A Rio de Janeiro slum was engulfed in violence late on Tuesday after the killing of a popular local figure infuriated residents, who set fires as they rained homemade explosives and glass bottles onto a busy avenue in the city’s main tourist zone.
Intense exchanges of gunfire were heard when members of the Rio de Janeiro State Military Police’s Special Police Operations Battalion moved into the Pavao-Pavaozinho slum, just a few hundred meters from where Olympic swimming events are set to take place in 2016.
Residents blame police for the killing of the local man, whose body was found earlier in the day.
Citing local health officials, the O Globo newspaper, reported that another slum resident was shot and killed, and a 12-year-old boy shot and wounded, during Tuesday night’s gunfire. It is not clear who fired the shots that hit either, nor did police confirm the reports.
The episode was the latest in a string of violence to hit one of Rio’s so-called “pacified” favelas — impoverished areas controlled by drug gangs for decades before police began an ambitious security program in 2008 to drive out the gangs and set up permanent posts in slums.
The program is part of Rio’s overall security push ahead of the World Cup that begins in June and the Olympics the city will host.
So far, 37 such “police pacification units” have been created to monitor an area with a population of 1.5 million. However, there have been repeated complaints of heavy-handed police tactics resulting in the deaths of residents, which is what set-off the latest clashes, Pavao-Pavaozinho residents said.
More than two dozen police face charges from a high-profile case in a different shantytown, where investigators said a local man died while being tortured by police.
Slum residents have also lamented the lack of social services they were promised would arrive along with the police presence.
Tuesday’s violence erupted after the body of 25-year-old Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira was found. A dancer on a TV show for Brazil’s Globo network, he was a well-known figure in the community. The circumstances of his death are not clear, but residents blame police.
“The police beat my friend to death, just like they’ve tortured and killed in other communities,” Johanas Mesquita said. “This effort to pacify the favelas is a failure, the police violence is only replacing what the drug gangs carried out before.”
Police on the scene refused to answer questions about the violence.
Following the discovery of Pereira’s body, angry young men began lighting fires throughout Pavao-Pavaozinho and tossing homemade explosives, bottles and other objects onto Copacabana’s main avenues.
The elite police units then entered the slum and at least three prolonged exchanges of gunfire were heard, presumably between officers and cartel members who continue to maintain a presence in the shantytown.
In recent months, drug gangs have brazenly attacked police outposts in the favelas in what authorities say is a bid to block the expansion of the “pacification” program and win back lucrative drug-selling territory.