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Brazil, Pacification and Major Events: Forging an “Ambience of Security” in Rio


Fluminense National University, Brazil


Rio de Janeiro National University


Brazil’s War College, Brazil


Título: Brasil, Pacificación y Grandes Eventos: Forjando un “Ambiente de Seguridad” en Río

Abstract: This paper seeks to analyze the reshaping of the state security device in Brazil justified by the challenge of hosting the World Cup and the Olympic Games. The advent of these events ignited security programs designed to face possible threats and also the strengthening of law enforcement capability. This security device, in a Foucauldian perspective, should be seen as a complex articulation between social practices around security, national securitization processes and new tactics of government over conducts, spaces and flows connected with transterritorial security strategies.

Keywords: Civil-military relations, Security, Brazil.

Resumen: Este artículo busca analizar la remodelación del dispositivo de seguridad estatal en Brasil justificado por el desafío de ser sede del Mundial y los Juegos Olímpicos. El advenimiento de estos eventos impulsó los programas de seguridad diseñados para enfrentar posibles amenazas y el fortalecimiento de la capacidad de aplicar la ley. Este dispositivo de seguridad, desde una perspectiva Foucaultiana, debería ser visto como una articulación compleja entre prácticas sociales en torno a la seguridad, procesos nacionales de securitización y nuevas tácticas de gobierno sobre conductas, espacios y flujos conectados con estrategias de seguridad transterritoriales.

Palabras clave: Relaciones cívico-militares, Seguridad, Brasil.

Received: February 17, 2018

Accepted: May 4, 2018

Para citar este artículo/To cite this article: Thiago Rodrigues, Fernando Brancoli & Mariana Kalil, “Brazil, Pacification and Major Events: Forging an “Ambience of Security” in Rio”, Revista de Estudios en Seguridad Internacional, Vol. 4, No. 1, (2018), pp. 87-105. DOI:


…and there are those who claim for the lash for those who do not want to be pacified when the pacifiers make aim of course they start pacifying and sometimes they do pacify two birds with a single shotMario Benedetti, “Ode to pacification”


Introduction: the chosen city, the promised land

Copenhagen, Denmark, October 2, 2009. In a full auditorium, representatives of many countries expected the International Olympic Committee final decision on the chosen city to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. The ultimate dispute opposed Rio de Janeiro and Madrid. In the audience, the Brazilian delegation was clearly anxious. The Brazilian investment in Rio’s nomination had been huge. Many years of attempts and millions of dollars had been spent in publicity and in social mobilization. The very composition of the delegation was a proof of the importance given to the initiative: the then President Lula da Silva himself, the soccer legend Pelé, the Governor of Rio de Janeiro Sergio Cabral Filho, the city’s mayor Eduardo Paes, besides the president of the Brazilian Olympic Confederation Carlos Arthur Nuzman, besides Guido Mantega, the Ministry of Finances.

When the Committee official showed the name of Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian authorities overreacted in joy. At the same time, milliards of cariocas, who were following live the Danish ceremony from an enormous screen, did the same at the sands of the iconic Copacabana beach. Previously, in 2007, Brazil had conquered the right to host the 2014 FIFA’s World Cup. The new challenge was perceived by the Lula Administration as another victory of its foreign policy and an evidence of the country's increasing credibility as an emerging economic and political power. A central issue stressed by the Brazilian propaganda for the Olympic Games – alongside tackling the notorious obsolescence of the national transportation infrastructure – was the promise to deal with chronic public safety problems in the country, especially in Rio de Janeiro. The delegation tried to demonstrate the coordinated efforts of city, state and federal governments toward the construction of an effective policy centered in the reduction of ‘ordinary’ crimes (such as robbery) and drug-trafficking activities in Rio.

The main element waved as a success experience was the so-called Units of Pacification Police (UPP), a state public-safety program focused on the Military Police occupation of favelas/slums and impoverished urban areas. Alongside the UPP Program, the authorities promised other initiatives such as the modernization of police techniques and equipment and the use of high-tech devices and processes to monitor and control Rio’s streets and favelas. Before the realization of the 2013 FIFA’s Confederation Cup and the 2014 FIFA’s World Cup many of these promises had been set in course. The UPP Program, for example, had expanded its range of occupied favelas from 01 unit in 2008 up to 38 in 2014, and the national Army had begun to collaborate with it after three massive operations that took place in late 2010 (Rodrigues, 2016). Since 2010, Rio has hosted major events such as the 2012 UN Conference in Sustainable Development (Rio+20), as well as many private-sector fairs and music festivals. However, the major sports events appeared the most credible justification for a whole transformation of the city's infrastructure associated with a new security plan to embrace Rio de Janeiro, shifting the targets its landscape and the surveillance and police tactics toward its population.

In the context of these two major events, the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, this paper aims to present some analytical insights on which we repute to be a securitization move toward a new urban policy for Rio de Janeiro. We are going to focus on the study of the UPP Program and the Army’s Pacification Force established in two phases: the first one from December 2010 to July 2012 and the second reedited in April 2014. Our preliminary hypothesis is that the organization of major sport events has been strategically used as a doorway to readapt and transform the traditional security practices in Rio shaping a modality of security device we are provisionally calling modus military composed by elements of the urban militarism (Graham, 2010), police intervention, and new and subtler practices of control and surveillance. We argue that these new techniques of government have been remodeling the biopolitical government tactics in Rio, as described by Michel Foucault (1999; 2008), into a set of new tactics constitutive of what Gilles Deleuze (1992) called the society of control.


