By Doug Gray, Senior Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – It is simply an unfortunate facet of life in Rio that after a few months of living here you are certain to know someone who has been on the wrong end of a street robbery. While any major city has its crime problems, Rio’s tend – rightly or wrongly – to be enhanced by its global reputation for violence.
The recently increasing trend for robbing customers in restaurants has caused fresh alarm and thrown up new security questions for Governor Sergio Cabral and his team.
From Largo do Machado to Leblon the new trend has had an impact. A Japanese restaurant near Praia do Flamengo was targeted recently, with the customers forced to hand over their valuables and cash when armed men raided in the early evening. One of the victims, a Carioca in her early thirties, was amazed at how young the thieves were, adding that this merely made the ordeal even more terrifying.
In recent months the same restaurant in Copacabana was twice targeted, the second time one assailant even threatening customers with a pair of hand grenades if they failed to hand over their possessions. The restaurant in Rua Xavier Da Silveira is popular with tourists and locals alike and is one of the more exclusive in that part of the neighborhood.
One diner remembers that he was finishing dinner when the first of the attacks took place and five men, armed but unmasked, burst in and demanded everyone empty their pockets. “Then they told us to put our hands on the table and they just took everything. The police did not arrive until twenty minutes after they left and even then they made little attempt to take statements.”
Rio Tourism Police Chief Fernando Vilapouca says that the gang responsible for the crimes in Copacabana has been caught following another raid on a Japanese restaurant, but warns tourists to of course remain vigilant.
The pacification operations taking place in favelas across the city look set to bring a welcome peace to many communities as has been witnessed in Santa Marta in Botafogo where the drug gangs have been kicked out, but it does beg the question as to where the bandits will try to make their money if the drug trade is squeezed.
It has recently been speculated that the trade is becoming significantly less profitable, with low street prices and high costs of arming and protecting its production and sale.
That means not only will the gangs need other sources of income but also greater competition for the more profitable hills around Zona Sul which could see more takeover attempts such as occurred last month between the rival Comando Vermelho and Amigos dos Amigos gangs. That confrontation contributed to a police helicopter being shot down and the CV reportedly seizing control of the Morro dos Macaos drug trade near Vila Isabel.
The big question remains: how will the Rio Police, and indeed the Federal Police for the war on drugs is a national directive, address these gangs ahead of the 2014 World Cup and then the Olympics in 2016?
All the world’s eyes will be on the city.