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More than two thousand heavily armed police operatives swept into Rio’s most notorious shantytown today following a week of explosive confrontations that have left at least 50 people dead.
The operation, unprecedented in the city’s history, began at around 8am and focused on the Complexo do Alemao, a gigantic network of slums that is the HQ of Rio’s Red Command drug faction and houses around 70,000 impoverished residents.
According to police the favela had been “conquered” by around 9.30am, with drug traffickers offering little resistance.
Gang members reportedly attempted to flee the 2,600 police and army operatives through the favela’s sewage system or by disguising themselves as Bible-carrying evangelical preachers…
Around 10 tonnes of marijuana were seized along with a small arsenal of assault rifles and a missile. At least three suspected drug traffickers died in confrontations with police operatives while several gang members handed themselves in at special “surrender centres” that opened around the slum.
“This was the HQ, the fortress and the heart of the drug faction with the greatest firepower,” said Colonel Mario Sergio Duarte, the head of Rio’s military police. “We will continue chasing them wherever they are.”
In an interview with Brazilian TV, Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, said the operation represented “virtually a re-foundation of this city”. He added: “Rio will go back to being the marvellous city. There is still a lot of work to be done but today this city has taken a major step forwards.”
A strong beginning. There will be inevitable parallels made with Mexico.
Brazil has lots of commercial and political motivation to get things cleaned up before the World Cup and the next Summer Olympics – both hosted in Brazil. The long-range success of these quasi-military operations will be defined by the ease or not – of drug gangs re-establishing themselves in the political life of favelas.