By Zoë Roller, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A series of recent murders in Rocinha, including the shooting of the president of a neighborhood Residents’ Association, have lead police to speculate that the community is suffering from drug gang conflicts. The murder victims were all suspected of involvement with drug trade, and two were known to be close to Antônio Francisco Bonfim Lopes, aka Nem, the accused former chief of trafficking in Rocinha.

Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Rocinha is the largest favela community in Rio, photo by Salvador Scofano/Imprensa RJ.

According to, a site run by Rio de Janeiro’s State Security Secretary to provide information on wanted criminals, Nem had controlled Rocinha and Vidigal since 2004, as chief of the gang Amigos dos Amigos (“Friends of Friends,” or ADA). Another gang, Comando Vermelho (“Red Command” or CV), previously ran both favelas.

The police source reports ADA seized power after an internal conflict weakened CV’s hold on the region, and its authority was unchallenged until pacification. The regime change was effected by a violent showdown during Holy Week in 2004; it left ten dead and was by all accounts a harrowing time for the community.

Undisputed rule by one gang reduced the risk of armed conflicts in Rocinha; however, Nem’s arrest and the police invasion appears to have destabilized the status quo. Police have not discussed the claim; however, Último Segundo and Univisión reported on CV’s presence in Rocinha.

A longtime resident of Rocinha who wishes to remain anonymous commented on gang activity in the favela: “Comando Vermelho is back in Rocinha; they’re in control higher up, but ADA is still at the bottom.”

Police believe that the murder of Vanderlan Barros de Oliveira, aka Feijão (“Bean”), was related to drug trafficking. Feijão was accused of laundering money for ADA, and he was expected in court on April 3rd to testify about his connections with Nem.

Shock Battalion troops in Rocinha, photo by Marcelo Horn/Imprensa RJ.

Before the invasion, it was estimated that drug traffic in Rocinha generated about R$100 million per year, partly due to its location between Rio’s two wealthiest areas, Barra and Zona Sul (South Zone). As long as the drug trade remains an immensely lucrative business, traffickers will have reason to carry on, even under police occupation.

Michel Misse, a sociologist and coordinator of the Center for the Study of Citizenship, Conflict, and Urban Violence at UFRJ told O Globo that he believes that there are three possible scenarios for continuing traffic in UPP-occupied areas:

“First, everything could go back to the way it was before; the program could fail completely. This is unlikely, as far as I can see.” he said.

“In the second scenario, things could go back to the “arrego” [bribes from traffickers to police officers] system, even without blatant trafficking.”

Misse suggested; “In the third, traffickers who could not maintain their points of sale would flee to another region where the second scenario, bribery, was possible. At no point does the traffic cease to exist.”

In Misse’s view, the program’s success will depend on UPP officers’ integrity and resistance to bribery. Security Secretary José Mariano Beltrame has introduced several measures to combat corruption within UPPs, including investigations of officers’ income.



  2. I spent an afternoon walking all around Rocinha in late August 2012 and found a sense of calm. At no point did I feel threatened; on the contrary, I felt welcomed. The sense of community is strong. Everyone should walk around there, buy items from the little stores and kiosks. If the residents are rewarded for keeping out the violent elements, the community will thrive in prosperity. It is your duty as a citizen to support positive movement.


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