War zone in Rio as police prepares to take control of the city’s biggest favela
Brazilian police made two key arrests Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro's biggest favela (slum) as they ready to take control of the area from drug traffickers, in anticipation of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.
At dawn, about 50 men from the military police's crack Special Forces blocked a road leading to the Rocinha favela, controlled by drug traffickers for 30 years, to search all incoming vehicles.
Late Wednesday, local media ventured a broader pacification operation would come at the weekend. The newspaper O Globo reported that two alleged drug traffickers were nabbed -- Peixe and Coelho, the later being the right-hand man of local drug kingpin Antonio Francisco Bomfim Lopes, alias Nem.
Built on a steep hillside overlooking the Marvellous City and located between two wealthy neighbourhoods, Rocinha is home to 150,000 people and is a drug trafficking bastion. Police said Rocinha will become the 19th favela to be ridden of traffickers who have been in control for the past 30 years.
Since 2008, authorities in Rio, which has one of the highest murder rates in the country, have been in a race to restore security in the city before the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics which Brazil will host.
Local press reports and some residents said police were expected to make their move Sunday. Their aim, according to the daily O Dia, was to snuff out drug trafficking before the assault by security forces backed by commandos and naval armoured vehicles.
In another sign that the police assault was imminent, local drug baron Nem, on Sunday gave a farewell party and imposed a curfew on Rocinha.
Police have offered a 2.900 dollars reward for information leading to the capture of Nem, who reportedly had to be treated at a local health clinic after he drank liquor mixed with ecstasy at Sunday's farewell bash.
Endemic and chronic urban violence has long sullied the image of Rio, where more than 1.5 million people (a third of the city’s population) live in 1,000 slums spread throughout the city.