A shootout between military police and gangs in an emblematic Rio de Janeiro slum saw a helicopter crash and at least 11 people killed last weekend, while violence rises city-wide thanks to weakened security forces and emboldened criminal groups.
During a November 19 police operation against alleged criminals in Rio de Janeiro’s City of God slum, a helicopter crashed to the ground, killing all four agents on board, the BBC reported.
While initial reports suggested that the helicopter had been shot down by gangs, authorities later revealed that no bullet holes had been found on the vehicle or its crew, O Globo reported. The cause of the crash has not yet been disclosed.
The helicopter had been supporting an operation that began after agents of the Police Pacification Unit (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora – UPP) were attacked near the City of God slum, according to official sources cited by El Mundo. The following day, locals discovered seven corpses that had been missing since Saturday’s operation in a nearby wooded area, O Globo reported. The bodies showed signs of torture and possible execution.
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Police operations continued on Sunday, leading to several arrests. Rio de Janeiro State Security Secretary Roberto Sá announced that the military police will remain in the area for an “undetermined” period of time.
Violence levels are rising throughout the city. Rio’s murder rate rose almost 18 percent in the first nine months of this year compared to the same period in 2015. Police-related killings, arms trafficking, muggings, and other petty crimes have also increased in the city.
InSight Crime Analysis
The recent spate of violence is illustrative of a number of critical security issues in Rio, as well as wider organized crime dynamics.
According to multiple security experts consulted by InSight Crime, City of God is controlled by the Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV) organization, which is in conflict with paramilitary “militia” groups in the adjacent Gardênia Azul slum. Igarapé Institute Research Director Robert Muggah said that CV members had moved into Gardênia Azul and were later met by UPP agents upon their return to the City of God, which is when the firefight began.
The magnitude of the ensuing battle is a sign of what Muggah describes as the “collapse of state legitimacy” in Brazil, and specifically in Rio de Janeiro. A financial crisis in Rio, which led the federal government to freeze the state’s accounts earlier in November, has weakened local authorities’ capacity to fight crime.
“Gangs smell [the police’s] weakness,” Muggah told InSight Crime. “What we then have is a reorganization of the geopolitics of crime.”
The clearest example of this weakness, Muggah said, has been the failure of the pacification program launched in 2008. This started crumbling around 2013, and there has since been a rise in the number of armed clashes in so-called “pacified” areas.