By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Armed Forces returned today (October 10th) to the favela community of Rocinha, in the Zona Sul (South Zone) of Rio de Janeiro, to assist the police in a search operation around the area bordering the largest favela in Brazil.
According to the State Department of Security, the military are giving “technical support” to the Military Police (PM) in a search of the forest that surrounds the community.
Colonel Roberto Itamar, a spokesman for the Eastern Military Command, explained that the military is scouting the region for weapons, ammunition, explosives and food in both the wooded areas and the outlying regions.
“It is not a siege operation, but a technical support operation for the Secretary of Security. Technical in the sense of searching, a job that employs metal detectors […] to locate material that is hidden and has been reported by intelligence efforts.”
“This search is being done by engineering teams and local security teams. Arms, ammunition, explosives, all of these materials being used by criminal factions in the Rocinha region are being sought,” Colonel Itamar said in an interview with Bom Dia Rio.
Since the Armed Forces left Rocinha on September 29th, five hundred PM officers have been patrolling the community with the aim of arresting criminals who have been fighting against each other, however violence has escalated again.
The drug gang war in Rocinha has been the largest and most violent conflict there since November 2011 when Armed Forces led a pacification operation to drive out the large organized gangs, less than one week after they had arrested Antônio Francisco Bonfim Lopes, “Nem”.
Nem is imprisoned at the Federal Penitentiary of Porto Velho (RO), and is now reportedly battling his ex-security chief Rogério Avelino da Silva, aka “Rogério 157” for control of Rocinha.
Julia Michaels, an American expatriate, author and the journalist behind Rio Real Blog lives in Rio and compared the current situation to years past, “Well there was a very bad moment in 2004, with lots of shooting. Things calmed down when Nem took over the area. He prioritized local peace.”
“But now there’s been a shift in power among the big gangs [in Brazil] and this has had an impact on the level of violence in many favelas […] Meanwhile, nothing is happening in the way of police reform, which is much needed.”
Rocinha is home to around 70,000-100,000 residents, the second largest favela in Latin America, and one of a handful of favelas in Rio that the government UPP program had always struggled with. Now that the UPP has been reduced, the violence has increased turning the community into a war zone.