The Miami Herald
Tue, Apr. 13, 2004
Police pour into two Rio slums to suppress bloody drug rivalry

After drug-gang warfare kills at least 10 people since Friday, a massive police deployment takes control of two of Rio de Janeiro's hillside slums.


Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO - More than 1,000 police stormed into two Rio shantytowns Monday, trying to halt a violent dispute among drug traffickers that has left at least 10 people dead.

Automatic weapons fire crackled as police swept through the Rocinha favela, or slum, and the nearby Vidigal slum -- both of which overlook the city's wealthiest neighborhoods and trendy beaches.

The drug war that erupted Friday has alarmed tourists and vacationers. The respected O Globo newspaper said guests at the beachfront Intercontinental Hotel were shocked to see red and blue tracer bullets streaking across the night sky.

''We're going to tighten the belt around the favela more and more. We're going to push them deeper and deeper, point by point, and soon we'll have the area totally controlled,'' said Rio state police Col. Renato Hottz, who is in charge of the operation.

Meanwhile, drug gangs fired on a helicopter above a slum on the city's north side, injuring two policemen and forcing an emergency landing, the state security office said. Police said the shooting was unrelated to the crackdown in Vidigal and Rocinha.

The drug war broke out Friday, when gang members from Vidigal tried to invade Rocinha to wrest control of the narcotics trade, mainly cocaine and marijuana. Sporadic shootouts between drug gangs and police have erupted since then and the violence in the slums -- which straddle the main roads dividing the city's south and west sides -- cut Rio in two.

On Friday, a female motorist was killed in the crossfire between the gangs. Two other bystanders also were killed, while police said the remaining victims were drug figures.

Rio's mayor, Cesar Maia, criticized state police officials Monday, and called for intervention. ''The federal government should consider declaring a state of alert in Rio de Janeiro, the state security department has shown itself incapable of controlling the situation,'' he said.