Rio de Janeiro raid targets drug gangs ahead of Brazil World Cup, Olympics (VIDEO)


Brazilian Navy assault vehicles arrive at Rocinha shantytown early on November 13, 2011. Police forces launched a major operation to wrest from criminals control of the Rocinha favela, in Rio de Janeiro.


Antonia Scorza

Brazil's military and riot police have taken back control of Rio de Janeiro's biggest favela, or slum, from drug traffickers who had been ruling it for the past 30 years, according to reports. 

The raid in Rocinha, by hundreds of special forces police and 200 navy commandos backed by armored military vehicles and helicopters, was part of an official campaign to restore security in Rio before the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics.

According to Al Jazeera:

The Rocinha slum is home to about 100,000 people living in flimsy shacks that sprawl over a mountainside separating some of Rio de Janeiro's richest neighborhoods. The location has made it one of the most lucrative and largest drug distribution points in the city.

The BBC reported that police had already arrested "Rocinha drugs kingpin" Antonio Francisco Bonfim Lopes — widely known as "Nem" — on Thursday, when he was trying to flee the slum.

Nem one of the city's most-wanted, was reportedly in the boot of a vehicle whose driver, when stopped, offered a bribe worth $570,000 to officers, which they refused.

Rio's state security secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame described his arrest as a "historic moment," BBC reports

Al Jazeera quoted Paulo Storani, a security consultant and former elite unit captain, meanwhile, as saying: "Rocinha is one of the most strategically important points for police to control in Rio de Janeiro... This action is a huge blow to the structure of drug trafficking in Rio de Janeiro and against the second-largest drug faction."

About one-third of Rio de Janeiro's 6 million residents live in one of the city's 1,000 favelas, according to Al Jazeera.

Officials are counting on the World Cup and Olympics "to signal Brazil's arrival as a global economic, political and cultural power," The Associated Press wrote.