Urban War Between Drug Lords and Police Erupts Again in Rio Leaving 30 Dead

O Dia's front page Despite the massive presence of the police on the streets of Rio de Janeiro and the help of the Brazilian Navy’s armored trucks the war between drug dealers and the forces of security continued on Thursday night as it happened the whole week, with armed bandits attacking civilians and burning buses and cars.

Thursday afternoon, the police entered Vila Cruzeiro, a favela in northern Rio. Videos shot from TV stations’ helicopters showed about 200 armed criminals fleeing on motorcycles, pickup trucks and on foot to the Complexo do Alemão, another slum community in the area.

The escape happened through a dirt road that cuts through the Morro do Caricó, an uninhabited hill that separates the two favelas.

After the clashes, the Civil Police deputy chief, Rodrigo Oliveira, told reporters that the slum had been taken from the drug lords. “I can say with 100% certainty that Vila Cruzeiro belongs now to the state,” he said. About 250 policemen are taking part in the occupation, which has no scheduled date to end.

At a news conference, José Mariano Beltrame, Rio’s Secretary of Public Security, explained that the main objective of the actions of the police was to remove the territory from the drug traffickers.

Said he, “These actions are being done in order to ensure the continuity of the actions we have undertaken. We took from these people what they never had it taken from them before, their territory. Their safe harbor. They would do their barbarities and then ran to their stronghold, protected by weapons of war. It is important to arrest, but it’s more important to take away the territory,” said Beltrame. “If you don’t remove the territory, you don’t advance.”

Armored personnel carriers from the Brazilian navy rolled through smoke-filled streets in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday as police battled slum-based drug gangs for a fifth consecutive day, leaving at least 30 dead and almost 200 arrested.

Police targeted the Vila Cruzeiro favela because the area is considered a stronghold of the gangs thought to be behind ordering attacks.

At least 10 armored Marine vehicles, never before used in battles in the city’s favelas, transported militarized police into Vila Cruzeiro, even as gangsters erected barriers. Television showed a bus smoldered, smoke rising from a gutted shell.

At least 37 vehicles have been torched since the last confrontations begun, some of them in Rio’s main artery Avenida Brasil in downtown.

“Our goal today is to take back ground from the drug traffickers. We’re taking it back and rescuing society from its position as a hostage to the drug trade,” said Colonel Alvaro Rodrigues of the military police and the head of the operation.

The violence began on Sunday as suspected gang members attacked police stations and burned vehicles. Authorities blamed the assaults on orders from imprisoned gang members angry at police efforts to take control of their turf in more than a dozen favelas.

The government-run Agência Brasil reported that the continuing unrest stems from the transfer of prisoners from local institutions to federal lockups in other states. The agency quoted Beltrame. The agency also reported that at least 47 public schools and 10 nurseries suspended classes on Thursday.

Beltrame said two rival gangs joined forces to launch the attacks. The security chief also said he mobilized all police in the city to try to restore order and to step up police presence in 17 of Rio’s major favelas.

At least 30 people have been killed in this week’s violence, according to the military police. Among those was a 14-year-old girl hit on Wednesday by a bullet that strayed indoors. She died in the hospital. And 72 vehicles had been burned till Thursday night.

“We have no deadline to stop operations. We’re going to continue giving logistical support … to transport police troops for as long as needed,” said Colonel Carlos Chagas, commander of the Marine logistics battalion.

Rio is among the Brazilian cities that will host the 2014 World Cup and last year was awarded the 2016 Olympics. The city has a history of violence and poverty that contradicts its image of shining beaches and colorful parties.

In the city of 6 million there are hundreds of favelas, where even police are hesitant to enter. Last year gang members shot down a police helicopter, sparking raids and violence that killed 30 people.

The latest confrontation is also seen as the beginning of the federal government’s efforts “Operation cleanup” to clear the city from crime, drugs and organized crime ahead of an agenda of international events extending until the 2016 Olympics.

Earlier in the week Brazilian President Lula da Silva told TV Record that he had instructed his justice minister “to attend to Rio de Janeiro with whatever it needs”.



  • Show Comments (8)

  • James A Miller

    Get ready for the Olympics
    Get ready for the Olympics. I could tell after spending a couple of months in Brazil that the IOC made a mistake giving Brazil the Olympics. And once China’s real estate boom collapses and China no longer needs Brazil’s resources people will start to realize that Brazil’s economic miracle is a fraud. Brazil is a developing country and will always be a developing country.