Violence and (in) security speech as an urban control apparatus

Understanding the production of (in) security elements as a way to control urban spaces is related, ultimately, to the control of significant elements of the life of individuals and their collectiveness. Thus, the determination of the role of certain spaces, the foreseen conducts of individuals and the social characteristics and behavior which are accepted or not, are operationalized within what Michel Foucault (2003) called as biopolitics, the set of government tactics that emerged in Europe in the passage of the 18th century to the 19th century, focused on the control and the management of entire populations, regulating the dynamics of individual and collective life, simultaneously interested in each individual attitude in his or her daily activities and the general dynamics of population (such as its birth and death rates, the general index of diseases and epidemics, the quality and location of city’s territorial occupation, etc.).

Through these analytical lenses, the discussion about reframing the standards of what can be understood as public or private spaces or life can be better grasped within an even wider dynamic, since biopolitics is not only aiming at controlling biological life, understood merely as "bare life" (Agamben, 1995), but actually at promoting an extra or a surplus of life, as characterized by Foucault – i.e. an enhancement in the physical health for the industrial workforce – combined with a reduction in the capacity for revolt and insubordination, achieved by the articulation among state repression, social policies (welfare policies) and an array of disciplinary tactics applied to individuals in several places such as schools, factories, hospital facilities, families, religious congregations, and the punitive archipelago (courts, jails, prison facilities, and the criminal underworld) (Foucault, 1999; 2003). For instance, Mark Duffield (2008: 35) states that biopolitics is essentially centralized in order to "restrict or manage the movement of lives [considered] potentially threatening or incomplete".

In this sense, the actors who could not fit a given social, moral and economic order would be excluded from social dynamics through the uplifting of material/concrete or symbolic barriers. This exclusion, however, does not mean invisibility or the will to ignore the existence of these people. Social groups considered undesirable or dangerous to the constituted political-economic order, would fit, as second-hand armies, to control and shape the working classes, by suffering the daily harassment of security forces and armed groups (both legal and illegal), the heavy hand of the criminal justice system, isolation in neighborhoods/ghettos/slums and, finally, the entrance into the penitentiary archipelagos. The reflections get more amplitude when we enmesh them with the concepts covered by Loïc Wacquant (2009: 122), mainly the so-called new governability of social insecurity. The sociologist defines it as a centralizing apparatus for the management of the society, mainly focusing poverty, aiming at shaping individual behavior in favor of a given economical order, especially the contemporary neoliberalism. Consequently, this system would integrate criminal control mechanisms and spatial occupation strategies in order to contain forms of marginalization associated with such neoliberal processes.

Thus, the combination of co-optation, territorial control, discipline and punishment would be the attempt of certain state forces to manage the increasing isolation, poverty and endemic insecurity of the metropolis, in a tactical set of governmental practices that emphasizes its logic in the production of controlling tactics directed both to the productive individuals in the current global economic order and to those interpreted as undesirable and/or dangerous to the same order. The articulation of the controls of life and spatial occupation, in this holistic framework, yields a purposely vague set of procedures, which incorporates different kinds of policies. The most significant reflection, however, in making this combination of Foucault & Wacquant assumptions is the absolute impossibility to separate the social actors and the urban spaces in which they are included. This co-constitutive system leads us to conclude that the political action that aims at reframing the urban space will necessarily have to deal with individuals. When one embraces in this equation the variable “violence”, especially that which is symbolically legitimized, it instills its own rationality manifested essentially in the actions aimed to control populations socially constructed as unwanted (Rodrigues, Brancoli & Amar, 2017).

Such use of a public security discourse for such a transformation in urban dynamics and its population distribution is echoed in what Goonewardena & Kipfer (2007) understands as urbicide. According to these authors, it is the condensed political violence directed to specifically “kill” urban areas, especially those containing individuals that are perceived as threats to the established order. Although the authors employ this consideration to analyze cases in the Middle East – such as the process that has led to the interruption of electricity services for the Iraqi Kurdistan – we believe that it can also be applied to the case of Rio de Janeiro regarding the process of urban rearrange justified to prepare the city for the Olympics and the World Cup. The application of this concept is possible since other similar analytical exercises related to mega-events in mega-event host cities, like London, Beijing, Seoul and Rio itself, have paid attention to significant urban transformations and to the violation of civil rights of impoverished populations who were previously settled in regions affected by infrastructure or urbanist remodeling for the games (Nobre, 2017; Di Vita & Morandi, 2018; Joo, Bae & Kassens-Noor, 2017).

The proliferation of urbicide practices is related to changes that place the policies for the cities and their population as a central element in the production and creation of social relations, opening a new agenda for biopolitical practices. Following this logic, “the struggle for the city now coincides more and more with the competition for social order” (Goonewardena & Kipfer, 2007: 241). The dichotomy inside/outside, indicated by R.B.J. Walker (1993) as the founder of modern political discourse that shapes and justifies the existence of the state as the promoter of peace and security within its borders – while the international arena remained as the locus for “anarchy”, “chaos” and, in extremis, “warfare” – is, in fact, brought inside national borders, placing itself in the urban level. It is to say that no longer just the inside (the nation-state) and the outside (international space) can define political communities and can summarize the production of political and ethical subjectivities such as “Us” versus “Others” or “Allies” versus “Enemies” (Rodrigues, 2018). There is now something we might call the separation between integrated and segregated areas within states that sets in motion a ghettoization logic (Passetti, 2011) sustained by that combination of social policies aimed at the poorest and the underprivileged neighborhoods with updating repressive practices (police and military) in these same areas.

Thus, the opposition inside/outside could be redirected to discuss the current production of urban spaces, especially when it is the case to understand the creation of bordering procedures between those who belong to a particular political community and those who do not belong, being removed and replaced by a combination of violent and subtle, stealth tactics. This process was preceded and followed by legal adaptations in the countries where mega-events were supposed to happen. These adaptations aimed at intellectual property rules, as well as new legal frameworks regarding real estate investments and urban planning norms which have opened new paths for unpopular decisions and violent public and private actions toward specific urban areas and their population. In sum, under the justification of being prepared for the mega-events, cities and countries such as Rio/Brazil, changed a set of legal dispositions (as we are going to further discuss) in an attempt to normalize practices that would have been unbearable in other circumstances.

