As Gangs Flee Police, North Rio Becomes Epicenter of Violence

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Operations to pacify certain Rio favelas may be pushing drug gangs to flee to northern areas of the city, sparking violence and all-out turf wars when criminal groups are squashed into smaller zones.

Three died in clashes last week when traffickers from the northern Costa Barros neighborhood apparently tried to unseat rivals from territory in the neighboring Barros Filho neighborhood, Jornal do Brasil reported.

Deadly gunfights like this are not an uncommon occurrence in Rio de Janeiro, especially in its favelas, poorer communities which are valuable turf for drug traffickers. The city’s overall homicide rate is falling, thanks in large part to a scheme to “pacify” favelas by sending in troops to clean out traffickers, followed by specially trained police units, known as UPPs, to keep peace in the long term. Last week’s gunfight, however, took place in a part of the city that is not part of the program, where the murder rate remains relatively high. For example, in Pavuna, which is close to Barros Filho and Costa Barros (see map below), the homicide rate measured by the state’s Public Security Institute is around 48 per 100,000, double that of the city as a whole.

This high level of violence may be due to a reported surge in gang members fleeing police and military occupations in other parts of the city. Veja reported that occupations elsewhere have led the city’s three largest gangs to establish headquarters in northern sectors of Rio, including Costa Barros and neighboring Pavuna and Acari, which together contain 30 favelas with 200,000 residents.

Among the gang leaders in North Rio are Luiz Fernando Nascimento Ferreira, also known as “Bacalhau,” and Regis Eduardo Batista, alias “RG.” According to Veja, they are former bosses from Complexo do Alemão who have set up shop in Costa Barros. The Alemão favela complex, once a stronghold of the Red Command (Comando Vermelho), the city’s largest gang, was taken over by the army in November 2010. Other sources give different accounts of the traffickers’ origins, with Meia Hora news website saying Bacalhau let in gang members fleeing the occupation of Complexo do Alemao. This would suggest Bacalhau had a leadership role in the area before the Alemao occupation.

R7 news website reported that neighborhoods in the area have seen an influx of traffickers fleeing the police-occupied communities of Macacos and Rocinha. Macacos has received a UPP unit, while Rocinha is reportedly set to receive its 750-man UPP in two months.

The violence in Barros Filho comes just days after Jose Beltrame, state public security secretary, announced various sectors of Rio, including Costa Barros and Pavuna, would be receiving extra security. It makes sense, then, for traffickers from Costa Barros to invade Barros Filho — they could have been trying to secure turf where they could sell drugs without the nuisance of an increased police presence.

These incidents highlight a major challenge facing Rio’s public security policies; police deployments appear to lower violence in the areas affected, but the case of North Rio suggests it is difficult to prevent traffickers from “pacified” areas setting up shop elsewhere. This is a problem not just because it means that the drug trade continues unabated, but because displaced traffickers may launch assaults on rival-held neighborhoods, causing more violence and even sparking turf wars as gangs are squashed into smaller spaces.


View InSight Map – North Rio de Janeiro Organized Crime in a larger map

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