To Pacify?

Posted: November 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

To Pacify:

1. To allay the anger or agitation of

2. To restore to a tranquil state

3. To reduce to a submissive state


Why did the government of Rio de Janeiro use this word? They were trying to allay the doubts and fears of the Brazilian upper and middle classes, which was their target audience. This word was specifically chosen by the same genre of spin geniuses who came up with such gems as “climate change” and “the death tax”. All of these phrases share the same purpose: to conjure an idea in the mind of the listener that is more positive or negative, depending on the objectives of the word doctors, than the original phrase.

I would argue that the idea that was initially inside the minds of those planning the first pacification in the community of Dona Marta, in 2008, was more closely aligned with the image that is associated with the word “occupy”. I am not talking about this word in the sense that is used by the “occupy wall street” movement or when it is used to talk about the “illegal occupation” of Iraq, both of which are used to also conjure up emotional responses on the part of the listener. I am talking about a military occupation that is intended to replace a pre-existing form of government with a new one that represents the government.

Why is the government of Rio de Janeiro trying to allay the fears of the Brazilian middle and upper classes? Ever since the drug gangs took political control over the informal communities known as Favelas, the middle and upper classes of Rio have been deathly afraid of what goes on here. Due to the fact that their have been areas of the city that have been literally under a different political structure, petty criminals have had a place to stay completely untouched by the law. They live in the stateless favelas and go out into richer parts of the city to steal. I want to reiterate that these people represent an extremely small minority of the population residing in the favela.

The fact that there are havens for petty criminals to rob the richer populations of the city has caused incredible tension between the middle/upper classes and the lower income residents of the favela. The richer areas of Rio are full of apartment complexes and houses, the vast majority of which have guards (who ironically live in the favelas) and large gates. Banks are full of large and intimidating guards who carry shotguns. Understandably, with Rio’s high petty crime rates, the middle/upper classes feel besieged in their own homes. They have countless stories about how their aunt’s friend or uncle’s coworker was robbed in the most dreadful way possible. They eat up movies, such as Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite), which depicts an honest and hardworking elite BOPE officer who leads his squad into the favelas to eliminate the murderous traffickers, who are depicted as vermin deserving a violent death.

It is this target audience that the word pacify is marketed towards. The word pacify conjures up images of the peace after a turbulent storm. You do not imagine people cowering in fear of a pacifying force. It does not have the same negative connotations of occupy, invade, or conquer, which brings to mind images of death, destruction, and struggle. The word pacify gives the middle/upper classes of Rio a clean conscience when analyzing what is going on inside there own city. To pacify is to do something positive, to return to the ideal state of peace. For favelas such as Complexo Alemao and its 400,000 residents who are under a military “occupation”, the situation is definitely not one of peace and won’t be until the drug trade magically stops or Brazilian government gets real about its drug policy.

To hear more voices in English coming from Vidigal check out @invasaovidigal and another blog


  1. RIOT media says:

    There are a number of assumptions in your article which you need to be reconsider.

    The positioning of your comment in the context of a discussion of pacification program implies that you are saying the drug factions CV, ADA, CVJ and TCP factions were a ‘pre-existing form of government’

    This can only be talked about in a specific historical context. The founders of the Red Brigade which later became the Red Command were indeed political prisoners who socialised certain criminal populations. The Donnos of the larger favelas maintain understandings with essential services, police and government elements so that these places function more or less like normal towns but many newer generations of Donno’s are simply armed youth drug gangs. In either case it is not governance which is provided but a spectrum of financial and physical security/insecurity.

    The Military does not ‘represent’ Governments. This must be clear as Brazil is still in the shadow of a “Military Government” and still maintains the military police as the primary enforces of law within the civilian population.

    Petty crime has nothing to do with the Pacification program. Theft is indeed a petty crime but cocaine and weapons traffic, torture, murder and political manipulation are not petty crimes.

