Brazil’s Anti-Drug Operation Kills 19, But Doesn’t Nab Drug Lord

Military police invades Brazilian favela After a police operation, which lasted more than six hours, left at least 19 dead and 9 wounded and spread terror in the favelas of Alemão and Vila Cruzeiro, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, everything seemed quiet when the night fell. Residents of both shanty towns, however, were talking about their fear that the drug traffickers against whom the raids were launched might retaliate.

Public hospitals in the area had also a busy day. At the Bonsucesso General Hospital nine of the people taken there – all men with apparent ages between 13 and 40 – were dead on arrival. Employees at the Getúlio Vargas hospital informed that they also received 4 bodies, none of which could be identified.

At the end of the night six new bodies were brought to the Getúlio Vargas raising the death toll to 19. It wasn't clear, however, if these dead were also victims of the police attack earlier in the day.

The huge police incursion, which counted on about 1350 civilian and military policemen, wasn't able, however, to nab José Antonio de Souza Ferreira, better known as Tota, the area's drug lord. During the shootout, about 4,600 students of eight schools in the neighborhood were sent home for security reasons.

For José Mariano Beltrame, Rio state's public security secretary, the big number of stray bullets that ended up hitting and hurting favela residents were just the confrontation's "bitter medicine" and according to him the police only reacted to the criminals who shot first.

The secretary had announced in the afternoon that the number of dead might be over 18. This figure was later revised to 13.

Beltrame also guaranteed that only outlaws were killed. He called the operation a success for destroying the drug traffickers hideout and depriving them from their own litlte sanctuary in the hills despite the fact that authorities couldn't find the area's boss.

The secretary threatened to stage another operation twice as big as the one from Wednesday. And informed that the police had been occupying the raided area since May 2. He also told reporters that for the first time the police had been able to reach areas that are used as hiding places by criminals like Areal, Chuveirinho and Matinha.

He called the criminals a "parallel state" and conceded that even after 50 days the drug traffickers still have a very strong fire power.

"Is it a hard situation?" the secretary asked. "It is. Is it a bad situation? It is. If today, in an operation we can count 15 or 20 deaths, I'm sure that the same action next year or in 2010 would produce 50, 60 or 100 deaths."

The police operation also seized five submachine guns, 60 grenades with detonators, several pistols, 40 kg (88 lbs) of cocaine, 30 kg (66 lbs) of marijuana and a precision scale. Four men, including a teenager, were taken into custody.

The Alemão complex has been occupied by the police since they invaded the favela looking for the murderers of police officers Marco Antônio Ribeiro Vieira and Marcos André Lopes da Silva, who were killed on May 1st with more than 30 shots. Twenty five people had already been killed before authorities launched yesterday's operation.

The Pan-American games are scheduled to start July 13 in Rio. To reinforce the security during the sports event 2,000 men from Brazil's National Security Force (FNS) are being dispatched to the city in the next few days. They will be joining another 2,000 FNS troops who are already in town. Before the games start this number should raise to 6,000.

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