  • Chelsea

    I understand as well… I travel a lot and there are MANY people that do not like the US, and are happy to remind me how much they hate my country. It’s hard to keep in mind that one person’s opinion does not necessarily represent the whole

  • Rafael


    I understand. Sorry, but the level of condescendency and Brazil-bashing I see from some non-Brazilian users – specially from James Miller, who btw comments on all other English-language sites on Brazil I know of, and always, always makes comments in that same vein – has put me in a low-tolerance mode to that kind of rhetoric. So sometimes I do lash back against that kind of attitude by being a jerk myself. I don’t mean to offend other nationalities gratuitously, but no one likes to see attempts by others at putting one’s country down out repeatedly and out of pure spite.

  • Chelsea

    Americans are a childish, nasty people.
    Rafael, not all Americans are “childish, nasty people”. Bitter, perhaps.. but nobody likes a crisis, eh? That comment was more ignorant than the American’s. I am from the US as well (not “American”, as it offends those in South “America”, including Brazilians) and I actually have the exact opposite view from Mr. Bitter. I’m living in Brazil at the moment, and finished my MBA in Hong Kong earlier this year. I can tell you from my experiences in both regions that while China might be booming at the moment, that they have way more long-term problems to face, which are compounded by the fact that Asians don’t welcome change.

    As for the Rio conflict, it was indeed a long time coming. It’s good that the police are starting now, as such goals as “cleaning up Rio” don’t happen overnight. The way in which the police are handling it is controversial, as it always has been here in Rio. However it is indeed true that until the territories are cleared out of the “traficantes” (drug lords/traffickers), that the underlying problems will persist. Right now it is more cost-effective for the traficantes to fight back than to lose their business, but as the police continue to confiscate hundreds of tons of drugs and arms, I wonder how long that will last.

  • Rafael

    Americans are a childish, nasty people.
    “Get ready for the Olympics. I could tell after spending a couple of months in Brazil that the IOC made a mistake giving Brazil the Olympics. And once China’s real estate boom collapses and China no longer needs Brazil’s resources people will start to realize that Brazil’s economic miracle is a fraud. Brazil is a developing country and will always be a developing country.”

    Man, these Americans are bitter, hum? I guess their crisis won’t make them any more sweeter as time goes by.

    Is Brazil dependent on China?


    “In fact, Latin American economies’ growth engines remain more defocused on domestic rather than external demand. These economies remain fairly closed, with relatively low exports-to-GDP ratios. Within Latin America’s largest economies, only the exports of goods and services in Chile constitute more than 30% of GDP. In Brazil, that ratio only marginally exceeds 10%.


    Within the region, consumption remains the critical source of growth from the perspective of aggregate demand. In some countries, such as Peru and Brazil, investment has also started to play a more dominant role. This is one of the main differences between Latin America and Asia. For the latter, net export growth remains a key engine for the region’s economic development. In China in particular, despite the importance of domestic components, net exports still contribute significantly to GDP growth. Conversely, in Brazil, net exports only made a positive contribution to GDP until 2005. After that, investment growth diminished the importance of the external sector. Net exports have actually had a negative contribution to GDP growth ever since.

    Changes in terms of trade over the past decade have had significant benefits for some Latin American countries, like Venezuela, Chile, and Bolivia. However, the impact of changing terms of trade for most of the economies in the region, including larger ones such as Brazil, Mexico, and, to some extent, Argentina, was not very significant because increasing import prices partly offset the higher income from metals and agricultural commodities.”

  • John R. Miller

    Pivotal Moment
    This moment has been a long time coming. A long time coming.
    I wonder how many of those that have died in this reclaiming of society have a criminal record? How many are genuinely innocent victims? By this I mean the following, anyone who has involvement in the drug business, whether buyer, seller, user, protector, favor maker, etc, is complicit in this problem. Drugs are bad news. As Nancy said “Just say no”.

  • João da Silva


    Is this a pivotal moment here in Rio/Brazil and what direction is it heading to?

    A difficult question to answer as we do not live in Rio and the info we get are from the newspapers and the bloggers from Rio who are in the “combat zone”. However, I expected this to start soon, but not immediately after the elections!! One has to remember that the governor of Rio has been reelected for another term and his dream was to bring the Olympics in 2016 (and world cup 2014). He will make the city safe by any means and has the full support of the Federal government. He has no time to lose and hence is the hurry to do some “ethnic cleansing”.

    [quote]what direction is it heading to? [/quote]

    I expect a mass “migration” of criminals as well as honest law abiding citizens to other states/cities causing a shift in the “demographic pattern” (what a buzz word to use!!). Consequently their “new homes” are bound to suffer [i][b]more[/b][/i] from the “collateral damages”.;-);-)

    BTW, these effect of these “collateral damages” is already being felt in many small and medium sized coastal cities.:sad:

  • jon


    Is this a pivotal moment here in Rio/Brazil and what direction is it heading to?

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