This process resembles Giorgio Agamben’s discussion on the normalization of rules and practices of exception in contemporary democracies. In fact, the Italian philosopher (Agamben, 1995: 151) points out that the concept of exception in modern political analysis can be condensed into two positions. On the one hand, the perspective of the German jurist Carl Schmitt, who analyzes the state's intrinsic mandate to discretionarily declare periods of exceptionality, and, on the other hand, Walter Benjamin’s stance, which indicated that cultivating states of emergency had turned into normalcy, a permanent situation. Expressing a reflection that tries to integrate these models, Agamben argues that in contemporary liberal democracies exceptional spaces occupy a gray zone between violence and the law. In this sense, contemporary politics would be at the same time outside the legal liberal boundaries as well an integral part of its constitution, forming conditions to decide on which subject should be included or excluded – and, ultimately, eliminated – within a given political order. Agamben employs the Roman concept of homo sacer (sacred man) to define the elements of this exceptionality (Aganben, 1995: 8) in present time liberal democracies. Based on the distinction between "political life" (zoe) and "bios" (bare life), the Italian philosopher argues that liberal democracies seek to expunge the latter, while seeking to include it and pacifying it, reclaiming it into political life. The sacred man, in this case, is the individual reduced to bare life, an element that occupies the gray zone that characterizes the state of permanent exception. This point is significantly important for the creation of another argument: the sacred man is also the one that is interpreted as a threat and, therefore, needs to be obliterated, controlled and, if this is not possible, cauterized.

Urban spaces which are currently occupied by the State’s Armed Forces (police and military) combine the presence of daily physical violence (murders, assassinations, arbitrary imprisonments, moral and sexual harassments perpetrated by public armed officers and private militias), physical barriers (walls, concertinas, check points), and the increasing use of technological resources such as surveillance cameras, drones, and biometric devices (Graham, 2010). Substantial parts of the cities, like in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas and less privileged areas, are inhabited by a combination of impoverished workers – who everyday come outside to perform their activities during the day, coming back home for the night – and homo sacer (drug dealers, homeless people, poor transgender and prostitutes, miserable drug users, unemployed and illiterate persons). These parts of the city have been traditionally targeted by the public safety policies which try to contain rebellions and illegal activities outside the limits of the “segregate zones” (Alves & Evanson, 2013; Brancoli & Vasques, 2016). However, we claim that the preparation for the mega-events have boosted the operations and biopolitical actions toward those areas and populations, gathering a renewed social support from middle and high income social groups who saw in it a window opportunity to secure their own position in society through the city landscape under the morally acceptable excuse offered by the preparation for the games.

Thus, the actions of (re)occupation of urban space by state forces and private actors are pervaded by a rationality of determination and social hierarchy of spaces, through which areas – and individuals contained therein – must be systematized, monitored, evaluated and then separated into a binary logic of friend/enemy, pacific/threatening. The use of violence in such cases becomes a condition, and mainly, a justification, to ensure that certain action of occupation is employed. We believe that the combination of these analytical approaches, supported by the urban space construction categorizations out above, make up a powerful theoretical framework to understand how the new surveillance policies reframe public spaces in Rio.


Brazil’s major events and the new securitization discourses

The arrival of mega-events in Brazil, and especially at the city of Rio de Janeiro, can be understood as a period of galvanization of the discourses that seek to enable tactics of urban reframing. With the justification of the necessity to change the city to receive these events, new security and urban practices were adopted. On the one hand, there was a modification in the way public armed agents (the Military Police and the Armed Forces) were engaged in public safety operations. On the other hand, there was a transformation on how private security agents (both Brazilian and foreign companies) have been summoned to secure some neighborhoods, touristic areas, working fields for the games infrastructure, private enterprises (hotels, restaurants, the docks, etc.). This section will shed some light over the latter.

Hiring "private soldiers" has become a well-known subject since the many scandals related to the use of private military companies by the US government during the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan during the 2000s which has renewed the interest in the role of the so-called “mercenaries” in contemporary conflicts (Percy, 2007).

The exponential increase of the presence of these actors has resulted in a significant expansion of concern by human rights activists and analysts alarmed with the lack of control of the use of force in situations of conflict in urban areas (Rodrigues et al., 2017). However, the privatization of security and its consequences go far beyond the activities of hired soldiers. In addition to these agents, there is a range of daily activities that are occupied by an increasingly number of privatized actors. Away from the spotlight, the private security market – gathering a multitude of means, from armed personal escort to alarm installing services – already represented, in 2009, a global market of more than 160 billion dollars (Abrahamsen & Williams, 2010). From companies that perform risk analysis to those who offer public spaces protection, the numbers of private actors in the security sector in Latin America overcomes those of the police personnel (Percy, 2007).

A 2001-research, for example, shows that there already over 330,000 private guards working in the Brazilian megalopolis of São Paulo, with non-registered businesses employing estimated 600,000 people (Wood & Cardia, 2006). For comparative purposes, the Military Police in that state currently has a total of 81,357 soldiers (Ministry of Justice, 2014). This process of privatization, as pointed by Leander (2005), indicates a change in what we understand as security provision in modern communities:

we are in the midst of a potentially large transformation in the tools that ensure order and safety in liberal democratic societies, a [change] which is leading to fragmentation 6 and diversification of police provision, and being led by a number of agencies and agents, each with different responsibilities to provide policing and accountability”.

