Brazil Police Scour Sewers for Druglords

By Dialogo
December 01, 2010

Police scoured sewers under Rio’s sprawling slums Monday for hundreds of drug traffickers who fled an unprecedented military onslaught on the favelas that netted Brazil’s biggest seizure of marijuana but few arrests.

With Rio’s World Cup and Olympic hosting duties looming, some 2,600 paratroopers, marines and elite police backed up by helicopters and armored personnel carriers led a pre-dawn assault Sunday on the traffickers’ bastion of Grota, a lawless city within a city with a population of 400,000.

Grota is just one of 15 favelas that make up the Complexo do Alemão. But of the 500 drug dealers thought to be hiding in the maze of slums, only 40 have been arrested. Officials said the dealers may have escaped through a large network of sewers before the police arrived.

“Several dealers were arrested as they tried to escape dressed in religious or municipal employee uniforms,” police special operations chief Paulo Henrique Moraes told reporters.

He said the sewers had been built by different companies and that the construction was halted and restarted numerous times, meaning that no single engineer knows their exact layout and dimensions.

But police proudly displayed the cache they seized: five rifles, two grenades, pistol magazines, body armor, calculators and a booklet filled with accounts of drug sales.

And they touted the record seizure of 40 tonnes of marijuana, packaged for delivery, from several houses in Grota Sunday. Police had formed a long human chain, snaking down narrow, steep streets, passing the drugs along to awaiting trucks in a main street below. Another 200 kilograms of cocaine were also seized in the area, media reports said.