Police open fire on guided tour group in Rio slum, killing elderly Spanish holidaymaker
The killing of Maria Ruiz, 67, raises questions about police practices, and tour firms that take visitors to crime-infested favelas
A Spanish tourist who was on an organised tour of one of Brazil’s largest slums was fatally shot by military police Monday when the vehicle she was travelling in failed to stop at a police checkpoint, officials said.
The death is the latest example of increasing violence in Rio de Janeiro a year after the city hosted the 2016 Summer Olympics. It’s sure to draw scrutiny of both military police officers, who are accused by many critics of shooting first and asking questions later, and tour companies that take curious foreigners to areas with frequent conflicts.
Valeria Aragao, an inspector with the tourism police, said authorities would consider pressing criminal charges against the tour operators.
The tourists “saw police circulating and felt safer when in reality it was the exact opposite,” Aragao said, adding that the visitors had been taken into a “conflict area.”
The incident happened during a morning of heavy rain. It followed a firefight between police officers and suspected drug traffickers in the Rocinha slum, leaving two officers injured.
Then around 10.30am, a car drove past police and officers opened fire, according to a police statement.
When officers reached the vehicle they learned that three tourists along with a driver and a guide were inside. The Spanish woman, identified as 67-year-old Maria Esperanza Jimenez Ruiz, was taken to a hospital but died from her injuries. Authorities said she was shot in the neck and suffered cardiac arrest.
The driver of the car, who is an Italian and lives in Brazil, said he did not see any checkpoint, according to Fabio Cardoso, an inspector with the civil police force, which investigates crimes. The car contained two other Spaniards and a Brazilian tour guide, said Aragao of the tourism police.
Cardoso told reporters that a probe was being launched into the actions of the military police.
“This is unacceptable,” Cardoso said. “We are going to work to identify and jail the person who did this cowardly act against a Spanish tourist.”
In recent weeks, military police and army soldiers have conducted several operations in Rocinha, which borders some of Rio’s most affluent neighbourhoods in the southern part of the city. Authorities say they are searching for high-level drug traffickers, who themselves have been battling for control of the area.
For years, tourist visits to slums, or favelas, were common. Many of the areas are culturally and architecturally rich, and include top samba schools, musicians and artists. However, amid Brazil’s economic crisis in recent years and an uptick in violence, visits to favelas have become much less frequent.