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Photos: Police on "Pacification Patrol" in a Rio Favela

Sebastiano Tomada

The metropolis of Rio de Janeiro, never lacking for spectacle and chaos, is presently welcoming the thousands of visitors squeezing into the city to be a part of the 2014 World Cup. Two years from now, its 6.3 million residents will have to share their city with even bigger throngs when the Olympics come to town. Already, they are feeling the strain of the put-upon host.

As new facilities, retail, and accommodations pop up with each passing week, the cost of living rises along with the pace of construction. But rapid development isn’t Rio’s only stressor: To make the city presentable for international spectators, the military and police have been deployed in a program of slum clearance. In the favelas, heavily armed tactical units have engaged in pitched battles with squatters and local gangs as recently as last month.

Earlier this year, photographer Sebastiano Tomada embedded with officers of the Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora (UPP), as the special force is known, while they went about patrols that have not entirely had the desired effect. “It’s a city that has a lot going on,” Tomada says. “Maybe a little too much.” – Kevin Mahnken

A UPP policeman on night patrol in the Morro do Macaco favela. “What’s going on there is a military campaign,” says Tomada. “I haven’t seen stuff like that since Afghanistan.”
Amigos dos Amigos (ADA) gang members man their posts at the perimeter of a well-fortified warren. The guards sometimes stand watch for twelve-hour shifts, alert for incursions by rivals—or, now, the UPP.
Favela gangs often use children as lookouts or mules. Police are authorized to search them in a Brazilian version of stop-and-frisk.
Young favela residents return on horseback from their subsistence-farming jobs on ADA-controlled land.
Gang members themselves prefer traveling in imported cars.

A boy practices passinho, an acrobatic dance craze that can be a way out of the favelas for the best performers.

Police descend from the hills into Macaco for another sweep, pistols drawn. “They have their guns ready to go,” Tomada observed. “Twenty-four seven.”