    The UPP have a specific mandate which is to prevent arms and the command structure of the factions from reentering the community. They are not there to fight the drug trade. You can go to the bocas of any pacified favela in the post invasion UPP phase and buy drugs anytime.

    • jasonbartscott says:

      I agree with you, Rio Media, that the pacification process is situated in a specific historical context. To argue that the incursion of police and military forces is a conflict between great societies, with independent histories and cultures, would be deceptive at best. However, what the author is attempting to explain is not the singularity of the event, but a conflagration resulting from specific events, discourses, and physical realities.

      Furthermore, the author is attempting to explain the messiness of how the state and government is defined. There are no clear lines to define what or who represents the state. Does the state stop in an office building housing bureaucrats in downtown Rio? Does the state begin when the majority and the powerful submit to the collective will of a gigantic state apparatus? Does the state represent its “citizens” equally or are there some aspects of society that are inherently segregated and subordinated for their lack of power? These are the questions that are being asked by the author about the definitions and ideological of the state. The author is not arguing whether there is an a-historicity to the context at hand.

      I would like to bring up some specific points of your critique. To start off, you imply that favelas are “normal towns” and that drug gangs are a bunch of unorganized “youth”. To the first assertion of “normalcy” I would like to say an outstanding yes. The gangs have existed for three generations, they are normalized in the subjectivity of those who they dominate. But, it is hard to say that Rocinha and Vidigal function just like a small nordestino city or like a 1920s town found in the pages of Steinbeck.

      To the second assertion of these being youth gangs, I would also agree. These gangs have members who are younger than 12. You can see these members on the street, holding guns and bags of cocaine. They look scared. Nem, however, is 35 years of age. He has no doubt killed, ordered murder, and controlled a multimillion dollar trade of arms and narcotics between his community and communities that exist in other nations. He is not a boy. He could not even be called a normal “man”. He is not the unofficial mayor of Rocinha with his massive international connections. By no means is he a youth.

      I would like to address of your discussion of what constitutes the government. ADA has its own rules, its own for of income, its own form of security, regulation, community outreach, and civic improvement. If you consider the fact that the presence of Brasilia in Rocinha means the dominance of the state is absolute, you are incorrect. By your standard, Afghanistan is not a state because the US, a foreign power, helped to remove a theocratic dictatorship that had control of the country for years. Afganstan was a poor, violent, and dark state, but it was a state nonetheless. Palestine is another example. The US does not recognize Palestine, so is it a state? By your standard, it is not a state because the people who dominate it say that it is not yet a state. In other words, I am saying that a state, governance, and power are complex things and just because it does not fit your definition, academic or otherwise, you should ignore the very state-like and state things that do exist.

      Your comment is dependent on the idea that UPP’s mandate is true to word and WILL happen. The author’s post chose to discuss the complexities and the blurriness of the whole situation. We have examples all throughout the city that “pacificação” is not uniform, ideal, and easy to understand.

  2. Pedro says:

    Jason, Nem may be 35 years old but he is indeed the very embodiment of the phenomenon that RIOT media pointed out. I, unlike the blog’s author, have never lived in a favela, but as a carioca I have several more years of Rio under my belt than the author. Not that means I have a superior form of knowledge or that my assertion of the situation is more accurate than his. I just one to put the “pacificação” on a historical perspective.

    In the beginnings of the drug trade, when there was little repression, the ‘donos do morro’ were older men with grey hair and hardened hands. Most of them were former petty criminals who were jailed together with communist insurgents in Ilha Grande, in one of the worst decisions ever made by the military government. The “Comando Vermelho” was named ‘red’ in homage to the red flag, even though its founders were men with little to no grasp of Marxist theory. What interested them was the military doctrine of the guerillas, their notion of democratic centralism where a hard nucleus makes decisions unquestionably obeyed by the lower echelons.

