RIO DE JANEIRO – At least 24 people were arrested on Tuesday in an anti-crime operation mobilizing 3,400 soldiers and 500 police officers, the largest sweep conducted since the Brazilian military assumed responsibility for public safety in Rio de Janeiro state.
Soldiers surrounded in the wee hours the Lins de Vasconcelos favela (shantytown) on the city’s north side, in an operation aimed at fighting criminal groups dedicated to hijacking freight trucks, the state government said.
The siege, which involved blocking a major highway, allowed police officers to enter the favela and execute arrest warrants.
According to a statement by Brazil’s Eastern Military Command, by the end of the day the operation had led to the arrest of 24 people, including 16 who had arrest warrants and eight who were taken into custody for flagrantly carrying weapons or drugs.
“The objects seized include ten kilos of marijuana, a vast quantity of cocaine and crack, two automatic pistols, a revolver, ammunition, eight walkie-talkies, 10 cars and 11 motorcycles used by drug traffickers from the area,” the statement says.
During the operation, a group of soldiers removed street barricades made of concrete blocks and steel beams put in place by gangs.
The barricades were removed with the help of armored vehicles and heavy machinery, while military aircraft carried out surveillance.
Gunmen fired at the first police officers to enter Lins, who managed to move forward thanks to the use of armored vehicles, leading the gang members to flee after a 15-minute shootout.
Even though Lins de Vasconcelos has had a police unit since 2013, when an army operation managed to expel the drug gangs controlling the area at that time, it is still considered to be one of the main neighborhoods in Rio where stolen goods are stored.
The military intervention in Rio state – an unprecedented move since the establishment of the 1988 constitution – was backed by the Brazilian congress and aims to stop the wave of violence that killed 6,731 people last year.
However, the armed forces have yet to reduce the violence that has plagued Rio since the Olympic Games were organized in 2016.
Last weekend alone, 14 people were killed in Rio, including nine during a police operation in Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio, and five youths who were attacked by unidentified gunmen in the municipality of Marica.