Complexo do Alemão has about 300,000 inhabitants and is one of the most populous regions of Rio. It includes the neighborhoods of Penha, Inhaúma, Bonsucesso, Ramos, and Olaria and consists of 12 favelas in the city’s North Zone.
The complex was a huge swath of farm land until the late 1940s. Its first owner was an immigrant of Polish origin. Because of his appearance, residents began referring to the landowner as “Alemão” (German). “Alemão’s” land was gradually divided and sold in lots to families seeking affordable housing in the Zona Norte. Then in the 1960s there was a large influx of migrants from the northeast of Brazil. The real population explosion, however, occurred only in the 1980s when then-governor Leonel Brizola authorized land occupations, significantly increasing the population of the complexo.
This area had suffered from major violence and has become known as the Gaza Strip in Rio de Janeiro because of ongoing shootouts between rival drug gangs and also between criminals and police, usually resulting in many deaths.
In recent years, the favelas of this neighborhood have started to receive incentives through the National Program of Public Security and Citizenship (PRONASCI), for example. Other noteworthy projects include the partnership with AfroReggae, such as the Rio Culture and Peace which aims to take young people off the street. The project’s training and continuing education programs are geared towards youth between the ages of 15 and 29 years in situations of social risk.
Recently the Complexo do Alemão began receiving investments from the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC, in Portuguese) to implement several sanitation works, lighting, and widening of streets. Several families needed to be removed from the area for these improvements, but they were allowed to buy another property or receive compensation.
The money from PAC is also being used to build a cable car with five stations (Adeus, Baiana, Itararé, Fazendinha, and Alemão) to transport 30,000 people daily over a 19-minute course. The project should be completed by September of 2010. At the top of this neighborhood is a beautiful viewpoint where it is possible to see Guanabara Bay, Penha Church, as well as the Corcovado and Sugar Loaf Mountains.
In November 2010, the territory of Complexo do Alemão was taken by the state in a major action of the BOPE (Special Police Forces Unit). This operation marked a new stage in the security policy of the city, the government finally managed to take of the power of the gang that controlled these favelas. The local was considered the bunker of drug trafficking in Rio de Janeiro. During the operation that brought together nearly 3,000 security agents, was found tons of drugs, along with weapons and ammunition. Despite the success of the operation of taking the territory, many traffickers managed to escape through the pipes for rainwater. This operation, along with the UPPs (Pacifying Police Unit) already installed in the city are just the beginning of the new security process. Much remains to be done, the search for criminals should be continuous and complementary social policies should be employed in communities that are free of violence. The Complexo do Alemão will have army officers on its streets for another year, until it is installed the UPP.