That argument finds support in the reflections of Sassen (2009) on the effects of globalization. In this analysis, the globalizing processes could not be understood as the "dismantling" of national states, while we find a corresponding "assembly" of new "global conjunctions". Within this perspective, globalization – and privatization – are not simply forces eroding the states, since these are included even assisting the supposed process of "dismantling" (Sassen, 2009: 224).

Addressing the privatization of security as a simple process of deterioration of traditional authority hinders the analysis of important variables, especially the changes taking place within the official institutions and in the public space. The enhancement of the private agents’ relative and absolute capabilities is directly associated with changes in the roles and responsibilities of the states, and, in most cases, occurs with the support and encouragement of the state structures and, particularly, of governmental, elected representatives themselves. This dual process of assembly/disassembly was first presented in the specific case of private agents by Williams & Abrahansen (2012). The authors suggest a model to analyze private agents acting on space formerly understood as public. In the specific case of this article, as private actors contribute to the establishment of the reframing processes of urban space, privatization becomes an important variable of a larger process of restructuring and reconfiguration of what is understood as public and private.

Much of the discussion in relation to non-state actors involved in security practices are commonly centered on reflections about the threats that such agents can represent for government authority structures. In this sense, the growth of private armed actors would not necessarily be related to a decrease of state authority and the erosion of the legitimacy of the use of force. That is why, in the present analysis, we prefer to address these questions through the lens of reframing: the presence of such actors actually indicates changes in the state and at the symbolically legitimate forms for the use of force. The presence of such actors represents the emergence of new security structures that recombine practices that were previously dichotomist. State capacity, within this scenario, is certainly reconfigured, but not necessarily weakened.

The consideration made by Pierre Bourdieu (1988) highlights some of this reconfiguration. For the French sociologist, the state is the "culmination of a process of concentration of different types of capital within a specific field [of power]" (Bourdieu, 1988: 13). In this sense, the constitution of the state agent is related to the construction of a power field in which several actors vying that has the greatest legitimacy to exert force. From this premise, the question again is not centered on whether the state is losing or gaining strength due to the presence of private actors, but as the relations of such agents within the security field are being modified. Employing Bourdieu structures, to understand the changes of the actors in the field is, in essence, getting how state power is being reconfigured. These changes in the relations between public and private may indicate, as puts Garland (2001: 124), the emergence of a third force in providing security, in conjunction with the police and the armed forces. According to the author, instead of imagining that they can monopolize control of crime, or to exercise their sovereign powers in complete disagreement with the powers of other actors, state agencies are now adopting the strategy of relating to other forces of social control. Hence, the resignification of public safety and of private safety in the urban environment, based on the examples given above, establish a model in which non-state and state actors use violence – physical or symbolic – to reconfigure the occupation of spaces.

This dynamic seeks to eliminate possible threats or to revamp old spaces to establish a new economic relationship with the territory. These actions are often justified by projections or resizing of an enemy – this enemy who, in Rio de Janeiro, is traditionally translated in the figure of the young, black and impoverished inhabitant of favelas –. Since the 1980s, this “threatening persona” has been especially depicted through the image of the drug dealer and the criminal gangs dedicated to drug trafficking (Rodrigues & Labate, 2016). In the specific case of Rio de Janeiro, there are systematic social “consensus” so that, by the virtue of future mega-events, private security agents remain responsible for providing security in the vicinity of strategic areas and to map as many possible potential unstable contexts.

Just as was attempted at the London Olympics in 2012, private security companies such as G4S already signaled they would remain proactive in the recognition of potential instability, it is the post 9/11 preemption model. Present in almost all forms of control in the UK, this company drew particular attention by the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for monitoring around the stadiums. These agents would be responsible not only for the security environment, but also for in the identification of potential risks. This ability to indicate possible risks is at the core of these security processes and, accordingly, private agents would be at the heart of the ability to indicate who may or may not occupy any space.

Ericson and Haggerty point out that liberal democracies are above all risk societies in which "governance is directed to the provision of security” (1997: 95). In this context, rationale and security practices would be centered around the identification, tracking and containment/elimination of risks. Within this rationale, the layout of the tendency of individuals would be actually guided by a binary logic of "friend/enemy" to indicate, ultima ratio, which actors could essentially occupy certain social and urban space. The increasing relevance of a private rationality with the ability to determine what are the spaces and agents able – and thus legitimate – to control a given population seems to indicate a possible common denominator for such risk-assessment dynamics.

In London, the transformation of the surveillance and control systems based on video cameras and sophisticated computer programs into facial identification started being enforced before the preparations for the 2012 Olympics. The current surveillance system was installed after the Irish Republican Army bomb-attacks in the late 1990s and the new security measures taken after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States and the 2005 jihadist bombings that shook the city (Davis, 2017). The combination of state security policies and private security contractors in London followed similar patterns established in the USA and also exported to other parts of the world, such as the Rio de Janeiro´s Summer Olympics. One example is the construction by Rio’s municipal administration of the Rio Operational Center (ROC), inaugurated in 2010 and announced as the “first Olympic equipment delivered by Rio’s municipal administration” (COR, n/d). According to COR's website, the operational center is a high-tech “GQ for the integration of urban operations in Rio” (COR, n/d). A set of TV screens is connected 24/7 to 800 municipalities’ cameras which are monitoring streets, avenues, bus stations, touristic areas, and public buildings. The center has also access to another 700 cameras which belongs to private contractors of public services (such as bus companies and ferryboat services). All this equipment is connected to state agencies, especially the State Secretary of Public Safety and the State Secretary of Civil Defense. This integrated system sets alerts reporting all kinds of phenomena, covering natural disasters, car accidents, as well as demonstrations, a surveillance that has allowed police forces to monitor and identify people who have been protesting against federal and state administrations since 2013 (Rodrigues & Augusto, 2016).

