Rio de Janeiro police, soldiers capture famed drug trafficker


Rio de Janeiro (AFP)

Brazilian police and soldiers captured one of Rio de Janeiro's most wanted alleged drug trafficking bosses Wednesday in a rare high-profile success for the city's beleaguered security forces.

The arrest of the man known to most by his nickname "Rogerio 157" came after months of failed attempts. Nearly 3,000 police and troops were involved in the operation, the authorities said.

The seeming ease with which he had previously escaped police special forces and heavily armed military units highlighted the authorities' weakness against narco gangs running the city's poor neighborhoods, known as favelas.

Handcuffed and wearing blue jeans and a black T-shirt with the words "wild spirit" written upside down, "Rogerio 157" was paraded before journalists soon after his detention. He is accused of drug trafficking, extortion and murder.

"The trafficker Rogerio Avelino da Silva, or Rogerio 157, was detained in the community of Arara, in (Rio's) Northern Zone, in a joint operation of security forces... with support from the armed forces," the Rio state security secretary tweeted.

As the alleged crime boss of the huge Rocinha favela, Rogerio 157 was one of the most powerful underworld figures in the 2016 Summer Olympics host city.

He had been especially high on the wanted list since September, when his gunmen engaged in street fighting with loyalists of a jailed rival trafficking boss nicknamed "Nem" for control of Rocinha.

The violence, in which residents filmed gang members firing automatic weapons in the narrow streets of the favela, prompted deployment of more than 1,000 police and soldiers with armored cars and helicopters.

However, da Silva slipped away.

- Gangsters' high life -

Over the years, Rio authorities have tried multiple strategies to bring order to the favelas, where almost a quarter of the population lives.

These range from building new communities of public housing to get people away from the cramped alleyways typical of places like Rocinha, to erecting tourist-friendly cable cars or going for brute force with troops on the streets.

None of the policies has resolved the underlying problems of poverty, lack of basic services like sewage systems and daily insecurity. With police unable even to patrol safely, local gangs running drug trafficking and mafia-like protection rackets fill the vacuum.

In Rocinha, a community of teeming, colored houses on a hillside overlooking a rich area of southern Rio, Rogerio 157 ruled more like a warlord than a mere drug dealer, according to Brazilian media.

Police photos published in Globo newspaper claim to show his luxury house in the dirt-poor neighborhood, complete with an enormous wall-mounted television and a hydromassage device.

Pictures taken in residences of other alleged drug chiefs after they were arrested or went on the run also show hydromassage tubs, home gyms, rooftop barbecues and other comforts in stark contrast to the hardscrabble conditions faced by their favela neighbors.

According to media reports, Rogerio 157's current problems began when he extended his authority to collecting taxes from Rocinha residents and taking control of cooking gas distribution, among other economically important activities.

This, Brazilian media say, angered his jailed former boss Nem, who reportedly still exercises considerable authority from behind bars and ordered gunmen to try and oust Rogerio 157.