The Military Retakes the Rocinha Slum

The Military Retakes the Rocinha Slum

By Dialogo
December 02, 2011

The quick and spectacular retaking of the Rocinha slum from the hands of drug dealers was a great, and in a way, an unexpected present for the population of Rio de Janeiro. Although trafficking in that community was already being monitored by police intelligence, the idea of occupying the most densely populated slum in Rio was something that was dismissed by multiple analysts at the time. The lack of police personnel for new occupations was public knowledge, so much so that the Brazilian Army was induced to remain in the Alemão Complex for an additional period of time, while the military police is engaged in training more police officers for this type of mission.

Rocinha, along with the neighboring slum of Vidigal, is located in a prominent area of the city, in the middle of districts with high levels of disposable income, and in addition to retailing drugs to practically the entire Zona Sul and Barra da Tijuca areas, it also supplied several other slums in the city. The first drug laboratories in the city were found in Rocinha, demonstrating that, in addition to selling drugs, the slum’s criminals were also getting involved in manufacturing them from imported raw materials. In view of the major events that will take place in Rio de Janeiro, the occupation of the area had already been promised, but not everything that the politicians promise can actually be carried out by the police.

Certainly, intelligence had a preponderant role in the events preceding the invasion. In the four weeks preceding the invasion of the two slums, the public-safety authorities started to publicly suggest the retaking of that area. The declarations and announcements in the media became more frequent, and this certainly influenced the morale of the criminals, including their leader, the dealer known as “Nem.” The head dealer even threw a farewell party, at which, very much on edge, he is reported to have used drugs excessively and ended up at the community health clinic. Undoubtedly, things were very tense for the criminals of that gang, who based their hegemony on an extensive network of very-well-paid police collaborators who were now apparently unable to do anything to save them from the fate that was awaiting them.

When the operation began on November 13, the police must have already known that there would not be an organized reaction by the dealers. The police officers were again transported in armored vehicles belonging to the Marine Corps, which preferred to use the latest versions of its LVTP-7 tracked amphibious assault vehicle, equipped with supplementary armor on the sides of the main compartment in order to increase the vehicle’s resistance to attacks using hollow-point ammunition. They also used Piranhas, which are more agile and maneuverable in narrow streets than tracked vehicles.

The operation showed that the police have assimilated lessons learned from the operations in the Leopoldina slums. Even when transporting their assigned weapons and ammunition, police personnel were not allowed to carry large backpacks that might support accusations of looting. In the briefings, a great deal of emphasis was placed on the fact that the population had to be protected, that the police had to behave as an authentic liberating force and not allow themselves to be seen as an oppressive group. Flyers were dropped from helicopters urging citizens to collaborate by revealing dealers in hiding, as well as stockpiles of drugs and weapons. Federal police and internal-affairs personnel were secretly positioned in the surrounding area to detect and arrest police officers who joined the dealers and helped them escape.

The operations in Rocinha also allowed the Rio police to demonstrate new equipment and technological resources. Their two new Bell Huey II police helicopters, of American origin, with greater transport capacity and better armor, were used in the operation. This time, the entire area of the operation was declared off-limits to flights, and there were no television-station helicopters flying over Rocinha or Vidigal. A new Squirrel helicopter, with a sophisticated system of television cameras with zoom capability, able to operate by day or by night, enabled real-time monitoring of the areas occupied by the dealers, from safe positions at an altitude of a kilometer, retransmitting the images to a command center on the ground and to police officers in the field. An incursion by civilian police officers into an area bordering on forest, monitored from the sky using the new electro-optical sensors, as well as on the ground by cameras transported by the police themselves, left us with the impression that we were watching operations similar to the one that culminated in the death of Osama bin Laden. The operation showed that the police’s command, control, and integration capabilities have evolved dramatically.

Not only were 185 weapons seized, including BAR, FAL, Para FAL, AK-47, M-16/AR-15, and Garand automatic rifles, old Mauser repeating rifles, various shotguns, M1 carbines, submachine guns, pistols, dozens of extra magazines (some with capacity for 100 rounds), foreign-made hand grenades, two 66-mm M-72 anti-tank rocket launchers, and more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition, but so were hundreds of kilos of narcotics, as well as 60 kg of cocaine base paste, which could be multiplied by processing in the “laboratories” set up by the criminals in those areas. Besides 47 people arrested, 75 stolen motorcycles for which the police had been looking were recovered in these communities during the course of the operation.

For security professionals, there remains the certainty that there is no such thing as magic in the pacification process. Once they recover from a major blow, criminals tend to strengthen their presence in other areas of the state of Rio de Janeiro, and many of those men and women, with or without a criminal record, who used to make their living from the trafficking in those slums can be expected to shift to other types of crime, venturing “uptown” in search of victims, and can be expected to cause more trouble. We must be prepared!

Congratulations on the site, I think the army should be used more for fighting crime, so that it would be more of a help to the Brazilian people, so many men at the headquarters doing exercises, training and throwing parties paid for with our taxes, they are not the ones to blame since they obey orders, they would obey them very well, but these disgusting politicians don't care about anything. Armed forces on the streets now… since we’re already in a civil war…