Rio: the fight for the favelas

Brazil’s most famous city has launched a huge offensive against drug gangs and militias before the next World Cup and Olympics

©Sebastián Liste

José Mariano Beltrame, Rio state’s secretary of public safety. Pictured with officers from the UPP police units, on the rooftop of the force’s station in Providencia, Rio, October 2012

At noon on July 27, when thunderstorms threatened to crack Rio’s warm and humid winter sky, a unit from Bope (the Battalion of Special Police Operations) stormed the favela of Quitanda Costa Barros in the north of the city. As the heavily armed officers moved with their hallmark stealth through the unpredictable alleys of the slum, they came under attack from gunmen hidden in the narrow stairwells and higgledy-piggledy rooftops.

Thirty-seven-year-old Anailza Rodrigues Ribeiro heard the commotion and peered out from her kiosk to see what was happening. Firing its way up the street, she saw “The Big Skull” – the colloquial name given to Bope. It refers to the organisation’s official heraldry, a skull on two crossed guns with a combat knife plunged into the top of its cranium.


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