A community leader in the Rio de Janeiro favela of Rocinha was gunned down weeks before he was set to testify against drug trafficker “Nem,” pointing to a lasting organized crime presence in the area despite the military occupation.
Vanderlan Barros de Oliveira, also known as “Feijao,” was president of the residents’ association for Barcelos, a neighborhood in Rocinha. He was shot dead meters from the entrance to the association’s headquarters on Monday.
In 2010, Rio’s public prosecutors accused Barros of acting as treasurer for the gang headed by Antonio Bonfim Lopes, or “Nem,” a commander of the Rio drug gang Amigos dos Amigos (Friends of Friends). Lopes was arrested before Rocinha’s November 2011 pacification as he tried to flee in the trunk of a car.
Three days after the operation began, community organizer Barros was also arrested on drug trafficking charges, but was later released, as his arrest warrant had already been revoked, according to reports.
Barros was set to testify in May regarding his alleged money laundering for Lopes’ organization.
A police spokesman announced that security would be tightened in Rocinha following the killing, with 40 extra police who will conduct foot patrols.
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Rocinha, Rio’s largest favela, has been occupied by military forces since November, as part of a drive to clear it of criminals so that Police Pacification Units (UPP) can take control. Barros’ murder follows a firefight between suspected drug traffickers that left three dead and prompted authorities to deploy BOPE special operations police to patrol the neighborhood last week.
The two incidents raise serious questions about how far the military have ensured security in the neighborhood. Even though security was tightened following the shootout, Barros’ killers were able to escape after gunning him down in broad daylight in front of his community center.
The fact Barros was set to testify in Lopes’ case suggests that the jailed trafficker still wields power in Rocinha, and that it may be hard to convince others to testify on his activities.
Barros’ alleged involvement with Amigos dos Amigos is not an isolated case. As InSight Crime has reported, community leaders in Rio’s toughest neighborhoods often face a difficult balancing act, with those who refuse to work with a neighborhood’s dominant gang sometimes facing threats and attacks.