Balance of Rio’s One-Day Drug War: One Arrested, 12 Killed

Rio bullet Rio de Janeiro has said no to an offer by the Brazilian federal government to send federal troops to police the city after Saturday's deadly confrontation between drug trafficking gangs and the military police that tried to intervene in the drug lords battle for better drug-selling spots in the Morro dos Macacos (Monkeys Hill) favela, in Vila Isabel, 6 miles from downtown Rio.

According to the authorities, the little war left 12 people dead, 10 criminals and two policemen. Saturday morning a police helicopter carrying four officers was shot by the drug dealers. The bullets hit the pilot's leg and the chopper propeller.

The pilot was able to land the helicopter in a soccer field from an Olympic Village nearby preventing a bigger tragedy had it crashed into a residential area. The chopper, however, caught fire and two of the military men were killed, the other two suffered minor burns.

The aircraft was lending support to an operation by 120 Military Police's Men trying to end the conflict between the drug traffickers.

Brazil's Justice Minister, Tarso Genro. called Rio governor, Sérgio Cabral, and offered to send national troops to help Rio de Janeiro face the wave of violence. Cabral, however, refused any help, according to the minister.

The Justice minister reminded reporters that other violent confrontations between drug lords and the police are bound to happen in Rio and sent a message to the International Olympic Committee, which chose Rio to host the 2016 Olympic Games and the FIFA (International Federation of Football Association): these actions shouldn't worry the promoters of the Olympics or the World Cup, in 2014. Everything is under control, he assured.

The governor told the minister that Rio has enough people and equipment in both its forces, the military and the civilian police. The problem he said is not numbers but the need to give continuity to  preventive actions to face crime and violence. 

"When they chose Rio, they already knew the work that has been going on in the area of prevention and that will continue, because we are catching up to the state's omission in the last decades on security matters," remarked Tarso. In the coming years, programs being executed now, guarantees the minister, will offer better security to Rio  and to all visitors coming for the soccer's World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics two years later.

Rio's Public Security secretary, José Mariano Beltrame, said that only one person was arrested, seven were hurt and "ten criminals" were killed in a showdown with the Rio de Janeiro police on Saturday. He revealed that the authorities seized ten assault rifles and a carbine. He also announced that 2,000 policemen are at the ready to prevent new attacks by the drug traffickers.

Reports by the favela's residents indicate that the confrontation between the two gangs started Saturday about 1:30 am and continued during the morning.

Authorities say that Morro dos Macacos is considered territory of the Amigo dos Amigos (Friend of Friends) (ADA) gang. The invaders belonged to the criminal gang known as Comando Vermelho (Red Command). The police believe that the invasion was carried out by gang members from three different favelas: Complexo do Alemão, Manguinhos and Jacarezinho. The criminals were brought in a big truck, which was abandoned in a close-by street.

In order to prevent the police from entering the favela, residents of Morro dos Macacos set some tires afire. Another group failed in its attempt to invade the local jail to lynch inmates that they believed belonged to the gang that invaded their shantytown.

At least ten buses, a car, a gas warehouse and two rooms of a municipal school were burned in the vicinity of Favela do Jacaré (Alligator Slum) by the drug traffickers, apparently in an effort to delay police action against the invasion.

The forced landing of the burned helicopter occurred in Sampaio's Olympic Village, 5 kms (3 miles) from Morro dos Macacos. A resident reported what happened:

"We heard the helicopter's noise, then the sound of the impact against the ground, followed by an explosion. The policemen who survived the crash jumped from the chopper before it touched the ground. A military police left in his underwear with his body alighted." Traffickers tried to prevent the rescue efforts shooting at the police and others trying to reach the helicopter.

When the Fire Department was called they informed that unfortunately they would not be able to help because the call was coming from a "risk area" and they could not risk their men's life. It took more than 50 minutes before an ambulance and a police car reached the accident's area. Two other helicopters that were summoned to help were also targeted by the drug lords bullets, but the shots missed the choppers.

Captain Marcelo Vaz, the pilot of the helicopter that exploded was being called a hero. Daniele Santos, 20 , who was at home with her children, saw when the helicopter fell down: "If the chopper had crashed inside the community it would have been a tragedy. This pilot is a hero. He threw the helicopter to the side, because he could not possibly land it."

Dozens of residents of Morro dos Macacos have abandoned their house, at least for the weekend. Some carried their possessions in a backpack, others didn't take anything but the clothes they were wearing. They were too scared to stay.

"We can't live like that," said a maid who wouldn't give her name. "We are leaving only with our clothes. I was born here and this was the worst invasion that we've ever suffered. I had to have a sedative, I was crying and begging for mercy." She left with 12 other family members.


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