By Sebastian Smith
Rio De Janeiro (AFP) Aug 21, 2017
Brazil's army went into action again Monday to support police in raids on some of Rio de Janeiro's most violent favelas -- but not before a rogue soldier allegedly tipped off the drug gangs.
In the third such operation in just over two weeks, about 5,000 marines, army soldiers, air force personnel, police and agents from the elite federal intelligence service launched raids at dawn in seven neighborhoods, an army spokesman and the Rio state security office said.
A year after the world applauded Rio's successful staging of the Olympics, Brazil's second biggest city is in deep financial difficulty and the demoralized police are struggling to contain well-armed drug gangs based in the favelas.
Targets of Monday's raids included the notorious Complexo do Alemao -- a dense maze of alleys on steep hillsides where police rarely venture -- and Jacarezinho, where seven people have been shot dead just in the last 10 days.
The state security service said in a statement that the principal goal was to serve arrest warrants.
"Teams from the armed forces are responsible for guarding perimeters in some of these regions and basing themselves at strategic points to guarantee order," the statement said. "Some roads are closed and airspace is restricted for civil aviation."
According to Globo news organization, police were looking for 14 people, all of them drug trafficking suspects with street names including "Bamba," "PH" and "Indio do Mandela," or "Mandela's Indian." So far 18 people had been arrested during the sweep and more than 22,000 students were unable to attend school because of the fear of violence, Brazilian media reported.
- Out of control -
President Michel Temer's decision in July to deploy thousands of soldiers to Rio acknowledged that state police have lost the ability to cope with the often bloody struggle against the drug traffickers. Nearly 100 police officers have died this year alone.
Corruption has also hampered police operations. In June, arrest warrants were issued for 185 police officers after a lengthy probe accused them of collaborating closely with drug gangs, even renting out automatic weapons to the gunmen.
The military is often cited as the national institution most respected by Brazilians. Memories of the 1964-1985 military dictatorship are fading and the armed forces are seen as largely having kept out of the corruption riddling Brazil's government at every level.
However, despite that clean image, a 19-year-old soldier was arrested Monday on suspicion of having tipped off gangs several hours before the operation took place.
Globo quoted police saying that traffickers had been heard warning each other by radio during the night "to disperse."
Colonel Roberto Itamar, a spokesman for the military, told AFP that the soldier was accused of "passing information. We will see if he's proven guilty or not."
In the first half of this year Rio tallied 3,457 homicides -- the highest level of violence since 2009 and 15 percent more than during the same period in 2016.
Brazil as a whole is one of the most deadly countries in the world.
Estadao newspaper on Wednesday reported that this year's six month homicide tally has reached just over 28,000. That is equivalent to 155 killings a day or six an hour around the country of 208 million people.
The toll is almost seven percent higher than last year and indicates that Brazil may again break the ceiling of 60,000 homicides a year in 2017.
By contrast, the United States, with a population of nearly 326 million, had 15,696 murders in 2015, according to the FBI.
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