Hence, the production of newspacialities in Rio de Janeiro – which requires new means for control and surveillance – has been possible by a combination of the traditional and off-spread discourses of fear (particularly against impoverished and black people living in favelas) with novel justifications related to the so-called urgency of pacifying the city to make it fit to host major events. As the local, white middle class used to say when confronted with a situation they deemed unsatisfactory for the gringo: “Imagine this during the World Cup!”.


A pacified city?

The concept of pacification belongs to the ethos of the Brazilian Armed Forces, especially the Army. Since the country’s independence from Portugal, in 1822, the protagonist role of the military has been central in any understanding of the political arrangements and to the definition of political order. The military presence in national political life is historically intrinsically associated with the presumed perennial mandate to counter (or to pacify) rebellions and challenges to the established political order. The political and social relevance of the Brazilian Army increased after its victory in the civil war in Southern Brazil (1835-1845), and particularly after the triumph of the Triple-Alliance (Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay) in the Paraguayan War (1864-1870). Claiming more participation and valorization in the Monarchical rule, part of the young Army officials opened itself to ideas such as slave Abolitionism, Republicanism and the French Positivism. The so-called “proclamation of the Republic”, in 1889, was a military coup against the Monarchy lead by some of the most outstanding Army officials of that generation.

Thenceforth the Army has become an unavoidable political and social actor in Brazil. The two first (and the eighth) Presidents of the new Republic were field-marshals, the Getúlio Vargas dictatorship (1930-1945) was based on military support (Vargas himself had a military background), the first democratic president after that was a general (Eurico Dutra, Vargas’ Ministry of War), and the recent dictatorship (1964-1985) was established and conducted by a civil-military coalition lead by the Army. In such a context, one of the main elements of the Brazilian Army identity is the sign of modernization associated with the character of pacification. Still during the Monarchy period in the 19th century, the consolidation of the Emperor Pedro II’s rule over rebel provinces was possible due to the organization and mobilization of a national Army, which combined military troops and local militias led by landowners who were made “colonels” of a National Guard (Souza, 2017).

Those victories were commonly named as pacification campaigns. The image of the pacifying military also continued in two other fields: first of all, in the use of the Army to combat popular upheavals both in rural and urban spaces (the former considered archaistic/monarchist and the latter revolutionary/leftist) in the late 19th century and early 20th century; and the second one, in the march heading the vast West, taking terrain from native peoples of Central Brazil and the Amazon. The task of controlling and disciplining nomad indigenous peoples by the Army, led in particular by marshal Cândido Rondon, during the initial decades of the 20th century, was also known as “pacification” (Gomes, 2014; Lima, 2017). It is more than a simple coincidence that the current reentrance of the military into operations inside Brazilian borders has been pervaded by the “pacification ethos” (Gomes, 2014; Rodrigues, 2016).

The Army was requested, since the 1990s, to engage missions related to the combat of organized crime and drug-trafficking. According to Roy Kitchener’s (1993) argument, this engagement was possible due the articulation of three vectors: one external, and two tributaries of internal factors. The external vector answered the US diplomatic-military pressures related to the “war on drugs” strategy launched in the early 1970s by the Richard Nixon Administration and reinforced by Ronald Reagan’s and George H. Bush’s during the 1980s and early 1990s. Nevertheless, this response was not comparable in terms of intensity and efforts to the Colombian, Peruvian or Mexican military engagement, notably since the 1980s, where the military has assumed key positions in the public safety administration, as well as occupying entire cities and regions in the name of fighting drug-trafficking organizations (Marcy, 2010; Rodrigues, 2012). The first internal vector was linked to the incipient process of redefinition of the armed forces role in a period of distrust in a newly democratic rule (after the long dictatorship) which have found the blurred frontiers between national security and public safety represented by drug-trafficking as a possible new orientation for the military. Finally, the second internal vector was connected to the generalized social fear – especially in the major cities – with criminality and the use of illegal drugs. This fear started supporting a new generation of severe criminal laws aiming practices such as drug-trafficking and kidnapping.

The beginning of the 21st century witnessed a considerable increase of the military summoning to act in functions described as subsidiary such as monitoring cities during national and local voting processes and general security in major events such as the 1992 UN Environment Conference in Rio de Janeiro. During the Lula Administration (2003-2010) this role went even further. The main movement in this direction was the promulgation of the Complementary Law 136, in August 2010 (CL 136/2010). This law restructured and amplified previous decisions related to the use of military force within Brazilian borders, manly in the so-called law and order guarantee operations. After that, among other novelties, the Brazilian Federal Government, through its President and its Ministry of Defense, was authorized to deploy military from the Army, the Navy and the Air Force to support state governments facing problems in public safety. The CL 136/2010 defined that in response to state level demands, Federal Government would be able to establish a military operation to intervene in a city or region, following a strategic plan with clear definition of the territory under intervention and the time lapse of its employment.

One peculiarity of this Act is the determination of authority and command during the operation: due to the legal text the whole authority will remain upon the force commander pointed out by the President. Thereby, the state security forces (Military Police and Civil Police), usually responsible respectively for street policing and investigation, will not respond to the Governor’s orders, but to the General-Officer in charge. Interestingly, this particular kind of submission recalls the national security system operating during the civil-military rule when the Army had direct control over state Military Police. This kind of control was confronted by new democratic-elected governors after 1985 being changed in the 1988 Constitution. The new Constitutional text gave to the state governors the power to indicate the Military Police commanders without Army’s approval (Hunter, 1997). Thus the 2010 Act opened a new path for the interference of the military into state security matter.

