Rio Sweeps Slums Ahead Of Tourism Rush In Rio de Janeiro, the police and military are retaking some of the largest and most dangerous slums from drug lords. The massive raids are part of Brazil's campaign to improve security in the city before it hosts the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
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Rio Sweeps Slums Ahead Of Tourism Rush

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Rio Sweeps Slums Ahead Of Tourism Rush

Rio Sweeps Slums Ahead Of Tourism Rush

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

GUY RAZ, host:

And I'm Guy Raz.

In Rio de Janeiro, police and military on Sunday retook one of the city's largest and most dangerous favelas, or slums, from drug lords. The effort involved more than 2,500 police but surprisingly little violence. The operation provides a sharp contrast to a raid on a different slum last week after drug gangs blocked roads, set vehicles ablaze and attacked police posts.

As Annie Murphy reports, these raids are part of a campaign to improve security ahead of hosting the Olympics and World Cup later this decade.

ANNIE MURPHY: Authorities are thrilled by the capture of the Alemao complex of about a dozen slums. It's long been the base of operations for Rio's biggest drug gang, the Red Command, and the latest success in a two-year campaign to push gangs out of the city's slums.

The Rocinha favela is likely to be next.

(Soundbite of a crowd)

MURPHY: Rocinha is a cramped web of buildings that cling and sprawl across several lush hillsides, like something M.C. Escher might have drawn if he lived in the tropics. An estimated 200,000 people live in Rocinha. It's Rio's largest favela and among the most violent.

Carlos Costas is a 47-year-old activist who was born and raised here. He still considers this home. But after an issue with drug traffickers, he now lives in another neighborhood. He says traffickers are just a symptom of a deeper problem for favelas in general - the absence of public services from water and light to police.

Mr. CARLOS COSTAS: (Through translator) The state abandoned our communities for years, which is why arms, drugs and criminals wound up here. And a favela resident ends up living in negotiated peace. He exchanges his silence in what he sees and what he hears for the possibility of being left in peace.

MURPHY: But round-the-clock peacekeeping units, a stark contrast to sporadic violent raids, have changed that dynamic in recent years. And Sunday's raid on the Complexo do Alemao favela was possible in part because such units have started to erode the influence of drug traffickers in other areas.

Another factor was unprecedented coordination between military and police. Uribatan Angelos is a former head of the Rio de Janeiro Police.

Mr. URIBATAN ANGELOS (Former Head, Rio de Janeiro Police): We never have seen before this cooperation.

MURPHY: But Angelos says that while more raids are likely, bringing permanent peacekeeping forces to all the favelas is not. The problem is numbers. For peacekeeping units known as UPP, one officer is required for every 100 residents, and Rio has at least a million and a half people living in favelas.

Mr. ANGELOS: It is not possible to take care - to put UPP in all the favelas. It's not possible. Not possible.

MURPHY: That's not the answer favela residents like Carlos Costas want to hear.

Mr. COSTAS: (Through translator) When the governor installs a peacekeeping unit in a favela, everyone asks, when will they come to my community? They have to come to all the favelas. They can't not come.

MURPHY: But Costas has no illusions about why security is a top priority in Rio now, and why his home, Rocinha, which sits right on the road that links sites for the upcoming World Cup and Olympics to the rest of the city, will likely be among the next to be raided.

Mr. COSTAS: (Foreign language spoken)

MURPHY: A plan to take over Rocinha isn't a priority because people who live here are asking for it, he says. It's a priority because of the international tourism calendar.

For NPR News, I'm Annie Murphy in Rio de Janeiro.

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