Wednesday morning, March 15, the Brazilian Army arrested its first suspect in the case of the rifles stolen from the Central Transport Unit (ECT) in the northern zone of the city of Rio de Janeiro.
He is an ex-corporal, Joelson Basília da Silva, who used to work in the garrison and has been on leave since February. According to information from the Military Public Defense Ministry, he was arrested when he showed up to testify.
Silva was presumably identified by the victims, that is, the soldiers who were on duty in the wee morning hours of March 3, when armed criminals invaded the unit and stole the weapons. The Army used a temporary arrest warrant issued by the courts.
The weapons were recovered on Tuesday, March 14. The Army had withdrawn Monday, March 13, from several Rio de Janeiro favelas (shantytowns) it had invaded in an effort to recover the stolen weapons.
The withdrawal of the 1.600 soldiers equipped for urban anti terrorist warfare who occupied the favelas for ten days was celebrated with shots fired to the air by drug dealers and the applause and booing of residents who complained about the Army’s heavy hand.
The operation in ten of Rio’s most notorious favelas was ordered following the theft from the Army’s headquarter in Rio of several rifles and pistols. The Army on orders from a Military Judge moved in with infantry, armored vehicles and helicopters.
During the ten days occupation soldiers were challenged by drug traffickers with some exchange of fire. The Army reported no losses but it’s believed that several civilians were killed and wounded in the shootings.
The operation included blocking off several poor neighborhoods in an effort to quash drug dealing, a business that in some of the occupied areas rakes in as much as US$ 150 million per month, according to official estimates released by the Rio media.