    Those older leaders were gradually all killed and arrested and the newer generations were in that lifestyle for the money, the sex and, obviously, the drugs. They have little of the ‘social conscience’ described here and elsewhere. They were, as RIOT media described, youth gangs. I know of people who left favelas because the ‘dono’ raped their daughter in a perverted version of the ‘droit de seigneur’. A certain ‘dono’, only 17 years old when he took command of the drug deal, was particularly infamous among the local populace. Men like Marcinho VP became the exception, not the rule.

    My point is not that the drug dealers are all rabid dogs, cruel and savage. What I intend to say is that the so-called “facções criminosas” long ceased to function as governments within the favelas. They kept the peace with their guns, but they did not have a sophisticated set of rules under which the favela operates. That might have been the case with men such as Lulu (the ‘dono’ that recruited Nem) or Marcinho, but most favelas nowadays still under drug dealers’ control certainly have no forms of “community outreach and civic improvement”. They have guns and sell drugs and order the people to keep their mouths shut and their eyes closed.

    As the repression mounted and the risks associated with the drug trade mounted, men who dealt drugs became more violent, less integrated with their communities. Once upon a time, the ruling ‘comando’ (be it the “Comando Vermelho” or the “Terceiro Comando”) permeated every aspect of life in the favela. Kids in Vidigal would not wear ‘red’ whereas the children of Maré could never be seen in black t-shirts. The ‘donos’ had vast networks of contacts within a community that both revered and feared them, they sought to mitigate the brutality of their existence showering the favelas with money and ‘love’. That was 15, 20 years ago. The reality on the ground now is far grittier.

    • ottrio says:

      Thank you Pedro and Jason. That was extremely informative. Great historical perspective. I have researched a lot about the historical context of the favelas, yet have found it hard to come up with satisfactory sources. Anyway you could send some my way?

    • ottrio says:

      I would also like to point out that the definition of government I am working with is not a measure of performance of the government. If the drug gangs did not provide community outreach or civic improvement that just means that were a poorly performing government. I can come up with a pretty big list of recognized governments with pretty bad records on this issue.

      When I say that the drug gangs constituted a government in Rocinha, I am talking about two academic terms. monopoly on violence and territorial boundaries enforced by that threat of violence. Up until this morning, it would be hard to argue that the Brazilian government was effectively in control, militarily or politically, of the communities of Rocinha and Vidigal. The police could not drive beyond a certain point without starting a firefight. The hostel I am staying at was effectively not a part of Brazil. Different laws applied here and there was a rudimentary form of justice (very rudimentary). Every time I passed through the plaza I passed a border. Not a border on a map, but a border none the less. The guys with guns just around the corner from that plaza were evidence enough that I was no long under the security blanket of the Brazilian government. There might be wings of the state, such as Resident’s Associations or Posto de Saudes (FREE emergency clinic – Brazil : 1, USA : 0), but those would have no chance of operating if they did not have the explicit permission from the Dono. For these reasons I am calling the system that the drug gangs operated a form of government.

  3. Pedro says:

    But did they really have such Webberian prerrogatives? They might have enjoyed the monopoly on violence and a centain amount of territoriality, but they could do so when effectively ignored by the Brazilian State. Alas, such monopolies were not monopolies at all. The Brazilian State is considered sovereign because it can effectively prevent any other power, foreign or not, from exercising violence within its borders. Also, its grip over the use of violence is (theoretically) considered legitimate by those affected by it.

    The gangs did not effectively control the territories they held in the sense that they would *always* fall back when the State invaded. A government is supposed to be able to guarantee its authority in face of attack. Unlike what happens in, say, Tijuana, the gangs know full well they do not have neither the resources nor the manpower to bear the brunt of a government intervention.

    So, for example, when a few years back a group of German investors wanted to visit Vidigal to see whether building a luxury hotel in the area was viable, BOPE expelled the drug forces from the area for a few days.

    That why I always insist that describing Rio as a “divided city”, as did the journalist Zuenir Ventura, is both naïve and foolish. The favelas exist with the connivance and the complicity of the asfalto. The drug dealers control the slums because that is advantageous to a vast web of interests within the State itself.

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