Brazilian police have launched a major anti-crime operation at a huge slum following at least 40 murders in the Sao Paulo area, including the apparent execution of several police officers.
“Operation Saturation,” which started on Monday in and around the city’s southern Paraisopolis favela of 80,000 people, is aimed at “choking off soaring drug trafficking” and reduce the number of robberies, Brazilian Secretary of State for Public Security Antonio Ferreira Pinto said.
About 600 heavily armed members of the state military police’s shock battalion — a strategic quick-reaction force — have been deployed to comb the area.
“The objective is to fight organized crime, destroy its structure,” Major Alexandre Gasparian, who supervises the operation, told reporters on Tuesday.
He said the crackdown would last for an “undetermined period of time” and would be extended to other districts of the huge metropolis of 20 million people.
On Monday night alone, at least 10 people were gunned down in Sao Paulo and another in nearby Sao Bernardo do Campo.
In September, the number of area murders jumped to 144, up from 71 during the same month last year, and at least 40 have died in shootings since Thursday last week, according to state public security figures.
More than 80 police officers have been executed in the region this year, most of them ambushed while off duty.
Many of these police killings have been followed by the indiscriminate shooting of suspected drug traffickers or robbers, which families of the victims claim, without proof, were retaliation by military police.
Lucas Tavares, a spokesman for Sao Paulo civilian police that investigate the murders, said Operation Saturation was launched after police received intelligence that there were “criminals, arms and drugs” inside Paraisopolis.
“It’s one of those operations the military police periodically mount and has nothing to do with the recent wave of killings,” he said.
He dismissed reports that the crackdown was linked to an alleged undeclared war between the military police and a prison drug-trafficking gang known as PCC (First Command of the Capital).
Ferreira Pinto told reporters that “some of the orders to attack the military police came from there,” referring to the Paraisopolis shantytown.
Yet Tavares said there was no evidence so far that the PCC was involved.
In an interview with the daily Folha de Sao Paulo earlier this month, Ferreira Pinto dismissed reports that the PCC has 1,343 members spread out in 123 of Sao Paulo state’s 645 cities.
Meanwhile, Gasparian told reporters that since the operation began, police have arrested two people, seized 125kg of marijuana, 10kg of cocaine, 50 packs of synthetic drugs and five illegal firearms.
By Tuesday, it was business as usual on the main avenue in Paraisopolis.
“We were surprised by the police operation as the killings did not occur here,” said Valeria Silva, 30. “We don’t have any major problems here. It’s safe. There is even dancing at night: funk, pagode, samba. You won’t get into trouble unless you are really looking for it.”