Gang Violence in Rio Poses Security Questions for 2016 Summer Games

By Matthew Harwood

A deadly weekend gun battle between warring gangs in Rio de Janeiro has Brazilian authorities pledging they will get a grip on security before the Olympic torch hits their violence-prone streets, according to the The Christian Science Monitor.

The gunfire erupted Saturday in Rio's favelas, or shantytowns, and ended only a few blocks from where many of the Olympic events will be held.

The Monitor reports a scene more akin to Black Hawk Down than a modern city getting ready to host the Summer Olympics:

At least 12 people were killed on Saturday, including two policemen who died when their helicopter was brought down by warring drug gangs after police tried to halt shootouts between the rivals. And the violence extended into Sunday when two men were killed by police exchanging fire with alleged gang members.

Rio authorities are acutely aware they need to improve their record on policing, especially now that the Olympic torch is shining on them, and they struck a defensive note on Saturday.

"We told the International Olympic Committee that this is not easy and they know that," said Rio Governor Sergio Cabral. "We don't want just to be ready for special days – for that we can put 40,000 police on the streets. I told them we want to get to 2016 and have a peaceful Rio de Janeiro before, during, and after the Games."

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has pledged that Rio de Janeiro will be a different city in seven years with living conditions in the dilapidated and depressed shantytowns transformed by increased investment in modern infrastructure. (For more on Rio's favelas, check out this 2006 photo essay from The Washington Post.)

Bringing security to the favelas, however, will prove difficult the Monitor explains. The city has adopted softer community policing efforts in a few areas rather than storming locations when violence erupts. But these practices have been tried before, ending in ignominy. In one experimental area, "70 percent of the participating officers were accused of wrongdoing and removed," the Monitor reports. "The project eventually fell apart and violence returned."

Photo of the Rio favela of Rocinha by andreasnilsson1976/Flickr


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