3,000 troops occupy Rio slum to drive out drug lords
THREE-thousand troops backed by helicopters and armoured cars occupied Rio de Janeiro's largest slum without firing a shot, the biggest step in the Brazilian city's bid to boost security and end the reign of drug gangs.
The occupation yesterday of Rocinha, a notorious hillside "favela" that overlooks some of Rio's swankiest areas, is a crucial part of preparations to host soccer's World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics two years later.
Security forces have occupied nearly 20 slums in the past three years but none as symbolically or strategically important as Rocinha, a sprawl of shacks, stores and evangelical churches located between the main city and western areas where Olympic events will be held.
The invasion of Rocinha and the nearby Vidigal slum was as much a media event as a military operation, as hundreds of reporters followed soldiers and police up through deserted, garbage-strewn streets. The authorities had announced it in advance, giving gang members plenty of notice to flee.
Only one person was detained during the operation.
After years of living in fear of both gang members and the often-violent tactics of police, residents were wary of embracing the new reality.
Sergio Pimentel, a funeral director, pointed to an alley that said poured raw sewage on to the street whenever it rained.
"We need basic sanitation, health, education. They have to come in with everything, not just the police," he said.
Rocinha, home to about 100,000 people, has one of Brazil's worst rates of tuberculosis, officials say. Police captured the slum's alleged top drug lord, a 35-year-old with a taste for expensive whiskey and Armani suits, on Thursday.
The house of another captured drug boss contained a huge fish tank, a rooftop swimming pool and a Jacuzzi.
Rio authorities are following up invasions by handing slums over to specially trained community police and providing basic services.
However, a year after a similar operation to occupy a large slum called Alemao, it has yet to receive a community police force as the security forces struggle to train enough officers.