favelas there is an uneasy co-existence with the UPP or Police Pacification Units.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So we're on patrol with the UPP in Caju. This is a complex of about 10 favelas. And we are walking through these narrow alleyways with these makeshift cinderblock buildings crowded in on top of us, criss-crossed with jerry-rigged electricity wires.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: They don't agree with our presence here. We annoy them, but they'll get used to us eventually says UPP officer Carlos Guimaraes after he whistles, signaling to another officer nearby. He's wearing a flak jacket and carrying an assault rifle through Caju. Caju is across town from Mare and was only pacified this year. It's an example of the tensions that still linger even after the UPP settle in. People avert their gaze as the police walk past. It feels a lot more like Iraq than Rio.

This mistrust has cause. Last month in the pacified favela of Rocihna a bricklayer named Amarildo de Souza went missing after being questioned by his local UPP unit. According to Amnesty International, the police in Brazil are responsible for some 2,000 deaths a year. In Mare, nine people were killed in a raid launched by the police's feared Special Operations battalion a few months ago.

Bira Carvalho is a resident of Mare. A former drug addict, he's now a community leader. A few months ago he was targeted in a police raid. His house was ransacked. The police have subsequently apologized, but Bira says he doesn't think Mare should be pacified. He says what the community needs are jobs and schools, not more armed men.

BIRA CARVALHO: (Portuguese spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says there can be no peace without social justice. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR NEWS.




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