Rio official: Security improving Rio shanty lives

MICHAEL CASEY AP Sports Writer Published:

DOHA, Qatar (AP) -- A top Rio de Janeiro security official says the legacy of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics will be the peace and improved services that added security is bringing to the city's long-deprived poor neighborhoods.

Jose Mariano Beltrame, secretary for public security in Rio, told a sports and security conference in Qatar that Rio's three-year program has broken down barriers to slums that for decades were essentially cut off from prosperous parts of the city of 6 million people.

"We are changing the city, recovering the areas and also installing police into those areas," Beltrame said. "Most importantly, it is not only the police presence. The police are doing the first intervention there. The police are creating possibility to include these people into normal life."

In 2009, city officials launched a "pacification" program, in which security forces clear heavily armed gangs from slums and establish a police presence. The program in about 15 percent of the slums serving 280,000 people so far aims to reduce violence in Rio before the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, and improve the lives of shanty town residents by bringing in basic services.

Beltrame said the project is already showing "quantitative results" including a drop in crime rates in the city. He said that funding for the program extends through 2014 and he was confident the gains would hold and result in a "permanent legacy."

"If we don't have this, we will have less public security," Beltram said. "The legacy we are creating has to start now."

Drug factions began taking over slums in the 1980s, when the cocaine trade heated up. Lucrative drug sales led to the introduction of military-grade weapons. That fueled deadly confrontations when one gang tried to take over the turf of another, or when police went into the slums with their own guns.

The Rio state government over the years either ignored the slum violence or responded with unacceptable force when the killings spilled into Rio's rich neighborhoods. The pacification program has been widely supported but raised questions over why it took so long for authorities to act. There are also questions over whether the program can actually reduce the drug trade.