By Cornelius Conboy, Contributing Reporter

Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro, Photo by Cornelius Conboy
Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro, Photo by Cornelius Conboy

RIO DE JANEIRO – Drug wars spilled out of the favelas into the Zona Sul last week as violence escalated in response to increased police actions. At least 8 people have been killed last week and dozens arrested in a concerted action against favela drug gangs.

Though drug related violence is nothing new in Rio de Janeiro it usually occurs primarily in the favelas, Rocinha being a prime example. Last week’s shootings spread out over the Zona Sul, starting Monday around 11:00 a.m. with a skirmish between police and drug dealers near the wooded area of Tabarajas. The conflict quickly spread to the Lagoa, where an officer was shot a few hours later, and into Copacabana where a powerful exchange of bullets left five bandits dead.

Attention for the week was focused on Rocinha. Wednesday four more people were arrested. The police also seized cloned credit cards, along with numerous rifles, pistols and grenades. Seven motorcycles were also seized.

Ronaldo Oliveira, speaking for the Rio police department (DPC), reported Wednesday that three more people died during an operation on Wednesday in the favela of Rocinha. Two others were injured when police invaded and found two laboratories for refining cocaine. Police estimate each was capable of processing 200kg per week. A weapons storage facility was located nearby that contained about 100kg of gunpowder. In another alley at the top of the favela, the police found a workshop where weapons and grenades were repaired.

The police also seized nearly a ton of marijuana, and needed a helicopter to haul it away.

According to Oliveira, the well planned action succeeded in disrupting the gang’s financial activities and there will be many more; “Other operations such as this are planned and will be made. We target sections of the favela where we can achieve our goals. Rocinha is a favorite location since its geographical positioning makes it a central location for both the sale and distribution of drugs,” he said.

About 250 men from 18 different police stations, took part in the action. Their immediate goal is to counteract the traffickers increasing violence that started last Saturday in the Ladeira Tabajaras area, near Copacabana.

According to Oliveira, the cocaine laboratory found Wednesday morning was very professionally built and constructed quite recently. He noted that the site was used to dilute the pure drug with sodium bicarbonate. Later police announced that cement had been discovered as an additional diluting agent. Oliveira noted dryly that the Rocinha gangs were not known for their quality.

As the week progressed police made repeated incursions on Rocinha leading to more arrests and announcing the disruption of as much as one million reais per week in business.

Correction: April 9, 2009
This article was first published on March 31st as “Mexican Cartel Behind Rocinha”, and unsubstantiated connections were made between the favela drug gangs and Mexican cartels.


  1. There were a number of sources of information that went into the account above. Globo’s press edition reported the Mexican cartel as directly related to these actions; other MSM referenced in obliquely as part of Clinton’s visit to Mexico which occurred around the same time. It is foolish to assume simplistic answers for such complex issues and I’m sure our readers would be happy to hear your thoughts

  2. if your going to use a headline like ‘Mexican Cartel Behind Rocinha Drug Violence’ it would be nice if the article elaborated on this a bit more. this is the first i’ve heard of this connection and it’s a pretty big deal. i just wish you had told me how the ADA in Rocinha and this unnamed Mexican cartel are connected.

  3. Maybe a Mexican cartel was behind the recent Rocinha violence. But this article did not convince me. It was a good recap of the recent violence, but that is about it. The only source directly related to the Mexican angle cited, as far as I can tell from reading this, is “American government officials.” If you have numerous other sources, like you say you do, at least say who they are (ie: According to BOPE sources who asked not to be identified etc; according to local human rights groups who did not want to be identified yada yada). And if Globo and other MSM has reported the Mexican angle, why don’t you say so and reference it? If you are going to put a headline like that on your article (and close with, “…1 million reais per week in business for the Mexican cartel.”) you ought to back it up with some substance in the story. But what do I know?

  4. Rio’s two major daily papers, o Globo, and o Dia are very clear about what occurred in the recent battle for control of the favela Ladeira dos Tabajaras, and the subsequent police invasion of Rocinha, and there is no mention whatsoever of any involvement of a Mexican cartel. First,the main attention of the week was on the area of Ladeira dos Tabajaras where the loose bullets from gun battles threatened the safety of residents of apartment buildings and condos adjoining the hill, spreading fear into Copacabana. This most recent conflict has a connection going back to November, when under Rio’s Public Security Chief Beltrame, police forces invaded and took control of the favela Dona Marta located in Botafogo. The occupancy of police forces drove out the drug traffickers from this hill, including their leader, Francisco Rafael da Silva, known by his street name,“Mexicano.” That is all that is mentioned. There is not anything referencing the existence of a Mexican cartel. So it appears that the mere mention of this trafficker’s nickname is the root cause behind this article’s erroneous conclusion that a Mexican cartel controls the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro.

