Rio police invade favelas ahead of FIFA World Cup and Olympics

As I, along with many others, predicted as soon as it was announced that Rio de Janeiro would host the two most globally important sports mega-events, the Rio authorities have launched a major drive to occupy and ‘pacify’ a growing number of the most significant favelas (informal settlements) in the city.

The rationale behind this is to drive out the gangs which control many of these communities. To this end a series of special police units has been created, the UPPs, which attempt to gain control of the settlements. Early experiments were in three favelas, one of which, Santa Marta, I visited in early 2009, when, along with Paola Barreto Leblanc, I conducted interviews with community association leaders and police.

Just last week the police moved into the largest favela, Rocinha. Unusually with police raids of this kind, there was little overt violence and ‘collateral damage’. This is certainly an improvement on some previous operations. However, not everyone was that impressed. This video from ITN News shows the stage-managed nature of the event, which seems to have been largely a demonstration of the ability of the Rio authorities to produce security on demand. As the reporter notes, only one person was arrested which means that hundreds of gang members (in this case of the Amigos dos Amigos, AdA, or ‘Friends of Friends’) will either have fled or remain in the favela.

The plan is apparently for the net to be widened still further, with Sergio Cabral, the Governor, claiming that 40 UPPs will be established, including very soon in the Mare Complex, 16 favelas with over 130,000 in all, which is vital to the preparation for the mega-events as it is close to the international aiport and other major transport links from Rio to the economic hub of Brazil, Sao Paulo. Many AdA members from Rocinha may have fled to the Mare Complex and at some point the pacification is bound to be become violent and less media-friendly. There are also, at least two other alliances of gangs who occupy other important favelas.

The current authorities have also started to emphasize the ‘community-building’ intention of these pacification measures, but it should not be forgotten that almost the first act that Cabral and his sidekick, the Mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes, implemented on coming to office was to cancel the internationally-praised slum-upgrading program, favela bairro (see some thoughts I had on this after my interviews in 2009) of the former Mayor Cesar Maia, which was aimed at a much deeper and longer-term improvements not just at appeasing middle class voters and impressing the International Olympic Committee and FIFA. We will also see whether, like in Santa Marta, the initial community building efforts are undermined (or perhaps aided) by the installation of surveillance cameras

The Expansion of Video Surveillance in India

A recent market analysis (which contained many predictions, more of which tomorrow) identified India as one of the world’s fastest expanding video surveillance or Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) markets, and the coverage of policing plans in the Indian media over the past couple of years would seem to confirm this. In particular, in the wake of the terrorist attack on Mumbai, authorities in all major cities have been pushing ahead with the intensification of security and surveillance measures. This is part of a more general expansion of surveillance in all areas of Indian governance, some of which, like the new biometric census and high-tech border surveillance and UAVs, I’ve mentioned here before.

Cities such as Chennai have announced plan for 10,000 cameras across a range of settings (interestingly in this case, ‘marriage halls’ were one of the first locations to get CCTV – perhaps someone can enlighten me as to why this would be – along with state banks and major malls) and the police chief is quoted as saying he wants “the whole city covered by CCTV.” Delhi is combining a massive expansion of CCTV with increasing numbers of police officers on the streets, so this is not a case of an inhuman technological gaze replacing the neighbourhood police officer. And here, as in the state of Gujarat, in cities like Ahmedabad, the road network is a particular priority with Automatic License (or Number) Plate Recognition (ALPR/ANPR) systems and cameras being installed on all major roads. This ‘Intelligent Traffic Management System’ (ITMS) is designed to be multipurpose and address security, traffic and emergency requirements.

The diffusion of CCTV to more remote and peripheral areas has also been remarkably quick. Just recently, the northern Haryana region has also announced a huge CCTV installation of around 5000 cameras in eight cities, which will be targeted at “shopping malls, main market, major traffic points and escape routes in these cities” – an interesting turn of phrase, which almost seems to portray the city as a prison. Just as in the major urban centres of the country, here too the new systems will employ analytics including movement recognition.

This expansion has not gone unchallenged – see this debate over some of the Chennai systems – but the debates seem rather lifeless and complaints seem to be limited to hoping that there will not be ‘abuse’ of the camera systems by police, and commenting on the lack of any regulatory body for video surveillance. Nor has it all been smooth in technological terms. The Delhi expansion of CCTV builds, as in many cases, from the security upgrades for a ‘mega-event’, in this case the Commonwealth Games in 2010. However, as with much of the infrastructure for these games, there were reports of systemic failure, if not a total lack of functionality from day one. The cameras for the event were apparently poorly calibrated and made watchers dizzy an in some cases, installed where no view could be obtained. It is also not the case that what many nation’s security authorities would consider to be priorities for video surveillance have actually already been covered, even where there has been a demonstrable threat: for example, it is only now that CCTV is being installed at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, which apparently had no CCTV at all prior to this.

