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By Sibel Tinar, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – A violent confrontation between drug traffickers and the police led to a state of emergency in Rio de Janeiro this morning, as a group of bandits took thirty-five guests and employees hostage in a luxury hotel in São Conrado in Zona Sul, after getting involved in an intense shooting with the police.

Police vehicles outside of the Hotel Intercontinental in São Conrado during the hostage situation in Rio de Janeiro, image recreation.

The incident started at about 8:30AM Saturday morning, when a large group of drug traffickers from Rocinha and Morro do Urubu were returning from a party at the favela Vidigal started a shooting with the police as they encountered the patrol forces of the 23rd Batallion of Polícia Militar of Leblon.

According to the police, about forty armed bandits were circulating in São Conrado in vans, motorcycles and cars when the confrontation began. A woman from the group of bandits was killed, and four police officers were injured during the shooting that lasted about forty minutes, which saw the neighborhood turn into a terror zone in early morning hours.

As some of the bandits managed to flee the scene and disappear into the streets of Rocinha, ten heavily-armed men, some injured, captured a passerby in an attempt to escape from the police, and forced him to help them knock down the security barriers protecting the Hotel Intercontinental in São Conrado at about 9:10AM.

The bandits proceeded to take thirty employees and five guests hostage in the hotel, locking and holding them in the kitchen at gunpoint.

According to Colonel Lima Castro, the social communications coordinator of Polícia Militar, the group of ten men who took hostages were “heavily armed, with eight rifles, five pistols, in addition to a lot of ammunition and some grenades”.

Police raiding the Hotel Intercontinental in Rio's São Conrado neighborhood, image recreation.

A large-scale security operation was deployed in the area, as the Batalhão de Operações Especiais (Special Operations Batallion), the Batalhão de Choque (Shock Batallion), and many police helicopters surrounded to hotel, in an effort to resolve the hostage crisis without any casualties.

The police officers of BOPE, the elite group within Polícia Militar, whose operations came into spotlight with the popular movie Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad), negotiated with the bandits for the release of the hostages. As part of the operation, even the mother of one of the criminals was brought to the scene from Rocinha, who begged his son to free the hostages.

The bandits ended up surrendering to the police around 11AM. No hostages were harmed or injured during the incident, and the hotel was evacuated and closed in order to allow the police do a thorough examination of the locale.

Sérgio Cabral, the governor of Rio de Janeiro issued a statement praising the police effort during the confrontation, saying: “It is important to highlight the police action, firm, professional and effective. We have had no illusions with regard to the size of the challenge we are facing since the very first day, but we believe that we are on the right track.”

Resident of Rio's wealthy São Conrado neighborhood in Zona Sul being interviewed, image recreation.

The shooting and the following hostage situation created a state of panic and alarm in São Conrado and its surroundings, beginning with the closure of the Zuzu Angel and Acústico tunnels during the shooting, which led to drivers abandoning their cars in the tunnel.

Many commercial venues, including large shopping malls were shut down, and the football team Fluminense, which was on its way to Hotel Intercontinental when the shooting began, was immediately directed away from the incident, which the residents in the area described saying that they “felt as if they were in Iraq”.

After the incident, the police reported that the bandits were escorting Francisco Bonfim Lopes, the drug kingpin from Rocinha known as “Nem”, who was believed to be injured during the shooting, even though he was not in the group captured by the police, and his whereabouts remained unknown.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Inasmuch as the city authorities in Rio attempt urgent surgery on the city in advance of the Rio Olympics and the Brazil World Cup, and on a fractured society, for example, by closing down ‘illegal’ and undesirable nightclubs such as Club Help, building walls around favelas to ostensibly ‘preserve’ the Atlanic Forest, and undertaking general clamp down measures to make the city safer for the influx of foreign guests for these massive sporting events, it is clear that the real problems of poverty and inequality are not being addressed and will therefore not disappear.

    As a South African, I can tell you that our experience of making the country safe, clean and functioning for the world cup 2010 was an exercise in performing miracles by a useless government. The miracle took place (much because FIFA kicked the Government’s arse by threatening withdrawal of the tournament if deadlines were not met) and the country was on its best behaviour during the competition for our foreign guests. Everything worked almost perfectly and there was a feeling of the dawn of a new age of South Africa ready to be ushered in. The Governemnt exploited the feel-good factor and raved about the future of the new South Africa which had finally arrived.

