Brazilian police crack down on Sao Paulo slum after murders

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2012, 4:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2012, 4:29pm

Brazilian police have launched a major anti-crime operation at a huge slum following at least 40 murders in the Sao Paulo area, including the apparent execution of several police officers.

“Operation Saturation”, which kicked off on Monday in and around the city’s southern Paraisopolis favela of 80,000 people is aimed at “choking off soaring drug trafficking” and reduce the number of robberies and thefts, said state secretary for public security Antonio Ferreira Pinto.

Some 600 heavily-armed members of the state military police’s shock battalion – a strategic quick-reaction force – have been deployed to comb the area, adjacent to the posh Morumbi district.

“The objective is to fight organised crime, destroy its structure,” Major Alexandre Gasparian, who supervises the operation, told reporters at his command post outside the Morumbi stadium early on Tuesday.

He said the crackdown would last for an “undetermined period of time” and would be extended to other districts of this huge metropolis of 20 million people that is also Brazil’s business capital.

Monday night alone, at least 10 people were gunned down in Sao Paulo and another in nearby Sao Bernardo do Campo, most of them by assailants in cars or on motorcycles.

In September, the number of area murders jumped to 144, up from 71 during the same month last year, and at least 40 have died in shootings since Thursday, according to state public security figures.

And more than 80 police officers have been executed in the region this year, most of them ambushed while off duty.

Many of these police killings have been followed by the indiscriminate shooting deaths of suspected drug traffickers or robbers, which families of the victims claim, without proof, were retaliation by military police.

Lucas Tavares, a spokesman for Sao Paulo civilian police that investigate the murders, said Operation Saturation was launched after police received intelligence that there were “criminals, arms and drugs” inside Paraisopolis.

“It’s one of those operations the military police periodically mount and has nothing to do with the recent wave of killings,” he said, vowing more operations in the coming days.

He dismissed press reports that the crackdown was linked to an alleged undeclared war between the military police and a prison drug-trafficking gang known as PCC (First Command of the Capital).

Ferreira Pinto told reporters that “some of the orders to attack the military police came from there,” referring to the Paraisopolis shantytown.

But Tavares said there was no evidence so far that the PCC, which first emerged in Sao Paulo’s jails in the 1990s, was involved.

“It takes time to investigate these murders and each one of them is different,” he added.

In an interview with the daily Folha de Sao Paulo earlier this month, Ferreira Pinto dismissed reports that the PCC has 1,343 members spread out in 123 of Sao Paulo state’s 645 cities.

“The faction is much smaller... There aren’t even 30 or 40 individuals who are imprisoned for a long time and engage in trafficking. We have choked off this traffic with big arrests,” he said.

Suspected PCC enforcer Edson Santos, alias Nene, was arrested during the raid in Paraisopolis.

The daily Estado de Sao Paulo identified the 31-year-old Nene as the right-hand man of detained drug baron Francisco Antonio Cesario da Silva, alias Piaui.

Piaui, who was arrested in the southern state of Santa Catarina in August, had ordered the killings of some police officers but there is no evidence that he is linked to the PCC, according to Tavares.

Meanwhile, Gasparian told reporters that since the operation began, police arrested two people, seized 125 kilograms of marijuana, 10 kilograms of cocaine, 50 packs of synthetic drugs and five illegal firearms.

By Tuesday, it was business as usual on Rua Doutor Laerte Setubal, the main avenue in Paraisopolis, as military police manned 12 checkpoints in the favela.

The slum is a beehive of construction activity as homes are being upgraded in a clear sign of rising prosperity among residents.

“We were surprised by the police operation as the killings did not occur here,” said Valeria Silva, 30.

“We don’t have any major problems here. It’s safe. There is even dancing at night: funk, pagode, samba. You won’t get into trouble unless you are really looking for it.”