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”.