By Zoë Roller, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – For the past two weeks, the Complexo da Maré, an agglomeration of sixteen favela communities in Rio’s Zona Norte (North Zone), has seen numerous firefights between police and drug traffickers, frightening residents and disrupting routines. This is the largest armed conflict in the region since last spring, when traffickers fleeing the pacification of the nearby Complexo do Alemão attempted to invade Maré.
On September 19th, one hundred Military Police entered the communities of Nova Holanda, Vila do João, and Vila dos Pinheiro, backed up by the military’s elite squad BOPE (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais). A man was arrested for possession of a Military Police pistol, and the troops confiscated 1,000 bags of cocaine, military uniforms, and ammunition capable of shooting down a helicopter or damaging a caveirão (BOPE tank).
The next day, troops invaded the house of a married couple suspected of drug trafficking and car theft in Nova Holanda. They discovered cell phones, drugs, firearms, ammunition, a grenade, and a notebook recording traffickers’ financial transactions.
Police called in a caveirão to apprehend the suspects, and shots were exchanged. They arrested the couple along with eight others. One suspect was shot and died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
During the operations, police blocked Avenida Brasil and set up barricades at all entrances to the favela. Classes were cancelled at five local schools, and many residents missed work because they were trapped in their houses.
On September 23rd, police arrested Silvio Souza da Silva, allegedly the chief trafficker in the favela. Military Police Colonel Cláudio Luis da Silva stated that troops entered Maré in response to complaints from residents about being intimidated by traffickers, and that operations will continue.
A resident agreed to an interview with The Rio Times on the condition of complete anonymity. “I want to avoid putting my life and the lives of my loved ones at risk.”
When this resident moved to Maré fourteen years ago, the neighborhood was calm and isolated. A few years later, traffickers began to move in from nearby favelas, but there were never shots fired.
Then rival gangs began to fight for control of the territory, and shootouts on the street became a regular occurrence. Maré has one of the highest instances in Rio of people hit by stray bullets.
“Sometimes you get home and you can’t enter the neighborhood because of the shooting. Or you want to go out and you can’t…you lie on the floor or hide in the bathroom. You protect yourself as best you can. The worst part is that you think you’ll get used to it but you never do,” he explains.
The anonymous resident adds: “What makes me the angriest is because we’re not in Zona Sul (South Zone)…the media doesn’t worry about it. This happens all the time but it’s like we don’t exist, like we’re not a part of Rio de Janeiro…Maré is a forgotten place.”
The Complexo da Maré was slated to receive a Police Pacification Unit (UPP) in July, but the date was pushed back. In an interview with researcher Andrew Fishman for the site Rio Radar, Lieutenant Colonel Rene Alonso, commander of BOPE, stated that BOPE is moving its headquarters to a R$250 million complex in Maré, which he hopes will “show the importance of public security for the state.”