    After Mexicano and his soldiers fled from Dona Marta they hid out in at least three different favelas. There were reports in past months that they were seeking outlets for drug distribution in the favela Morro dos Cabritos in Copacabana. Close nearby is the favela Ladeira dos Tabajaras. Mexicano targeted it for takeover and installed his own crew. The defeated traffickers who were expelled from Ladeira dos Tabajaras fled to Rocinha joining the group of bandits entrenched there. Rocinha, notorious for it’s enormous size, and situated between Gávea and San Conrado, is controlled by a larger criminal faction called Amigos dos Amigos. They are one of three major criminal factions which dominate many favelas throughout Rio.

    The head drug trafficker of Rocinha, Antonio Bonfim Lopes, known as “o Nem,” hatched a plan to invade Ladeira dos Tabajaras in order to control that hill’s drug profits. His expectation of success was partially based on detailed knowledge of the area provided by the expelled traffickers who were former residents. They were also seeking revenge against Mexicano since they claimed he was abusive to the community he now controlled. The invasion of Ladeira dos Tabajaras commenced on Sat the 21st of March. A major gun battle ensued and sporadic gunfire kept residents in neighboring areas on edge throughout the weekend. During the rest of the week military police conducted searches for bandits hiding in the surrounding jungle and engaged in occasional gun battles.

    Rocinha was invaded by police in response on Wed the 25th of March to discourage additional attacks, to search for Rocinha’s drug lord, o Nem, and to confiscate drugs and arms as punishment. This is where they found the mini cocaine factory which uses white cement as a filler. Police killed three and six were taken into custody. They are, Domingos Vítor da Silva, 28 anos; Rodolfo de Figueiredo de Souza, 19, Wanderson Felipe Cavalcante Silva, o Pará, 21, Cristiano Abreu de Almeida, 25, o Queimadinho, Vagner Luís de Oliveira, 30, e Márcio Severino Oliveira, 25.

    On Fri the 3rd of April the press reported that the body of Mexicano (the ex drug lord of Dona Marta) was found in the jungle in Ladeira dos Tabajaras.

    (Of course these situtions are not new. In May 2007 a gang from Vidigal invaded Chapéu Mangueira in Leme. After hours of gun battles, they took control of all the access points for selling drugs. The gang that had been expelled then based themselves in the neighboring favela Babilonia. Later they attempted to retake the hill).

  5. I may not support the drug dealers but this is very important…if you abuse the residents, they will lok forward to when a nother gang takes the hill and treats them right..In Rocinha the ADA treats the residents well, this is why nobody have a problem with them..but now “Mexicano” got what he deserved and a vida continua!

    Zezinho proud resident of Rocinha

  6. Whoever lits a joint, sniffs a line ot takes a pill in Rio is sponsoring directly this kind of violence.

    You can criticise whatever or blame police or anyone else forgettin this very important detail, if it suits you so!

    And by experience I know these consumers, tend to be the same people who blames police and the people from the favelas.

    If ther is no market, ther is no dealing.

    I do not consider myself a puritan at all and I would love to visit a coffee shop in Amsterdam, but here I will not touch the stuff because it is drenched in blood.

    Watch Elite Squad, very educative, ther is lot of good law obeying ppl in Rio and in the favelas, and loads of policeman in here who wants to do their job.

  7. If O Russo can write such informative information, why are we relying on such sub-par journalism in the Rio Times in the first place? It’s a problem of either inferior reporting or inferior editing, and if I were on the staff of the paper and I had read O Russo’s response, I’d be embarrassed at the lack of substance, detail and quality in my paper’s own reporting. That the readers would have better information to share than the professionals on staff would feel shameful.

  8. Dear Irtisaam,

    Thank you for your comment and taking the time to read and engage in The Rio Times.

    This article was not a high point for our reporting or editing team. It is no excuse, but it was published in our first month of operation (almost two years ago), and this was the second of two articles the reporter wrote for us.

    Unfortunately the story was flawed and we published the correction, and made some changes in our news team. We have a much higher standard of reporting and editing now, and we hope you’ll feel better about our current news.

    PS – We tried to hire O Russo but after spending significant time in Rio, he had just recently left the country.

    Thanks again for your comment,

    The Rio Times


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