By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Armed Forces remain today (October 11th) in the favela community of Rocinha, in the Zona Sul (South Zone) of Rio de Janeiro, to help the Military Police (PM) on the second day of search operations of the forest surrounding the vast neighborhood.
Yesterday, the military gave the same support to the PM. The favela has been the scene of clashes between rival criminal groups that have been fighting for control of illegal drug sales outlets in Rocinha since mid-September.
As soon as the clashes between criminals began, the police began to reinforce Rocinha’s security forces, with police officers from other battalions, as well as the Pacifying Police Unit (UPP). The Armed Forces spent a week in the community.
Italian expatriate, Barbara Olivi, lives in Rocinha and has operated an NGO Il Sorriso dei miei Bimbi (The Smile of My Baby) since 2002. She explains, “I think people forgot how it was before the UPP. We lived few years in an apparent normality being shooting only concerning narco-dealers and not involving inhabitants.”
She continues, “What is going on in this last period is something we never witnessed before, such cruelty, so many killings… and lot of young people, too young, too many to die. Everything is really worse than ever before.”
In regard to the Armed Forces in Rocinha, Olivi shares: “I think the Army is welcome and gives people a relief and sense of protection and security. They have been very polite. We cannot say the same about police, they are rude, they break into houses, they beat people, they kill.”
Yet somehow the NGO carries on and she explains, “Il Sorriso, with Amigos da Vida [a partner NGO], try to keep projects open every day to give kids a refuge and sense of protection. But very few arrive, class has been empty. But we where there, this is what we are here for.”
The recent turmoil 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. Authorities report that the wife of Nem, Danúbia Rangel, who had been on the run for a year and a half, was arrested yesterday.
Also yesterday, the PM report arresting a man suspected of being the security guard of one of the criminal groups. Tales Juan Costa dos Santos, known as the Taliban, 25, has three criminal convictions and is singled out as personal security for Rogério 157, who remains a fugitive.
Rocinha is home to around 70,000-100,000 residents, the second largest favela in Latin America, and one of a handful of communities in Rio that the government UPP program had always struggled with.