    And within days of the end of the tournament, the rats and maggots came out in force: there were xenophobic attacks by local black South Africans against foreign blacks, evidence of corrupt multimillion dollar mining deals done at the behest of the govenment officials and their connected familes which made them hundreds of millions of dollars, and strikes by civil servants working especially in the government health departments which put ten of thousands of poor people’s lives at risk.

    In short, nothing had changed one bit on the ground, bar some excellent transport infrastructure and new stadiums being built for the world cup and therefore for the benefit of the people fo South Africa after the tournament.

    Rio, and more so Brazil for that matter, is in a much worse position than South Africa in terms of sheer numbers in population and an institutionalised corruption that has been going on in Brazil for far far longer than in our promised African motherland.

    I read recently that the population of Brazil in 2030 will be 400 million people. That is truly scary given the gap between rich and poor.

    This siege in Sao Conrado on another level is evidence of the poor showing that they will not be oppressed and silenced by their masters.

    Your new mayor will need to take much more creative and pragmatic steps than employing schmucks like Rudy Giuliani to give his expert advice on how to resolve crime and clean up the ‘mess’. This mess in Rio consists of millions of poor people.

  2. I hear your frustration. I also hear your concern that the direction those in power are taking to improve the safety in Rio is not addressing the underlying issues and therefore will probably fail. Let’s be careful , tho, to not mix up the cause and effect relationships., nor to simplify a complex situation. Your statement which seems to be saying that this incident is an example of ‘the poor showing that they will not be oppressed and silenced by their masters’ as an explanation somehow for what transpired in this latest siege is a bit of a logical fallacy. Nothing happens in isolation, the web is thick but this looked like a druggies vs cops event. Drugs, the drug ‘lords’, and the sad myths they perpetuate are but another form of ‘control over’ the poor and every bit as devastating and distructive to our humanity.

  3. What would any of the locals in that area know about Iraq? Rich expats and favela scum probably have not seen a lot of action in war zones.

  4. Without a long-term investment in education… and without cleaning up the corruption in the ranks of the government (to make said investment in education – NOTHING will change in Rio over the long-term. The UPPs and ‘pacification’ of the favelas are a joke, nothing more than make-up, a superficial way to turn favelas into tourist attractions (i.e. poverty tourism… human zoos).

    The drug trade will not stop, it will just relocate. And when the Olympics are over, the UPPs will be expelled by the trafficantes. But the reality is that the trafficante chiefs do more for the people of the favelas than the government ever does. And people trust more in the trafficantes not to abuse them, than the violent police with their aggression and executions and subsequent cover-ups.

    What unfolds over the next few years in the lead-up to the World Cup / Olympics will be interesting indeed..!

  5. As a regular visitor to South America and other places with high inequality like Thailand for eg. it is evident that the real problem not only lies in poverty, but in the frustration that the goverments are squandering money through corruption, nepotism and sheer stupidity. In South Africa, the president and his cronies are now even trying to halt press freedom so they can go about their daily tasks of plundering the tax coffers with no reporting to the masses.
    God save our country if this happens. At least now the world can see what is really happening.
    Rio has a bigger problem because of the huge population and militant drug gangs who are armed to the teeth, even with stolen military equipment.
    Thankfully I’ve never been harmed in Brazil but I have been held by corrupt military police who demanded US$2000 to set us free after finding an “illegal” pepper spray on me. What Bulls..t! Of course I paid.
    Poverty leads to corruption but its usually not the poor who is criminal, but the greedy lower classes who wants riches without working for it.

  6. Wise words from Diego, the trafficantes are the ones who protect the favell´s from being over run by the corrupt police
    they protect the area , as far as street crim which is virtully non existant with in the area
    No homes being robbed no abusive neighbors, stores are safe to operate and they don´t have to pay to keep there doors open to some politition or police officer looking fo line their pockets .
    As far as drugs go unless you are looking for them you will not be approached to make a purchace as these transactions are done in known areas by known people
    You will not see prostitutes running around either.

    TRY ALL THAT IN IPENEMA OR COPOCABAN OR ANY MAJOR CITY IN THE USA

    What the goverment needs to do more of is build schools in these areas and medical clinics. This is being done in some areas but it is like a bandaide on a cut that needs stiches

  7. Brazil needs to pay the police officers better and then it would end some of the problems of having to pay bribes for almost anything they can think of , its best to keep an extra 50 in your wallet for their coffee fund, and be happy they dont just shoot you or beat the sh– t out of you if they are having a bad day

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