Brazil drug lair in Rio slum now a police base
A Brazilian military policeman stares at bullet holes in the Mangueirinha complex in Duque de Caxias, 30 kilometres from downtown Rio de Janeiro, on August 5, 2013. Now, day and night, police patrol Mangueirinha and three other area favelas: Sapo, Santuario and Corte 8, seen as among the city's most dangerous.
This week, police turned it into one of their bases in this community of 25,000 people located in the Baixada Fluminense district.
Dozens of drug traffickers had taken refuge in this impoverished corner of Rio after fleeing southern slums where, since 2008, authorities have been gradually wresting back control ahead of next year's World Cup and the 2016 Rio summer Olympics.
But starting in July, police began moving into Mangueirinha, too.
And Monday, a 180-strong detachment, mainly from an elite battalion, began patrolling the area under orders to prepare for a permanent presence.
Now, day and night, police patrol Mangueirinha and three other area favelas: Sapo, Santuario and Corte 8, seen as among the city's most dangerous.
They arrested 25 suspects in recent days.
It's a development residents, used to squalor and danger, cautiously welcomed.
"What do I think of the police? It can't be worse than before," said Paulino Dantas, a 60-year-old resident, as he tried to repair a rickety Volkswagen Beetle with black adhesive tape.
"Children could not go into the streets, and I could not either, without risking getting shot," he added.
Like neighboring favelas, Mangueirinha was controled by the feared Red Command, Brazil's oldest drug trafficking organization.
But Ranulfo Brandao, a commander of the Duque de Caxias military police battalion, said the problems didn't come solely from the drug gangs.
"Yes, there was a migration" of drug traffickers from slums brought under police control, said Brandao. "But not as large as people say. There are also social delinquents."
"We arrested 12-year-old kids with firearms. If they manage to reach the age of 25 or 30, they will be lucky," he added.
"At this age, most of them are in jail or have been killed, including by their own."
It is crime born amid desperation, Brandao said.
"These people have nothing. They have lunch without knowing what they will eat for dinner."
A few meters (yards) from the dilapidated house where drug gangs did target practice, held trials and delivered summary justice, pigs wallowed in piles of trash.
Street dogs jumped up amid barefoot children assembling colorful kites.
A toothless 60-year-old woman, with immaculate, painted nails and toes, pointed to a cardboard shack and said: "This is my luxury apartment," triggering guffaws from neighbors.
Nearby dozens of police officers inspected the site for their new base. Two portable chemical toilets set up in a wasteland will soon be joined by a moving container serving as an office.
They took cover as shots were fired in their direction from the slums over which they have a 360-degree view.
Police conceded that they cannot completely eradicate the drug trafficking, but Brandao insisted that the Red Command "is already weakened."
Our goal, he added, is "to prevent people from showing off their weapons and to stop the racket of 'funk' dance parties full of armed traffickers," the police commander said.
"We also want garbage collectors, electricity to reach here, to make it possible to solve water and open sewage problems."
Many residents don't even own a bucket and throw their trash through the windows.
"Life here is hard. We live with narcotraffickers. What can we do? You have to keep your head down," said Bruno de Oliveira Palmeira, a jobless 19-year-old who used to repair tires.
"I would never have believed that police could get here. Now I do."