By Amy Skalmusky, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The tally continues to rise as the battle in Rio de Janeiro rages on: 23 deaths, 50 burnt vehicles and 159 injured and over 100 people arrested since Sunday. This afternoon, 150 members of the elite BOPE (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais) forces, police from the CORE (Coordenadoria de Recursos Especiais) unit and thirty naval sharp shooters mobilized six armored vehicles and entered the Vila Cruzeiro favela, in Penha, a suburb of Rio.
Many of the criminals responsible for the violence that has been raging since Sunday are said to be held up in the favela. As the police entered the fugitives set fire to tires and cars to impede their approach; but the barriers have been no match for the M113 armored vehicles, the same ones used in the war in Iraq.
Police have already apprehended 29 handguns, ten machine guns, two 12 caliber rifles, a sub-machine gun, five grenades, two home made bombs and a ton of marijuana in Wednesday’s operations, according Coronel Henrique Lima Castro, the Police spokesperson.
Earlier today, a time bomb made of six sticks of dynamite was found inside a trash receptacle on a busy street in Madureira, in Rio’s Zona Norte (North zone). The bomb was discovered by garbage men and the bomb squad was able to remove it before it detonated.
Transportation companies have been recalling buses to garages and the usually busy streets around the areas of confrontation are empty.
The ongoing battle between police and well-armed criminals has left residents terrified. Those living in the battle zones have been instructed to stay inside their homes near the hallways or lay on the floor to avoid errant bullets. The radius of a machine gunshot is 1,500 meters and can pierce walls.
The Vila Cruzeiro favela has a population estimated between 40,000 – 70,000, and is located near the “Complexo Alemão”, which encompasses ten neighborhoods and over forty favelas. It is considered one of the most dangerous areas in the city.
Similar police operations are going on in the Jacarezinho favela, located near Méier, a suburb of Rio, where over 100 police have entered the favela.
The conflicts have not altered the UPP (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora) roll-out plans, which do not include setting up units in the Vila Cruzeiro favela in the near future. José Mariano Beltrame, Rio’s security secretary announced that although they do not have the resources at the moment to take on the area around the Complexo Alemão, the police that are in the Vila Cruzeiro will remain there for an undetermined amount of time
As for the present operation, police have long term plans according to Police Cornel Álvaro Garcia, “This operation isn’t just an in and out one. We’ll arrest the criminals and dominate the area,” he said. He may be right, as images on local news channels have shown hundreds of criminals fleeing the favela and taking heavy gunfire from police.
The police confrontations have been largely concentrated in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. According to Josua Cashill, an American and resident of Ipanema for thirteen years, it isn’t terror in the streets. “Over the past weeks there has been really nothing here to cause alarm. Stores are open and people are out in the streets – it’s business as usual,” he said.
Regardless of the relative calm in Zona Sul (South zone), residents stay glued to the news, and officials will be under increased pressure to restore confidence in the public security as the year’s summer season begins and scrutiny increases for the host city of the 2014 World Cup finals and 2016 Olympics.
Correction: November 26, 2010
This article was first published on November 25th and stated that Beltrame announced UPP (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora) roll-out plans now included units in the Vila Cruzeiro favela.