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After Pacification: The Social Aspect of Controlling Crime

May 18, 2010

by Christopher Sabatini

Asserting the democratic rule of law and recovering social peace is a difficult task, especially in places like Rio de Janeiro’s favelas and Colombia’s one-time, crime-ridden cities and war-torn countryside. Democratic and sustainable crime control means establishing state control in places where it has never been present or where it was lost long ago. It also means more than just plopping down an occupying, even pacifying force. Establishing and maintaining peace requires developing a state that can deliver services to local populations.

My recent trip and discussions with police, policymakers and experts on this theme in Rio have reminded me this is no easy task.

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The term “failed state” has become a fashionable term to describe countries like Somalia, Afghanistan and Haiti, but we also now know that there can be pockets of state failure elsewhere. While not as broad, dangerous or deep as those countries teetering on the edge of anarchy, pockets of failed states suffer from the same need: to develop the institutional and physical infrastructure to integrate deprived communities into the nation state and the legal market economy.

For the last two days I’ve been traveling with a group of security experts to observe and discuss with Sérgio Cabral, the governor of Rio de Janeiro, the state’s security plan to prepare for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Among the group were former NYC Police Commissioner and LAPD Chief William Bratton and his colleague (and AQ co-author) Bill Andrews, former Vice President of Costa Rica and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Kevin Casas Zamora, local civil society, private-sector leaders, and the leadership of the newly created “pacification police” (policia pacificadora), or as their local units on the ground are called, UPPs. The latter is a police force created by Governor Cabral that serves as local beat cops in the crime-ridden favelas.

There is some debate about the appropriateness of the term pacification. Some observers complain that the term sounds too martial, implying images of a battlefield. Personally I have no problem with it. Ultimately, for these communities to become integrated they need to be taken back, the drug gangs and paramilitaries disrupted and arrested and their criminal networks dismantled. More than focusing on the military image of pacification, the term points to the idea of establishing peace in communities both torn apart and repressed by lawlessness and violence.

The question is what comes afterward. In places like Los Angeles and New York City, as Commissioner Bratton said, the reduction of crime brought a flourishing of new businesses, investment, entrepreneurship and, with it, tax revenues. In Commissioner Bratton’s words, the investment in community policing eventually paid for itself. In places like Bogotá and Medellín in Colombia we’ve seen this happen as well. But there and in Rio’s favelas it won’t be enough.

In these stateless pockets, securing peace demands delivering public goods beyond security.

•    The first is the provision of basic infrastructure: first of all, sanitation and transportation. Most poor communities don’t lack electricity—they’re already pulling that down illegally. But sanitation and transportation are keys to improving the health and productivity of the population and its workforce and their access to jobs. The latter is particularly crucial since proximity to jobs is essential. In Medellín, Colombia, then-Mayor Sergio Fajardo extended the cable car; in the Dona Marta favela, Rio has built a tram. But in the case of Rio this has to be repeated in the hundreds of favelas that are scattered throughout the greater urban area.

•    The second is education. The demographics of the Dona Marta favela in Rio are striking. When we visited it on a Sunday, the narrow staircases, small lots and makeshift playgrounds were crawling with children. Ensuring long-term peace in these areas means providing opportunity, and this means the state providing access to quality education.

•    The third is credit. In the old Hernando de Soto argument, this can be resolved by granting residents titles for land they have de facto settled and owned for years to use for collateral. But it’s only part of the solution—despite de Soto’s efforts to sell it as a magic bullet. The other is ensuring that interest rates are low enough and that loans are offered on a small-enough scale—either in the private market or through non-profit micro-finance programs—for local residents.

This is not an exhaustive list. Many of these things are already occurring in cities and communities from the U.S. to Argentina, and much more needs to be done to share information and lessons throughout the hemisphere. But it points to the second phase of state building in crime-ridden slums. In a sign that Rio Governor Cabral understands this, he recently appointed a new secretary of social development and human rights from Brazil’s development bank O Banco Nacional do Desenvolvimento (BNDES). And it’s part of the new plan for the U.S.-Mexico anti-narcotics policy, the Mérida Initiative.

It’s a recognition of the evolution of thinking and policy in this area. And if the polls in Colombia are any indication, the former mayor of Bogotá, Antanas Mockus, and former mayor of Medellín, Sergio Fajardo, will become the next president and vice president. The two represent in many ways the model for cities retaking communities through first security and later social services, and their polling numbers demonstrate that the strategy pays political dividends. It’s certainly worked for the New York City and Los Angeles mayors and it’s not lost on Governor Cabral. Call it post-pacification politics.

*Christopher Sabatini is Editor-in-Chief of Americas Quarterly and Senior Director of Policy at Americas Society and Council of the Americas. He is a regular blogger on AmericasQuarterly.org.

Tags: Merida Initiative, security in Brazil, favelas in Brazil, U.S. narcotics policy, Latin America crime.

To speak with an expert on this topic, please contact the communications office at: communications@as-coa.org or (212) 277-8384.
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