Rio police hail arrest of drug kingpin in 3,000-strong favela operation

Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro
The arrest of Rogério da Silva, aka Rogério 157, marks a rare success for police in a city where crime is soaring. Photograph: Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

Security forces in Rio de Janeiro have arrested a drug kingpin blamed for a war between rival gangs in Brazil’s biggest favela.

Rogério da Silva, 36, also known as Rogério 157, was seized Wednesday morning in an operation involving 3,000 Brazilian military and police. He was wanted for homicide, extortion and drug trafficking, and a $15,000 reward had been offered for his arrest.

“He was arrested by the police in an integrated operation by police and armed forces in the Arará Park favela,” a spokesman for the security forces said. “He did not resist. He was surrounded.”

Rio’s O Globo newspaper said he was caught hiding under a duvet after jumping the wall of his safe house. His arrest marks a rare success for police in a city where violent crime is soaring, and where a much heralded pre-Olympic plan, to pacify favelas with armed police bases, has fallen apart as drug gangs have reoccupied territory.

Cristiana Bento, a detective who coordinated the arrest, said da Silva was responsible for the gang war which exploded in Rocinha favela, which is strategically situated between famous beach areas such as Ipanema and the city’s Olympic Park.

The conflict reached new heights in September, and led to a military operation which failed to quell the violence. A month later a Spanish tourist was shot by police, who said the car she was travelling in went past a roadblock.

“Rogério is one of the most wanted traffickers in Rio de Janeiro,” Bento said. “The arrest was very important to dismantle organised crime.”

In recent months local media published photographs of da Silva wearing heavy jewellery. The Rio tabloid Extra said he had earned his nickname carrying out armed street robberies – 157 is the penal code article for the crime – before joining the drug gang led by Antônio Francisco Bonfim Lopes, aka Nem, a Rocinha gang leader immortalised in the bestselling book Nemesis by Misha Glenny.

Nem was arrested fleeing the favela, hiding in the boot of a car, after the area was occupied in a military operation in 2011. He is still in prison.

Rocinha residents and local media reports said Nem’s former lieutenant broke ranks and stopped obeying orders. He began charging a tax on items such as water and demanding protection money from local businesses. In September open warfare broke out in Rocinha after Nem was reported to have teamed up with gang members from three other favelas to retake the territory. A military operation was launched to retake control but had few concrete results.

As violence continued to flare up, da Silva kept moving from one favela to another. He switched allegiances, Bento said, leaving the Amigos dos Amigos (Friends of Friends, known as ADA) gang, associated with Nem, to join the Comando Vermelho (the Red Command, or CV), one of Rio’s most powerful drug mafias with operations across Brazil.

In October a Spanish tourist María Jiménez, 67, was shot dead by police while on a favela tour. Police said the car she and other tourists were in went through a roadblock, a version contested by some people.

Following da Silva’s arrest, gunfire was heard in Rocinha. “It was a sequence of shots that sounded like a commemoration or a protest,” said one resident, speaking anonymously for fear of reprisals. “When these guys are jailed there is no interruption to their command. People are worried because the war in Rocinha has not ended with 157’s arrest. And the unfolding of this arrest will be more confrontation, more dispute for territory.”

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