The largest recent experience of military intervention in public safety comes precisely from this context. After a previous experience of joint operation to siege the Complexo do Alemão (a set of fifteen favelas) during Rio’s 2007 Pan-American Games (Alves & Evanson, 2013), in October 2010, based on 136/2010 Act, Governor Sergio Cabral Filho formally asked for federal support to fight drug gangs active in Complexo do Alemão and Complexo da Penha (a neighboring set of ten favelas). President Lula immediately authorized the Ministry of Defense to deploy a concerted maneuver involving the military, the Federal Police and the Federal Highroad Police in order to invade the Complexo do Alemão. In the last days of November 2010, an offensive took place through a huge operation combining federal forces, the state Military Police, and the state Civil Police with the support of Marines who offered transport tanks used to introduce deep inside the favelas the highly-militarized MP’s platoon for special operations (BOPE).

The massive media diffusion was plenty of military connotations such as “invasion”, “re-conquest”, and “victory” (Rodrigues, 2016). Alongside images of Brazilian flags waving in the inner areas of the slums, the word “pacification” reemerged once again. In fact, this word had resurfaced two years before, in 2008, when the Rio de Janeiro state government started a program of public safety called Units of Pacifying Police (UPP). This program was inspired in similar initiatives taken previously in cities like Medellin (Colombia) based on the purpose of reoccupying slums and neighborhoods controlled by criminal gangs. The supposed novelty of this relied on the combination of coactive measures (military and police occupation) with social programs and public policy initiatives (communitarian police, professionalizing courses, public healthcare, public schools, electricity and internet networks, garbage collection, etc.). In Rio, the first step of the UPP programs is under the responsibility of the Public Safety secretariat which ordered the Military Police to invade and occupy beforehand selected slums, establishing after that fortified bases deep inside the maze of poor houses. The first strike belongs to BOPE. The initial incursion then is followed by the entrance of regular Military Police allegedly prepared with special courses on human rights and proximity policing skills. The UPP Program goal was to guarantee the state presence to assure the beginning of the pacifying move.

The selection of the slums deserves a special remark. Rio de Janeiro is an 8 million people-city with reported 763 slums that gather around 1.4 million of its inhabitants. Until 2017 the UPP Program has occupied 40 slums in a space design that coincides with the southern zone of the city (the richest and touristic region), the central zone (the financial center and the port), the Northern zone (middle class area nearby the center and southern zone) and the part of the northern zone located in the path to the international airport. The vast majority of the slums still remain in drug gangs or militias (paramilitary forces formed by ex-policemen, ex-firefighters, and ex-military). The area covered by UPP is precisely the postcard worldwide known and the city’s financial heart. This is not the purpose of this article to discuss the characteristics of this Program, its problems, questions and allegedly current collapse (Arias & Barnes, 2017); however, it is necessary to point out that the UPP Program is not limited to secure the major events host by Rio de Janeiro, but it is quite connected to them (Valente, 2016).

The ability to convince the International Olympic Committee and FIFA of the state’s capacity to assure security for the games was key for the success of Rio’s nomination for both mega-events. In that process, the main challenge for the state government was to pacify Complexo do Alemão and Complexo da Penha. Both, Alemão and Penha, alongside their neighbor Complexo da Maré (a set of fifteen favelas), follow the highway that links the international airport to the city’s central and southern zones, which is also one of the main entrances of the city. To face this, the Governor asked, as exposed above, for federal support. Differently from the other UPP incursions, the Alemão and Penha operations were followed by a novel modality of mission led directly by the Army.

In December 2010, the Ministry of Defense announced the organization of the Pacification Force, composted by Army troops which occupied the Complexos for one year and half, leaving the region in July 2012 to give passage for UPP’s installations. The Pacification Force used during all that period troops previously deployed in Haiti (under the UN flag in the Mission for the Haiti’s Stabilization), being trained and prepared to act in the Caribbean country in a very similar scenario (the slum maze) and under similar formalities and norms (the UN Rules of Engagement in Haiti case and the guarantee of law and order legislation in the Brazilian case). In April 2014, a few weeks before the beginning of the FIFA’s World Cup, a second Army’s Pacification Force occupied the Complexo da Maré, nearby the international airport and the highways arriving in Rio. The know-how acquired in Haiti and in Alemão and Penha has brought to the discussion the reemergence of a military activism in domestic security affairs (Gomes, 2014). This military occupation ended in June 2015, but opened a window for further interventions justified by the allegedly Rio de Janeiro state’s bankruptcy. In July 2017, the federal government signed another agreement with the Rio de Janeiro’s Governor in order to deploy military troops to support law enforcement in the whole state in the so-called “Operation Rio” (Rodrigues, Brancoli & Amar, 2017).

The indication of this Force with the qualitative Pacification could be seen not merely as a reference to the UPP Program, but broadly to the older and more complex heritage related to the military ethos and self-image. When this paper was concluded, the 2nd Pacification Force was still at the Maré’s poor streets and alleys.


Rio as an “ambience of security”

The presence of the military in favelas could be interpreted as a sign of an increasing militarization of public safety in Brazil. However, this process is not so clear and flat. First, saying that Brazil is going through an unparalleled process of militarization would be imprecise in light of repeated interventions of the Brazilian military in domestic politics and of their historical social presence. It also would bypass the daily militarization of public safety by the state Military Police, a gendarmerie-type corporation linked to the Army through Constitutional determination (Hunter, 1997; Rodrigues, 2015). 

The very concept of militarization is not pacified. Some analysts define it as the direct presence of the military in repressive or preemptive policing (Zaverucha, 2000). Others offer a broader definition which includes not only that police role but also the presence of high-range military officers in key commander positions in public safety and national security (Benítez-Manaut, 2010). Alternatively, authors like Graham (2010) are interested in the “insignia of the military”, a kind of military mark or general style of conceiving security, which would be present in almost every major city in the world. Graham highlights the generalized use of surveillance and control technologies (such as cameras, databases, biometrics, GPS, etc.) and the general acceptance that state forces (and even private companies) could trace, tape, register and watch each single movement of any citizen in the name of order and security.

