RIO DE JANEIRO – Hundreds of Brazilian soldiers remained deployed Wednesday in this city’s largest favela to support an ongoing police search for drugs and weapons in the troubled Rocinha neighborhood.
Troops returned to Rocinha on Tuesday, just 18 days after the conclusion of a week-long occupation in September.
The military restricted the airspace above the favela on Wednesday as 600 troops supported police efforts against the drug gangs that have long held sway in Rocinha, the Eastern Military Command said.
Overlooking Rio de Janeiro’s famous beaches, Rocinha, with its roughly 60,000 residents, sprawls over a hill that divides the upscale Sao Conrado and Gavea neighborhoods and commands a key thoroughfare connecting the southern and western areas of the city.
The current spell of unrest in Rocinha began Sept. 17, when dozens of members of one drug-dealing outfit invaded the favela in a bid to expel a rival group, sparking a conflict that has led to 10 deaths so far.
Roughly 1,000 troops, accompanied by 10 armored vehicles, occupied Rocinha on Sept. 22, when gun-battles began to spread to other parts of the city, prompting many schools and businesses to close.
The presence of the soldiers served to curb the violence and the army contingent withdrew on Sept. 29, but the shootouts soon resumed.
On Tuesday, police arrested Danubia Rangel, wife of Antonio Bonfim dos Santos. a.k.a. “Nem,” who ran a criminal outfit in Rocinha before his 2011 incarceration in a federal prison in the distant northern state of Rondonia.
Rangel, a fugitive since she was sentenced in March 2016 to 28 years behind bars for drug trafficking, is accused of having started this latest criminal turf battle in Rocinha on orders from her husband.
The soldiers serving in Rocinha are part of the contingent of 10,000 troops authorized by President Michel Temer in July to backstop police in Rio de Janeiro state, which has suffered some 4,000 homicides this year.
The state government declared bankruptcy in the summer of 2016 – just before the Rio Olympics – and the austerity policies adopted since then have been accompanied by increases in both poverty and violence.