AT least 21 people have been killed and 153 arrested in four days of clashes as Brazilian security forces crack down on drug gangs in Rio’s violent slums.
The growing violence casts more doubt on the ability of Rio authorities to guarantee security ahead of the city’s hosting of two of the planet’s largest sporting events, the soccer World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics two years later.
Thirteen suspected drug traffickers were killed in yesterday’s clashes and two police were wounded, while 25 people were arrested, military police colonel Lima Castro said.
“We’ll continue our operations tomorrow. We’ll patrol and carry out checks.,” he said.
“They’ll be more aggressive,” he added, as hundreds of police, using armoured tanks backed by helicopters, took part in a massive crackdown on gangs and drug trafficking in 20 slums, known as favelas.
The latest victims were killed in shootouts with agents who stormed the favelas that roiled with unrest overnight in the wake of the crackdown.
Gang members vented their rage on civilian targets, torching at least 29 vehicles, including several public buses, and shooting up local police stations, police representatives said.
Images of buses engulfed in flames were carried in Brazilian media, which showed police and special forces with guns in the air controlling entry and exit points at some slums.
A series of attacks has sowed panic in the city, where, according to authorities, two factions of drug dealers have joined forces seeking to disrupt a two-year-old favela pacification program aimed at wresting the densely populated areas from the gangs’ control.
The factions dominate Rocinha and Alemao Complex, the two largest of Rio’s roughly 100 favelas that are home to about two million people.
In many of the poor neighbourhoods perched on steep slopes, businesses shuttered their doors and the streets were largely empty.
“We will do whatever it takes so that the good guys defeat those who prefer to live lives of crime,” President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said.
Lula’s Justice Minister, Luiz Paulo Barreto, offered federal troops, including elite police, as back-up forces for the crackdown.
The massive rollout grew yesterday as 1200 troops were made available to Rio Governor Sergio Cabral, who had asked for federal back-up amid deteriorating conditions.
“These acts aren’t a threat but a desperate act from criminals,” Mr Cabral said, calling for calm.
Sociologist Claudio Beato told O Globo newspaper that the traffickers’ “goal is to terrorise the population.
“They are losing their old turf to the government, and they are losing ground to the militia,” he said, referring to the paramilitary police groups made up largely of off-duty firefighters, police and prison guards.
The militias have been tightening their grip over much of the city, emerging as a new mafia to seize control of many of Rio’s shantytowns.
About two million of Rio’s inhabitants – a third of the population – live in about 1000 slums.