Police occupation allows Carnival into Rio slums

By Juliana Barbassa

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 8 2011 3:05 a.m. MST

Performers from the Salgueiro samba school parade through the Sambadrome during carnival celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, March 8, 2011.

Felipe Dana, Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO — Residents of Rio's Formiga shantytown celebrated their first Carnival since police pushed out drug gangs by dancing and singing the praises of law enforcement in an odd twist to festivities usually known for irreverence and uninhibited excess.

The slum hadn't had a Carnival street party in years before police moved in last July to expel gangs as part of an ambitious security program known by its Portuguese acronym, UPP, which has generally improved living conditions and met with support in targeted communities.

The permanent police presence has allowed Formiga and other slums to organize parties, and composer Gugu da Tijuca's theme song for Formiga's samba group this year celebrates this newfound freedom.

"We're all coming together, Borel, Formiga, Casa Branca, Andarai ... With our UPPs, we're going to raise some dust," the song goes, listing neighboring shantytowns that will be able to celebrate together after years of not being allowed to cross drug gang boundaries.

There are Carnival groups based in nine of the 14 areas that have police presence. They range from small, neighborhood parties like Formiga's to the stately samba groups that put on the huge parades watched by millions on Sunday and Monday.

The state pacification program was launched more than two years ago, and is expected to continue growing. Three new policing units will be implemented after Carnival in communities where territory has already been won back by law enforcement.

A federal program modeled on Rio's will later be expanded to other states, the national head of public safety, Regina Miki, said in February after touring two areas in which permanent police posts and increased services had driven out visibly armed drug dealers. She called the program "an example for the country."

The presence of permanent posts in slums has also made the Carnival safer for Rio residents far from the slums and for the nearly 1 million visitors who poured into the city for the celebration. The contingent of officers in the streets was reduced by 1,000 this year, according to Rio police, because of the security brought by UPPs in slums near the Sambadrome, where the two-day Carnival parades are held.

City residents are showing their approval of police work by making the elite police unit's black outfit one of this year's best-selling costumes. The manager at the traditional Turuna costume shop, Rodrigo Herculano, said the police takeover of the Alemao complex of slums made the cop get-ups fly off the rack.

"It has been a big fetish among women, to get dressed up as police officers," he said. "The men have been dressing as inmates."

Bands from posh neighborhoods are also integrating with long-avoided hillside slums, including them in their parade itinerary.

An Ipanema-based street band, "Friendship is Almost Love," paraded into the neighboring slum of Cantagalo after 27 years of staying away. Another group, "Dear, I'll be Right Back," brought their samba beat back to the shantytown of Chapeu Mangueira after a long absence.

"What we want to highlight here is the integration of the city and the overcoming of our problems," said the group's president, Jorge Sapia.

In Copacabana's Ladeira dos Tabajaras shantytown, officers belonging to the UPP offered to join the percussion section of the community's band, "Poke Her and She'll Jump," but were turned down, said the unit's commander, Renato Senna.

"Their playing wasn't really in the same style," he said. "But there is a real spirit of working together, and you can see that this Carnival."

Some of these roaming parades originating in the shantytowns themselves are saluting their police officers in the best Carnival spirit — by gently poking fun.

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