By Amy Skalmusky, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Cidade Maravilhosa is under siege. The violence started on Sunday, and just in the last 24 hours, 19 vehicles have been burnt including cars, buses and vans, bringing the total to over thirty. Police cabins have been attacked throughout the city and authorities are on high alert and taking actions to quell the violence.
Four injuries and no deaths have been directly related to the attacks, however, O Globo reports 12 deaths related to subsequent police operations in the favelas.
The atmosphere is tense. Earlier today, a three-foot, chained and padlocked box that had been abandoned in General Osório Square in Ipanema, was the focus of a bomb scare.
Streets around the square were closed and the bomb squad was called in. No bomb was found and it was later discovered that the box was part of an advertising campaign. The company, Moda Promoções & Eventos, is being held responsible by the authorities.
Since Tuesday, Police have been on Fecha Quartel (Closed Quarters), in which police officers cannot go home and those on vacation must return to their stations. All administrative activities have been suspended and all police officers in medical and physical condition are on the streets.
According to Rio’s Security Secretary, José Mariano Beltrame, the attacks are being ordered by Marcio Santos Nepomuceno, aka Marcinho VP, and Marco Antônio Pereira Firmino, aka Mv Thor, both behind bars at the Catanduvas Federal Penitentary in Paraná.
In October of this year, agents intercepted letters from leaders of the Commando Vermelho (Red Command), or CV, gangs complaining that the Pacification Units (UPPs) that had been set up in thirteen favelas were making things difficult for them and entertained the idea of possible attacks.
Police suspect that the CV is working with a rival gang, Amigos dos Amigos (Friends of Friends) in organizing the attacks. Fearing for their safety, people are leaving work early, stores are closing and the streets in areas where the police activity is heaviest are empty.
Police operations are intensifying and at 2PM today, Police entered the Vila Cruzeiro favela in Penha and were greeted with gunshots.
The Ministry of Justice agreed to Governor Sergio Cabral’s request for reinforcement and will triple the number of federal highway police in Rio.
Initially, they will be imported from neighboring states and will remain in Rio for an indefinite period. The agents, whose transfer is set to begin today, are part of a special group trained to work in high risk areas during conflicts.
The violence is the first major outburst since the hostage situation at a luxury hotel in São Conrado in Zona Sul, following a shootout with the police. Obviously officials will be under intense pressure to restore order and confidence in the public security as the year’s tourist season begins and all eyes remain on the host city of the 2014 World Cup finals and 2016 Olympics.