This permission to be controlled was noted by many authors, like Zygmunt Bauman (2003; 2013), as an element of contemporary societies: the fear and the belief that a surprising and terrible attack could occur anytime and anywhere would have brought the state power to its simplest and basic Hobbesian character of security provider. In that sense, people living in “societies of fear” could allow tough measures of security to provide protection against invisible or almost unpredictable enemies such as terrorism, illegal immigrants, criminals, drugs dealers, etc. This “securitization demand” comes not only from the state or private enterprises of the security sector. It is possible to identify this kind of demand coming from bellow, including significant part of favelas’ and low-income social segments, as well as the middle and the higher classes. A common feeling of general insecurity and claim for the straightening of security policy pervade Brazilian society.

The internal process of securitization in Brazil ignites, as put by Buzan, Wæver & De Wilde (1998), particular security policies supported by large segments of Brazilian society. These policies include the reshaping of the urban spaces that redefine the flow of people, vehicles, products, and the redesign of private and public investment zones. The UPP Program associated with the Army’s Pacification Force could be understood as part of a state mobilization to reorganize the urban space in order to allow public and private investments and to secure the circulation of tourists, while answering social claims for more security.

According to Graham (2010), the process of “urban militarization” is not limited to the presence of the military. In fact, for him, only few urban places exhibit open or visible indications of militarization (such as the pacified favelas in Rio). In general, it is the presence of the whole plethora of technology devices of control that establishes the daily experience of military urbanism. The employment of usual equipment such as personal computers, GPS transponders, surveillance cameras, electric bars etc. are not followed by the conscience of their military origins (and their military active capability of controlling one’s movements and actions).

In such a context, parts of the urban space are identified as dangerous zones that must be countered and isolated. These zones correspond to what Edson Passetti (2003) amplifies as “open-air concentration camps”: favelas, ghettos, low-income residential neighborhoods that are not excluded from the city – because their inhabitants work, circulate and consume in the city’s “secure zones” –, but that are kept in close control by the security forces (both state and private). The dangerous zones are targets for security policies such as the Pacification Program because they are conceived as “enemy territories” where live hostile populations, or at least, “hostile individuals” or “groups” that are considered the current version of the historically reedited figure of the “internal enemy” (Rodrigues, 2015). Some of the “internal enemy” could be directly assassinated by the state forces or imprisoned with large social support: Brazilian police is broadly recognized as one of the most lethal in the world and the Brazilian prison system is the third largest in the globe (Conjur, 2017).

However, the most significant part of the dangerous social groups is controlled on a daily basis by a sophisticated combination of governmental tactics. The biopolitical tactics, as described by Foucault (2008), are nowadays articulated with technological devices and procedures that reconfigure the modes of controlling urban spaces and people’s movements and actions. While thinking about the changing character of late 20th century’s societies, Gilles Deleuze (1992) defined new forms of governing people, flows and spaces as “societies of control”. For Deleuze, the discontinued modes of governing people in the disciplinary society analyzed by Foucault (in schools, prisons, factories, hospitals, etc.) have been incremented by other modalities of continuing control also due the new varieties of technological apparatuses and procedures. Biometric devices, password scanning, databases, electronic handcuffs and collars, credit card integrated systems or GPS services could potentially control every single step and transaction. According to Deleuze (1992: 7), “the conception of a control mechanism, given the position of any element within an open environment at any given instant (…) is not necessarily one of science fiction”.

What governmental tactics seek now is to localize, scan, and prefigure movements in open spaces, giving freedom for the circulation of capital and goods, and also giving freedom for certain types of people to circulate (the productive and obedient) although not to others. Developing countries’ metropolises such as Rio de Janeiro have an enormous contingent of people that must be controlled in their circulation to preserve a given social order based on social inequality and segregation. Currently, however, neither the Northern nor the Global Southern cities provide a clear-cut traditional, historical and very well-known enemy (the dangerous classes represented by poor, immigrant and dark-skinned people) associated with a new potential enemy (almost everybody who lives out of the productive flows of the contemporary economy) (Rodrigues et al., 2017).

In this sense, the “urban militarization” described by Graham (2010) could be taken as one of the governmental tactics of the society of control, matching explicit elements of militarization – as it happens in Rio’s favelas – with many stealthier forms of surveillance represented by the enormous variety of electronic devices that surround and touch us, manned both by public and private security agents. A new kind of social controlling emerges, combining state security practices, a broad “urban militarization” process, and local social collaboration which include anonymous denouncements, self-surveillance and some levels of adhesion from local organizations (NGOs and popular organizations). All together, they produce a complementary face of policing practices that come from bellow (the level of social practices) and connect with those coming from above (the state) (Augusto, 2013).

Mega-events appear as one of the sparking elements of the current societies of control. Huge international mega-events such as UN summits, music festivals, entrepreneurs’ fairs, and sports competitions (like the FIFA’s World Cup and the Olympic Games) mobilize legal reforms, international partnerships between foreign police and military special squads, agreements on justice data exchange, and programs for the renewal of military and police equipment and training. In this sense, Rio de Janeiro has proven to be one of the most globally connected urban spaces in the global society of control. Since the 1980s the city has established itself as one of the most important centers for mega-events in the world. Nevertheless, the 2014 World Cup and specially the 2016 Olympic Games have brought novelties in terms of governmental tactics that go beyond the events themselves. For example, in 2011 the Brazilian Federal Government created the Extraordinary Secretary for the Major Events Security, under the Ministry of Justice, and focused on build specific security polices for the 2013 FIFA’s Confederation Cup, the 2014 World Cup, the Olympic Games and any other major event. The main goal of this Secretary was to “obtain a pacific and safe environment” for the realization of those events (Brazil, 2011). The same document highlighted the “important legacy” that will be left in terms of security infrastructure and training.

