By Michael Smith, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – Last Tuesday authorities finally caught up with the Macaé drug trafficker Roger Rios Mosqueira, better known as Roupinol, who was killed in a battle with police in the favela Morro São Carlos, in Rio’s Zona Norte. The notorious gangster, considered by authorities to be ultimately responsible for manufacturing and distributing the majority of cocaine in the Rio state region, had been under investigation for more than five years.

Cocaine in 'base' form (top), and semi-processed (bottom), photo courtesy of the US Drug Enforcement Agency/Public Domain.

32-year-old Mosqueira’s rise to the upper echelons of Rio’s drug trade was as dramatic and swift as his end. He first came to the attention of authorities only two years ago in his hometown of Macaé, but at the time of his death his gang was known to be in control of the importation of cocaine base paste from Bolivia and Paraguay, to be converted into the retailed product in makeshift laboratories.

Police reported that when Mosqueira was confronted he was wearing a belt holding three grenades, and was accompanied by six heavily armed associates. After a tip-off as to the gangs whereabouts, police mounted a raid into the favela, where an intense gun battle ensued. Mosqueira died on his way to the hospital after being shot while several of his accomplices escaped, but may have been severely wounded according to police reports.

The operation against ‘Roupinol’ followed a botched attempt to corner the fugitive in September of last year, when news of police intentions were passed on to the gang, allowing key members to escape. The leak is still the subject of an official investigation.

The tension was palpable in Macaé last Wednesday afternoon, as Mosqueira was buried amid a greatly reinforced police presence who along with residents feared reaction from gang associates. Many businesses in the city were reportedly threatened with reprisal if they remained open, and several schools in affected neighborhoods also closed.

Petrobras port installation in Macae, photo by Kyller Costa Gorgônio/Flickr Creative Commons License.

There were even reports of gangs demanding a ‘bereavement tax’ from local businesses. Colonel Almir Ribeiro, commander of Macaé’s 34th Battalion described the situation as ‘under control’, but acknowledged that he felt reinforcements were necessary.

The nickname ‘Roupinol’ is a modification of the name for the sedative drug Rohypnol, a reference to the gangster’s reputedly composed demeanor. His body was hidden in a chapel for the funeral, where his well-known middle-class family grieved in private.

He and associates have reportedly moved around R$400 million worth of cocaine in the past two years, acquiring profits of R$288 million, which were used to bribe police and sponsor the political campaigns of sympathetic local officials.

Macaé is a comparatively small city of just less than 200,000, around 200 kilometers northeast of Rio. The city has grown in importance in recent years as a major port, and is a key service center for Brazil’s petroleum industry. Despite this new-found prosperity, the town is plagued by social problems rooted in the drug trade, and records the highest number of youth killings in Brazil per capita.

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