Pacifying Rio's Biggest Favela

By Monica Bergamo

This article first appeared in Folha de S.Paulo.

RIO DE JANEIRO - Cleide Oliveira, a 45-year-old beauty salon owner specialized in straightening curly hair, says she'll soon be forced to find a new job. Since November 2011, when a Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora or Police Pacifying Unit (UPP) was created in Rocinha -- Brazil's biggest favela near Rio de Janeiro -- she has seen her number of customers dramatically reduced.

"UPP means the end of hair straighteners," Oliveira told Folha.

Even on a recent Saturday afternoon, her salon was empty. "There are not as many parties as before," Oliveira complains. Already past 5 p.m. and no customer has come in for a 20-reais ($10) simple straightening or the 100-reais ($50) longer version. She already had to dismiss four employees. In the old days, dryers and straighteners would work continually. "Until midnight," Oliveira says.

Funk parties in Rio slums have become world-famous for their scantily-clad girls and songs with sexually explicit lyrics. "There used to be parties in Rocinha from Monday to Monday -- for free and with lots of drinks," says Fabiana Escobar a.k.a. Dangerous Bibi, the owner of the now-bankrupt Danger Girl brand that used to make clothes for girls who liked to party hard on the dance floor.

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With the UPP, "there are no parties anymore and girls have no money or reason to dress nice," complains Bibi, who is also the former wife of drug dealer Saulo de Sá Silva, known as the "Baron of Cocaine" in Rocinha.

In January, she closed Danger Girl. Now she lives on renting out commercial spots in Rocinha. She has started a blog and is now famous-to the point of being the inspiration behind a character in the most popular telenovela currently on Brazilian TV.
Bibi rents two beauty salons. They are being used by an evangelical church and a bar. Folha also counted 16 beauty salons, 14 bars and nine churches that have opened in places previously used for funk parties.

Up and down the favela's steep hillside, police have put an end to an economy moved by cocaine. "The measure has hit all those who depended on money coming from the dealers. Before they could not leave Rocinha, and spent all their cash here," says taxi driver Manuel Vale, 48.

The order was also a shock for party organizers. The funk parties in Rua 1 were closed by the Civil Defense because the place had no emergency exit. "I'm trying to meet the requirements," says promoter Marcelo Tocão, who had about 3,000 people attending his parties and now has no more than 500.

UPP Commander, Edson Santos, is a kind of a manager in Rocinha. He is in charge of 700 men who keep the slum safe. "Citizenship is a two-way street. Parties ended because they weren't fitting the rules."

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Article republished with permission from Worldcrunch.

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