Police have occupied a group of adjacent favelas in Rio de Janeiro, the latest slum “pacification” aimed at driving out drug traffickers and improving security in the coastal city.
Colonel Luis Castro Menezes, commander of the military police in Rio, says not a single shot was fired during the 50-minute operation on Sunday involving 590 police officers and 180 military troops in the Lins de Vasconcelos slums in the city’s north.
The slums include 12 communities with about 15,000 inhabitants.
Authorities plan to install two permanent police stations in the slums as part of the city’s “pacification” program.
Television images showed the zone’s commercial section opening on Sunday without incident and inhabitants going about their regular business.
Backed by Brazilian marines in armored vehicles, more than 1,000 police poured into a dozen slum neighborhoods in northern Rio just after dawn, meeting no resistance, Agence France-Presse journalists on the scene said.
“It’s one more step in the direction of peace,” Rio de Janeiro Governor Sergio Cabral said.
After sweeping through the area, police began going house to house to conduct searches and question suspects.
“That population has been clamoring for this for a long time,” Rio security chief Jose Mariano Beltrame said.
The deployment of so-called Police Pacification Units aims to wrest control of poor hillside neighborhoods from drug gangs and bring down violent crime in the city that will play host to the World Cup next year and Olympic Games in 2016.
The police tactics have come under scrutiny after 10 members of one pacification unit were arrested last week in the torture-slaying of a bricklayer who disappeared in July from Rocinha, the city’s largest favela with 70,000 inhabitants.
Amarildo de Souza’s disappearance set off protests by outraged residents demanding authorities explain what happened to him.
His body has not been found, but investigators say he was tortured to death by members of a pacification unit who were seen on a surveillance tape taking him into custody.
Police inspector Ellen Souto, who is heading the police investigation into the death, said 22 other people have charged they also were tortured with electric shocks and hot wax.
Cabral, under attack over the police scandal, defended the pacification units, who is known by their Portuguese acronym as the UPP.
“I lament the conduct of those police officers, which was abominable, but without a doubt it will not be a mark against the UPP,” he said.
He said investigations of crimes like De Souza’s disappearance was only possible when communities were pacified.
“How many crimes went unpunished before the police’s arrival in the hillsides,” he said.
With the two new stations, Rio now has 36 Police Pacification Units in its slums.