RIO DE JANEIRO – The finding of another body Tuesday raised to 25 the number of deaths in last weekend’s battles in Rio slums pitting rival drug-dealing gangs against each other and police, Brazilian authorities said.
Among the victims are three sharpshooters who were in a police helicopter that was shot down Saturday by the criminals, three youths who were murdered by gunmen when they returned from a party and 19 suspected drug traffickers, a police spokesman told Efe.
The bodies of eight of the victims were found in wooded areas near the “favelas” (shantytowns) where the clashes occurred.
“They are left over from the combat on Saturday,” said a spokesman for the Rio de Janeiro state police commenting on the increase in the number of known victims.
The latest body was found Tuesday in a shopping cart that had been abandoned on a street leading into the Morro dos Macacos favela, the neighborhood where the violence was concentrated.
At least 2,000 police have been taking part since Saturday in ongoing operations to hunt down in different favelas the members of the gangs involved in the clashes and the perpetrators of the attack on the helicopter.
The helicopter was providing support for police officers conducting an operation against the Morro de Sao Joao gang, which had launched an attack on rivals in neighboring Morro dos Macacos.
The shootouts were sparked by a dispute between rival gangs over the drug corners in the Morro dos Macacos favela, which is controlled by the Amigos dos Amigos (Friends of Friends) criminal organization.
Macacos was attacked by gunmen from Morro de Sao Joao, where the drug trade is controlled by the Comando Vermelho (Red Command), who were reinforced by allies who run the drug sales in the Jacarezinho and Complexo do Alemao favelas.
Besides the 25 deaths, the clashes left at least seven people wounded, five of them police, while eight buses were burned by the drug traffickers.
Rio de Janeiro is plagued by constant clashes involving organized crime groups, the security forces and paramilitaries over control of the favelas that are home to about a third of the city’s 6 million people.
The incidents that occurred over the weekend caused panic among residents in a broad section of Rio de Janeiro, with the images beamed around the world two weeks after the city was selected to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.
The press on Sunday raised questions about whether police would be able to deal with criminal groups and regain control of Rio’s nearly 1,000 favelas before the Olympics.
Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes, however, told Efe Monday that officials never hid the city’s crime problem and Brazil always comes through in organizing big events.
“Since we started the campaign (for the 2016 Olympics), we never hid the security problems we had. Things don’t change from day to night, but things are better in Rio,” Paes said in London, where he is attending the Global Sports Industry Congress.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva promised 100 million reais ($58.8 million) to the Rio de Janeiro state police to replace the lost helicopter and upgrade their equipment. EFE