Bruno is former drug dealer and member of the Comando Vermelho who now lives in a favela a few miles from downtown Rio.
RG: Can we talk about how has life changed in your community since the establishment of a Pacifying Police Unit (UPP)?
Bruno: Life has changed a lot. Most of those who were involved with the drug gang have gone. Before, the drug gang controlled everything—they were the authority in the favela, and everybody did what they were told. And I mean everybody. And everywhere you’d go you’d see men with guns. You know, with high-powered weaponry. And so to have them gone is huge, in terms of our everyday lives.
RG: Do you know where they have gone?
Bruno: Some people say they are in hiding. And some people say they have moved to other communities, in other parts of the city. I mean no one really knows where they’ve gone, and no one really wants to know.
RG: And are drugs still sold in the favela?
Bruno: Yes, of course, because there is always a market for drugs. I mean you’re never going to get rid of that. It’s just that now they are not sold so openly. Because the dealers know that the police are there to stop them. So they have to be smarter, they have to be more careful. But they’re still there.
RG: And how about the police? How are the police treating the residents of the favela?
Bruno: The relationship between the police and the residents of the favela has improved a lot. Except that they still treat some people badly. You know, the young men, because they think they are still involved. But, it’s much better than it was before, because most of the police who are stationed here are new recruits who have just graduated from the academy. They’re not as corrupt as the old police. The old police used to make deals with the drug gang, to keep the peace, and to make money. So we never trusted them. I mean we never went to them for help, understand? Because we never knew which side they were on.
RG: So you feel you can trust these new police, these new recruits?
Bruno: To a certain extent, yes. Because like I said, they are new and inexperienced, and they want to do the right thing. But on the other hand, because they are inexperienced, they don’t know anything about the favela. And because they don’t know anything about the favela they are vulnerable to attacks by the drug gang. And because of that a lot of them are afraid of what might happen to them if the drug gang is allowed to return. And the drug gang knows that. And that’s why you’re seeing all these attacks by gang members on favelas that have been occupied by the UPPs.
RG: And what about all the other things that have been promised, the investments in infrastructure and social services?
Bruno: So far, it’s just been promises. But investment is what’s needed. I mean that’s what needs to be done. Because for the longest period of time we were abandoned by the authorities. And that’s how these criminal elements became established in the first place. Because no one was here to stop them. But like I said, nothing’s been done yet. None of the things that were promised have been delivered. The place has been occupied by police, that’s all. And that’s not what we want, understand?
Robert Gay is a professor at Connecticut College. He is author of three books on Brazil, the latest, A Passage through Time: Conversations with a Brazilian Drug Dealer (Duke, forthcoming).
Read the rest of NACLA's 2014 Summer Issue: "Reimagining Drug Policy in the Americas"