Brazil troops storm Rio slums in bid to catch gang lead­ers

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

RIO DE JANEIRO — Thou­sands of Brazil­ian army troops raided Rio de Janeiro slums in a pre-dawn crack­down on crime gangs Satur­day, leav­ing parts of the city look­ing like a war zone on the first an­niver­sary of the open­ing of the Olympic Games.

Five fave­las were tar­geted by around 1,300 po­lice and 3,600 troops in a sweep start­ing at 4 am, the Rio state se­cu­rity ser­vice said in a state­ment.

Their main goal was to stop gangs be­hind a surge in brazen rob­beries of com­mer­cial trucks, with ar­rest war­rants is­sued for 40 peo­ple. Rio state au­thor­i­ties say there were 10,000 cases of cargo theft last year.

By late af­ter­noon, 24 adults and two teens had been ar­rested and two killed “in con­fronta­tions,” Rio state se­cu­rity chief Robert Sa said. A po­lice of­fi­cer was killed when a bus crashed into his ve­hi­cle with two de­tainees in­side.

Twenty-one ve­hi­cles, weapons, drugs and goods stolen from trucks were im­pounded.

But the de­ci­sion to flood some of Rio’s most dan­ger­ous streets with heav­ily armed sol­diers also re­flected fears that nearly bank­rupt post-Olympic Rio is spin­ning out of con­trol.

The troops were part of 8,500 de­ployed to the city last month in a tacit ac­knowl­edge­ment that cash-strapped po­lice have lost the abil­ity to cope.

In favela of Lins — one of the many lit­tle-reg­u­lated, and of­ten gang-plagued com­mu­ni­ties of work­ing class Brazil­ians that rise on the city’s forest­clad hills — sol­diers took po­si­tions at ev­ery cross­roads and out­side many al­ley­ways.

Troops, backed by cam­ou­flaged ar­mored per­son­nel car­ri­ers, stood guard with fin­gers on the trig­gers of their as­sault ri­fles. Units of sol­diers and SWAT po­lice also roamed the streets in open Jeeps and SUVs, point­ing their weapons out of car win­dows.

Ev­ery­one en­ter­ing and leav­ing the favela, in north­ern Rio, was sub­jected to an identity check and search, with men re­quired to lift their shirts. One man was ques­tioned at length about a scar on his stom­ach and an­other man’s bag was searched only to find he was car­ry­ing a large Bi­ble.

The or­derly de­ploy­ment and im­pres­sive firepower re­as­sured some. At a time of po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic tur­moil in Brazil, the military is reg­u­larly cited as Brazil’s most trusted in­sti­tu­tion.

“They bring se­cu­rity to us all. There’s so much rob­bery, so much shoot­ing. With the sol­diers, peo­ple here feel safer,” said Luiza, a res­i­dent of Lins, who like most oth­ers was too afraid to be fully iden­ti­fied.

Oth­ers, how­ever, were up­set at sud­denly hav­ing to live in the mid­dle of what re­sem­bled military rule.

“There’s an at­mos­phere of ten­sion and fear,” said Vanuza Bar­roso da Silva, 23, who was leav­ing Lins to go to her job at a su­per­mar­ket.

“They treat us as if we’re trash,” her fa­ther Roberto, 46, said af­ter go­ing through the search.

Of­fi­cials said the other fave- las tar­geted were Ca­marista Meier, Mor­ros de Sao Joao and En­genho Novo in the north and Co­vanca in the west.

The crack­down came a year to the day af­ter Pres­i­dent Michel Te­mer opened the Olympics in a lav­ish cer­e­mony at the Mara­cana foot­ball sta­dium, which is close to the Lins favela.

Rio was the first South Amer­i­can city to host the Games and although the event passed off smoothly, a mix­ture of cor­rup­tion scan­dals, near col­lapse in the state bud­get and crime has com­bined into a se­ri­ous han­gover for what should be one of Brazil’s rich­est re­gions.

In the first half of this year, Rio tallied 3,457 homi­cides, the high­est level of vi­o­lence since 2009 and 15 per­cent more than dur­ing the same pe­riod in 2016.

APU GOMES / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A sol­dier in­spects a man’s ruck­sack dur­ing a pre-dawn crack­down on gangs at the Morro do Ma­caco slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Satur­day.

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