By Patricia Maresch, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Rio police carried out anti-drug trafficking operations last weekend in the favelas Mangueira and Tuiuti in the Zona Norte (North zone) of Rio de Janeiro. The police operations left one person dead, two wounded, and six arrested. Mangueira, a community made famous by the renowned Samba School, may now be in line for a Pacification Police Unit (UPP) soon.
The groundwork for the operation started on Thursday, when fifteen drug traffickers reportedly fled Mangueira to hide from the police in neighboring Tuiuti after the discovery of a 200 meter-long tunnel in Mangueira. The tunnel was located in the back of a factory and had three exits.
Drug traffickers used the tunnel to stash marijuana and to move secretly in and out of the community, according to the police. The next day, the Military Police confiscated 34 stolen motorcycles and six cars.
All these actions lead to a bigger police operation on Saturday, executed by seventy BOPE-officers – Rio’s Elite Squad. Supported by two caveirões (armored vehicles), the BOPE police entered Mangueira during a baile (funk party) early in the morning in Buraco Quente (one of the favelas in the area known as Mangueira).
During the gun battle that followed, one man was shot and killed. According to a witness, 28-year-old Carlos Alexandre dos Santos, the victim was not a drug trafficker. “He was just here to party, he didn’t even live in Mangueira,” Dos Santos told reporters.
The victim’s body was carried off by BOPE officers in a shopping cart, a move which many residents thought disrespectful. Some were so angered by it that a small group of residents started throwing stones at the police. “What do they think they are doing: shopping?”, angry residents told reporters at the scene.
The police operation lasted well into the evening, and led to the confiscation of two weapons, two kilos of marijuana, ammunition, cell phones and R$10,000 (US$6,000). Six men and women were taken in for arrest.
A police force remains on the scene to prepare the area for the installation of a Pacification Police Unit (UPP). There is no date set yes, but reports indicate it will be before the end of the year.
It has been expected for a long time, since Rio’s Secretary of Security José Beltrame’s announcement in October 2010 that his department wanted to pacify the group of favelas.
Beltrame has focused on the UPP in Mangueira because of its location, which is very close to the new Maracanã Stadium – one of the most important venues in Rio when Brazil hosts the 2014 World Cup and the 2106 Olympic Games. Beltrame’s department wants to create a safety zone around the main Olympic venues and sports complexes.
The favela Tuiuti, in São Cristóvão (Zona Norte), which is right next to Mangueira, was also the scene of shootings between the police and drug traffickers on Saturday. “It was very sinister. We heard gunfire and a car was set on fire,” a 58-year old woman from the community said. “Now, when I see cars burning, I immediately get flashbacks of what happened in November last year. It scares me.”