The theme of the “security legacy” is crucial because all the legal reformulations and new policies, particularly those related to the acquisition of controlling technologies, have been described as an increase of the state capacity to enforce law. The Federal Act that established the Secretary also mentions that the “public investments in that area [security] must signify permanent advances for society, representing a qualitative step forward in the sustainable decreasing of crime rates”. It is important to notice the direct relationship between the realization of the mega-events and the internal crime/security issues.

Connected to international standards and demands of security, and focusing on internal and external potential threats (terrorism, organized crime and regular crime), the Brazilian preparation for the mega-events could be analyzed as a political and tactical update of state security capacities in the society of control. In fact, we believe that it is possible to understand the arrangements in urban security and law enforcement around Rio’s mega-events beyond the regular discipline techniques limited to controlling delimited areas (Boyle & Haggerty, 2009). Instead it would be possible to identify traditional tactics of control and urban discipline (policing, police incursions into favelas) combined with new technologies of surveillance and control (integrated video systems, drones, continued military and police occupations). The occupation of favelas and the growing presence of military forces are part of this large process of updating and adaptation of security practices and policies in Rio.

We argue that it is in course, in Rio de Janeiro, the configuration of a broader project that seeks to build up an ambience of security in the city understood as the process of creating areas of control that literally pacify local tensions without solving the economic, political and cultural sources of social conflict. Pacify is itself a military terminology applied to describe the cease of hostilities in a given territory assured after a military occupation. It does not mean, for instance, peace in a positive sense, but a state of paralysis guaranteed when a superior armed force imposes itself over its opponents. However, the current pacification in Rio de Janeiro is not just the outcome of a traditional infantry victory and occupation, but a work-in-progress which combines the appropriation of some regions of the city in order to make them available for gentrification and real estate speculation, while allowing the circulation of tourists, middle and up-classes citizens, as well as impoverished people who make the city move forward working as waiters, policemen, private security agents, doormen, soldiers, manual labors, maids, domestic workers, etc.

In this context, the favelas taken as “open-air concentration camps” are, at least in the official discourse, integrated to the general economic, social and political city life, while states’ presence is noticed by the articulation of explicit means of force (UPP and Army’s Pacification Force) and subtle modalities of control represented by the entrance into the slums of public and private services. Drug-trafficking and gangs’ operations do not cease, but they are reconfigured and adapted, and in some case, they simply move for other cities and unpacified favelas. Thus, the military style of controlling the city is composed by combination of military explicit presence, Military Police regular and pacifying operations, and the whole set of control technologies and practices of the society of control providing a secure ambience for business. For that we can identify a modus military of control and government verifiable not only in the explicit security policies, but also in the tiny details of our contemporary urban life.

In this sense, Rio de Janeiro is a city fully integrated to the governmental flows of the society of control with its transterritorial connections and local demands. In Rio, the modus military is present both in the confrontational tactics by the Military Police (and the new Army’s presence in the lasting occupation of favelas), and in the spread of technologies of control supported by novel forms of collaborative citizen participation – such as the denouncing-phone (a NGO dedicated to receiving anonymous denounces of crimes which are then communicated to the police) – used to transform any citizen in a police informer. The “police-citizen” (Augusto, 2013) complements and reassures the public law enforcement agents and the private security actors in the effort of producing a secure city, with its conflicts contained, but not solved.


Final Remarks

The “pacification doctrine”, as put by Arantes (2014), maintains much of the national security doctrine formulated during the military rule under influence of the US anti-communist policy: according to this author, the old communist “internal enemy” was now converted into the criminal or the drug dealer menace. Nevertheless, both then and now, the international influences are translated into a local accent which has its roots in the deepest elements of Brazilian social fabric.

The 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games offered windows of opportunity to boost the process that has updated some aspects of the Brazilian security practices by including new technologies of control and novel articulations among police forces, armed forces and private security contractors. This trend toward a production of an ambience of security in Rio is under course in a context of legal and political uncertainty in Brazil. However, the analytical lenses provided by Foucault’s and Deleuze’s insights on surveillance, control and government of populations can offer an interesting perspective for studying and understanding the current transformations in Brazil’s – particularly in Rio’s – security practices.

Finally, by analyzing Rio’s mega-events we can identify the interpenetration of historical governing practices and elements of new technologies of power and control. The traditional prejudice against the black and the poor, namely of those who live in favelas, is still a crucial factor in the definition of security practices in Rio de Janeiro. Nevertheless, this population is not controlled as it used to be. That is why the preparation and the legacy of those mega-events are not alien to the Rio’s security dynamics; instead, they reconnect it to the new tactics of governing populations in the society of control.


About the authors:

Thiago Rodrigues. Head of Post-Grad Studies of the Institute for Strategic Studies (INEST) at Fluminense Federal University (UFF) in Brazil. Communications Director of the Global South Caucus (International Studies Association, ISA) and Director of Institutional Relations of the Brazilian Association for Defence Studies (ABED).

Fernando Brancoli. Assistant Professor of International Security at the Institute of International Relations and Defense at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) (Brazil) and Research Affiliate at the Global Security Hub at the University of California–Santa Barbara (USA). Email:

Mariana Kalil. Professor at Brazil’s War College and Vice-Chair of the Global South Caucus at the International Studies Associations (ISA). She integrates the Communications Team of the Oxford Academic Journal International Political Sociology (IPS). Email:



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