The peace commandant

Wednesday, August 5, 2021

By Analder Lopes and Ricardo França


Coronel José Vieira de Carvalho Júnior

With 25 years of service at the Military Police, Colonel José Vieira de Carvalho Júnior takes upon his biggest challenge so far: to administer the recently created Communitarian Police Command (CPCom), responsible for managing the Pacifier Police Divisions (UPPs). The Colonel, who has commanded battalions in many conflict areas in Rio, like the 16th Battalion of the Military Police (16 BPM), at Olaria, is internationally decorated. Carvalho has participated three times in the United Nations Peace Force, going to areas of extreme poverty and major conflicts. He was at Mozambique between 1992 and 1993 and at East Timor between 2000 and 2002, returning to East Timor between 2004 and 2006. The war experience made a huge impact in his life.

“I saw the most unimaginable things. I almost died, caught Malaria and spent two days in a coma. I saw a lot of horrors, both civilians and militaries being massacred. One scene I will never forget is that of a girl who wanted to hug me, but had no arms – she lost them to war. Have you ever hugged an armless child? I froze in face of her impossibility to hug me. I didn’t know what to do. I have nightmares until today”, says the Colonel, swept by emotion.

In spite of all the pain, both civil wars have taught the Colonel that one of the main causes of war is radicalism, the lack of dialogue. He is then able to trace a parallel between these war experiences and the UPP philosophy.

“In situations like these we try to intermediate the conflict.  A clear communication channel has to be established between citizens and the police. And this is what we try to do, today, at the UPPs. Working for the UN I had the opportunity to experience similar situations to those we see in Rio’s slums. The presence of the police is important, but it is not the only solution. What I saw in other countries and what I see here today are social issues, issues of citizenship, of sanitation and education that need to be discussed. The population needs the police, but without social projects and other public organs it is useless.

The Colonel states that he is going to invest in this new phase that the UPP project is going through - the phase of trust. According to him, the challenge now is to win the residents’ trust. Carvalho has been visiting all five communities with UPP bases already installed and says that he is touched by the scenes he’s been witnessing. Still according to the Colonel, children are growing closer to the police, residents have been inviting officers into their homes and this welcoming environment is the indicator that the project is working perfectly.

Colonel Carvalho’s five commandments

War experience

“This experience has exposed me to everything, from luxury to misery. I saw people dying from starvation right in front of me, I don’t even like to think about it, because these are tough scenes (the Colonel asks to stop the interview for a minute and cries). You get to the hospital and hug people and they only have their upper bodies, because everything else was blown up by a landmine. Once, at East Timor, I spent two days surrounded by rebel troops. I wasn’t allowed to sleep during all this time. We didn’t use guns. Once, we spent two days on a human barrier against men armed with M16 rifles aimed at us the whole time. Experiences like these have scared me for life. I witnessed the horrors of war. Here in Rio’s slums we are accustomed to this low intensity urban guerilla, that the media likes calling ‘urban war’. Who says or writes something like this doesn’t have a clue of what war is like. I arrived at a city in Mozambique where everything was literally on fire, dead bodies were scattered on the floor, abandoned in the middle of the street, inside cars, inside houses. I saw the formation of a police force that was completely destroyed. All the work I had done preparing men to guarantee security for those in the country went down the drain, because the police officers were killed”.

The UPP project

“I believe in this project, I believe in the UPPs. I’m a fomenter. I am motivated to take this Pacifier Police project to other communities in Rio. And I try to motivate my men to do the same. Because it is working. And I am not guessing this. The Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV) has been to both Santa Marta and Cidade de Deus communities, to verify the improvements in loco. Researchers have attested that the percentage of approval of the police work by the population is very high. Indeed, people feel much safer. And this is not just a feeling, it is a fact, because the results are concrete. Robbery rates have gone down in these areas, and the same thing has happened to burglary rates; and all this is possible thanks to our presence in these places. Property value, which had been incredibly low, is going up again. So everyone wins.

The Commandant’s profile

“Before taking over the command of an UPP, the officer has his conduct and his previous history checked, because not everyone if fit for this position. We are searching for excellence. To be in charge of an UPP an officer has to be an example and to have a crystal clear conduct. We guide our choices by two factors: competence and dedication. We can’t just put anyone there; we demand these qualities from our officers. We look for officers who are both brave and good with people. The person responsible for an UPP needs to be pro active, to be there not only to boss people around, but to solve conflicts. We don’t want warriors; we need to change this idea. If a warrior is needed, he will come along, without a doubt. We will not be intimidated in the face of conflict or threats, but, most of the time, we don’t want to solve things like warriors.”

Reality at the communities

“I’ve been going to the communities to see my officers, to check how they are being allocated. I’ve been doing the rounds at the UPPs and I’ve been invited by residents to visit their homes. Once I went with Captain Priscilla (Priscilla de Oliveira Azeredo, commandant of the UPP at Santa Marta) to a house where I was so well treated that I was even surprised. I didn’t expect such a warm welcome from a family like that. They made all possible efforts to please me. They didn’t even know me, but their children were playing games with me as if we had known each other for a very long time. They lived in a wood shanty where you could barely fit six people, but they were 16. Ten children and the wife is pregnant again. You look at something like that and realize that these people are way below the poverty line.  This is misery. Children spoke to me and hugged me like I’ve never seen before. To me, this shows the good work of the Captain in charge there, of the team she has put together to develop this work with the community. Residents are realizing that this police is different, that it works together with the citizen, dialoguing with people”.

UPP standards

“We are establishing standards and creating minimum criteria for the opening of new UPPs. In order for a new unity to be inaugurated we must take into consideration the community, the geography of the place, the amount of people circulating there, the number of habitants, how is the access to the place. Well, a series of things we ought to keep in mind. Every new project will be studied and improved, until we are able to accomplish the results we think are going to meet the community’s necessities. The partnership between the Public Security Institute (ISP) and the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV) grants us the security of knowing that everything we do is based on serious research and is previously verified. The ISP helps us by informing the criminal aspects of the areas where we act, by explaining what they were like before, by providing us with numbers and checking if the rates have improved after our arrival at these places, and whether violence has migrated somewhere else. All these mechanisms help us to improve our services.

Coronel josé Vieira de Carvalho Júnior