Santa Marta is the model of a pacified favela in Rio de Janeiro. Located in Botafogo, in the Zona Sul of the city, it is an example of a safe community that is practically integrated into the neighborhood. Today it has some six thousand residents in an area covering 54 thousand square meters, as well as a breathtaking view of the beach and Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas.
It has already served as the backdrop for several music clips by international celebrities, like Michael Jackson and more recently, Alicia Keys and Beyoncé. It is the favela that receives the most visits from illustrious visitors, ranging from ex-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso to the singer Madonna.
The residents call the favela Santa Marta due to the image of the Saint with this name that is kept to this day in a chapel at the top of the hill. This religious figure is said to have been taken there by a resident at the beginning of the 20th century.
The land currently occupied by the favela used to belong to Colégio Santo Inácio. Its first residents were sheltered there by Father José Maria Natuzzi. Almost all were poor families contracted to work on the expansion of the church or school, or farmers who moved to Rio de Janeiro from the Paraíba Valley, after the coffee crisis of 1929.
From 1983 to 2008, the government invested some R$ 123 million in Morro Santa Marta, in infrastructure and social programs. A large portion of this money was used for residences and to build the plano inclinado, a cablecar that takes residents to the highest parts of the favela. Daycare centers, a soccer field, access roads and a wall limiting the community were also inaugurated. The streets were given names, and today the favela has mail service and garbage collection. Critics argue that with the money invested, it would have been possible to indemnify each resident with an apartment in a neighborhood like Tijuca. However, this certainly would not solve the problem and would end the social and economic relations established inside and nearby the favela.
The Police Pacification Unit (UPP) of Santa Marta was inaugurated in December 2008. This was the first experience of the Rio de Janeiro Security Department within the system of community policing. The unit operates with 23 police officers who received specialized training. Captain Priscilla de Oliveira Azevedo was appointed to command the unit. Her good relations with community residents made the Captain a sort of informal Mayor of the favela. Requests for medical assistance, organization of events and complaints against neighbors constantly arrive at the unit commander’s office.
The narrow alleyways of the favela had been controlled for almost 30 years by criminal groups and the presence of the pacifying police put an end to the shootouts and drug sales. With little more than a year in operation, the UPP statistics are encouraging. Drug seizures increased by 100%, and the number of arrests increased by 33%. The streets were cleared of armed battles, ensuring residents peace and the right to come and go. Robberies fell by 44%, and illegal electrical hookups, which had reached as high as 70%, are now less than 1%. Additionally, 60% of the residents say that safety has improved and 90% want the police to stay in the favela.
Santa Marta now has a variety of social projects, like Social Action by Brazilian Music. The hillside has free internet access for residents, who map out the favela in Wikimap projects. The community also has the Family Health Program, micro credit and professional training courses, as well as the Padre Veloso Social Inclusion Hub, which offers activities to the elderly.