By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A war between rival drug gang factions has been raging in the streets and alleyways of Rocinha, the largest favela community in Rio de Janeiro, since last Sunday (September 17th). Violence of this scale has not been seen here since the pacification operation in 2011, and residents fear that there is no end in sight.
After hours of intense gun battles last night, state security forces say they have arrested a main figure, Luiz Alberto Santos de Moura, known as “Bob do Caju” this morning, Saturday September 23rd.
According to the Rio Civil Police, Bob do Caju is one of those responsible for the invasion of Rocinha last Sunday, in a power struggle between two rival groups led by the traffickers Antônio Francisco Bonfim Lopes, “Nem”, who is imprisoned at the Federal Penitentiary of Porto Velho (RO), and his ex-security chief Rogério Avelino da Silva, aka “Rogério 157”.
Authorities report that Bob do Caju is a member of the Amigos dos Amigos (Friends of Friends) faction, the same one in which Nem of Rocinha is a top figure. At the time of the arrest, the trafficker, who was a fugitive from the police, was hiding in a residential neighborhood on Ilha do Governador (Governor’s Island), in Zona Norte (North Zone) of Rio.
The war in Rocinha has been the largest and most violent conflict there since November 2011 when national Armed Forces led a pacification operation to drive out the large organized drug gangs, less than one week after they had arrested Nem.
English expatriate living in Rocinha, Jody King, a DJ and operator of a NGO English language school Favela Phoenix, has been living in the community for almost four years, well after the UPP program had been launched in the community, but has never experienced anything like what has happened in the last week.
Yesterday King explained, “I’ve never seen anything like this before. Because this is an internal war within the gang. A turf war. I’ve experienced a lot of gun fights in my three and a half years, which has always been gang verses police, but on Sunday morning was something much more intense. it was crazy.”
He described, “The gunfire went on for five hours non-stop, the electricity went out, we could hear grenades going off, plumes of smoke going up all over the favela. It was like a war zone. And still is. Over the past few days the gunshots keep ringing out every so often, coming from different parts of the favela.”
“I just walked down to the shop and passed eight tanks on Estrada da Gavea. The army, as well as the military police, their helicopters above and BOPE are all over the place here right now. Its very sad to see Rocinha in such a mess. I have always felt very safe here. I love this place and its people so its very sad to see the community embroiled in a war.”
As far as what it feels like for residents, King describes, “I’m used to seeing a lot of guns and hearing gunshots, but for the first time since I have been here, I am a little bit scared of my surroundings.”
“It’s very violent and chaotic, everyone just hopes that it ends soon, children cant go to school, or play outside people don’t feel safe to go to the shops. A lot of people are trapped in their homes and living in fear.”
Last night King explained, “Nobody knows when it will end but the sooner it does, the better. Rocinha is the most wonderful place in the world – when it is peaceful.”
Rocinha is home to around 70,000-100,000 residents, the second largest in Latin America, and one of a handful of favelas in Rio that the government UPP program had always struggled with. Now that the UPP has been reduced, more violence is likely.