Overall, there appears to be strong media backing for a combined state and private sector discourse that emphasises CCTV not so much as a protection against terrorism (though that is clearly present) but as an unquestionably ‘necessary’ or even simply ‘natural’ component of progress, economic development and modernisation. Consider, for example, this description of the new “shining steel” Metro system in the high-tech and global information economy service-centre region of Bangalore, where “automatic fare collecting gates, metal detectors, CCTV cameras and voice announcement systems” were all of a piece along with the announcement of the new ‘signature tune’ for the public transit network. And see also this rather peculiarly de-politicised description of the history (and future) of policing technology in India, written by a former senior officer from Kerala state, in which the British colonial imposition of fingerprinting in India is portrayed as a collaborative advance and in which, of course, CCTV is pictured as part of a similar and apparently totally necessary new series of technological advances designed to drag Indian policing out of a ‘medieval’ period.  At the same time, however the historic (and largely colonial) legacy of a slow-moving, fragmented and conflict-ridden bureaucracy is still resulting in a very uneven diffusion of video surveillance across this enormous country.

Fortress Toronto for G20 summit

There is an interesting article yesterday in the Toronto Star that does a good job of describing what will happen when the G20 arrives in town in June this year.

Of course, it will be accompanied by all the security and surveillance that these days comes as part and parcel of these ‘mega-events‘ (see also: here and here) whether they be sporting, economic or political – with the added hyper-security around world leaders. Rather like the peripatetic monarch’s court that used to be a feature of high mediaeval European societies, the travelling circus of global governance brings with it, its own security norms, creating locked-down ‘islands’ within cities, temporarily removing the rights and liberties of residents, and moving out and on those people seen to be ‘out-of place’ (the homeless, street vendors, protestors and so on). In many cases, ordinary people are suddenly potential troublemakers, and residents are harassed in advance by intelligence services who check profiles, backgrounds, political affiliations and so on. Business within the zone are usually negatively affected – even if the case is made, as it normally is, that there will be some nebulous ‘economic benefit’, which (oh, so conveniently) happens to cover the costs of security. The events are often also ‘test-beds’ for new technologies of surveillance and security – last year at the Pittsburgh G20 summit, we saw the use of sonic weapons on protestors for example.

Why do cities put up with this? Well, it’s all about inter-urban competition. For urban authorities these mega-events reinforce the global status of the city, or allow it to climb the ever-incrasing numbers of rankings of ‘world cities’ of ‘global cities’.  Toronto, like so many other cities in the second or third rank of global cities, is obsessed with appearing to be world class, and the local government will put up with almost any kind of inconvenience to its citizens that is seen to benefit the city’s global status.

I’ll be keeping an eye on developments, but if I was a Toronto resident, and if I could, I’d just leave town for a couple of weeks before and during the event…

Vancouver Olympic surveillance legacies

A city worker installs video surveillance cameras outside GM Place in downtown Vancouver. (CBC)

As the CCTV cameras are going up, Vancouverites are starting to become more concerned now about what the legacy of increased security and surveillance will be after the Olympics. Although the initial promises were that the cameras would be taken down afterwards, with the money that has been put into building a swish new control room, it seems unlikely that the authorities will want to ‘waste’ this investment. As we warned in our Vancouver Statement in November, it seems as if the Games have become a globe-trotting Trojan horse for the video surveillance industry.

Meet Rio’s new security advisor…

if this appointment is any sign of what is to come… this is going to be war on the favelas.

So, with Rio de Janeiro now hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, and a huge set of social problems providing big obstacles to a PR success and the place climbing the world rankings of ‘global cities’, who have the right-wing administration of Governor Sergio Cabral and Mayor Eduardo Paes appointed to advise them on security?

Rudy Giuliani

Well, it’s none other than Mr Zero Tolerance himself, the ex-Mayor of New York and failed presidential candidate, Rudy Giuliani.

As I’ve argued before, Giuliani’s macho urban politics have inspired the new tough choque de ordem (shock of order) approach that has flourished under Paes undermining the previous progressive social measures of former Mayor Cesar Maia, in particular the Favela Bairro program that attempted to make the illegal settlements in which the excluded minority of Rio’s population live, into normal functioning neighbourhoods. Cabral and Paes have turned this back into an ongoing confrontation, which is costing lives and livelihoods, and if this appointment is any sign of what is to come, the World Cup and the Olympics are going to mean more than just the usual high security and surveillance exhibition that these mega-events have become – this is going to be war on the favelas and war on the poor.

(As ever, thanks to my eyes in Rio, Paola Baretto Leblanc, for the link).