(New York Times)
RIO DE JANEIRO — Police and Brazilian Army soldiers, struggling to take control of a second huge slum complex here, were fired on by drug gangs on Friday, but by nightfall they had managed to trap the traffickers inside, a military spokesman said.
Friday’s activity, at the Alemão complex of shantytowns, which is home to about 400,000 residents and considered by many to be the most violent of the city’s slums, is a response to the latest eruption of gang violence, which began Sunday, as well as an effort by the Brazilian authorities to show that they can secure the city well in advance of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.
Rio’s secretary of public security, José Mariano Beltrame, told Brazilian news media that the latest violence was “retaliation” by gang members against an ambitious government program to control violence and “pacify” 13 of the more violent slums by invading, rooting out drug traffickers and installing a special community police force.
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil sent 800 army soldiers to the Alemão complex early Friday after police outposts in the city had come under fire from drug gang members. The death toll from the violence climbed to 41 on Friday, the police said, with nearly 100 cars and buses burned on major roadways, their passengers robbed and sometimes shot.
The deployment of soldiers indicated the government’s concern about the latest violence, analysts said, as well as its determination that Rio’s notorious gangs would not be allowed to prevail.
“It is not humanly possible that 99 percent continue to suffer in the hands of criminals,” Mr. da Silva said Friday at a news conference during a visit to Guiana. “Rio can be sure that the government will give all the help necessary.”
On Thursday, armored vehicles carrying police officers with assault rifles rolled over burning tires during an operation at Vila Cruzeiro, another gang-infested slum in the northern part of Rio. On Friday, the police declared they had “dominated” Vila Cruzeiro, although there were widespread reports that more than 100 gang members had escaped from the slum, prompting the deployment of the army troops.
Vila Cruzeiro residents were left in the dark after electrical wires were destroyed during Thursday’s police activity, and many, fearing future violence, refused to go home. Bullet holes scarred walls and homes, and Special Police Operations Battalion officers searched cars and pedestrians at entrances and exits.
“I have never seen an operation like this one before and I am scared and am going to leave this community with my mom and sister,” said Henrique Gonçalves, 18. “I can’t continue living like this.” A hospital near Vila Cruzeiro resembled a war zone clinic mobilized to treat victims wounded during the police operation. Among the victims was a 2-year-old girl shot in the arm by a stray bullet.
But panic has also affected residents throughout the city, and 132 schools have shut down, according to the city’s secretary of education. At the Alemão complex, residents said they feared “bloodshed” from an expected invasion by the police and soldiers in the coming days, but remained hopeful that living conditions would improve as a result.
“This is the largest operation I have seen in Complexo do Alemão,” said Rosineide Rodrigues de Lima, 39, a telephone operator. “I fear for my life and my daughter, who is in there right now, but this is the price we have to pay to have a better life in the long term.”
Rio’s governor, Sérgio Cabral, said during a news conference on Friday that the police and soldiers were in position to invade but were waiting for a “strategic moment to act.”