Troops sent to favela as drug violence spikes
Hundreds of Brazilian soldiers have poured into Rio de Janeiro’s Rocinha slum in a bid to help the cash-strapped state government quell drug-related violence that authorities have blamed for at least four deaths and several injuries there this week.
The army deployed 950 troops in the sprawling favela yesterday, responding to a request from the Rio state government, Defence Minister Raul Jungmann said.
In the past week, 60 criminals are believed to have launched an effort to dominate the drug trade in the area, not far from some of the city’s most expensive real estate, and shootings were reported there yesterday, according to local media.
The violence in Rocinha is one more sign of the backsliding since the launch of a ‘‘pacification’’ programme in 2008 to reduce violence by pushing out drug gangs and setting up permanent police posts in the city’s more than 1000 favelas.
Police struggled to maintain their security gains in the favelas in the runup to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, and have continued to lose ground as a fiscal crisis in the city and state lead to cutbacks in spending on police and other essential services.
The military operation in Rocinha disrupted transportation and businesses in the area, with some schools closing or paring back classes.
‘‘I was going to work and suddenly the police closed off the tunnel in Rocinha and started to patrol with guns. There was a panic at the mouth of the tunnel, and I saw people running and heard gunfire,’’ one witness said. ‘‘I’m still shaking now.’’
The outbreak of violence is happening in the midst of the Rock In Rio music festival at the far south end of the city, which has drawn thousands of people with musical acts including Fergie and Aerosmith.
There were up to 10,000 troops in Rio, who could be mobilised if needed, the defence ministry said.
‘‘We’re not going to back off in Rocinha,’’ said the governor of Rio state, Luiz Fernando Pezao.
A man walks past Brazilian Armed Forces soldiers as they patrol the Rocinha favela community in Rio de Janeiro after a spate of drug-related violence that has claimed at least four lives this week.