RIO DE JANEIRO – A new president took power in Brazil this week, and he’s promising to do whatever it takes to make a dent in the country’s years-long violent crime epidemic.
CBN News visited Rio De Janeiro and went on patrol with an elite team of Brazilian special operations police who are leading the move to take down the drug gangs.
Rival drug gangs battling for territory across Brazil have driven its murder rate to more than 60,000 per year. In the poorest communities, called favelas, a young man is more likely to die by gunfire than a soldier in an active war zone.
We spoke to a young mother of two about the crisis – she asked that we not reveal her name. “Our main problem is all the violence. Sometimes I can’t even take my kids to school or even take my baby to the hospital if he is sick. When we are in the house and the shootings start outside, I am already teaching my children to lie down on the floor and not move. Stray bullets are very common here,” she said.
Fed up with the violence, in October 2018 the Brazilian people elected Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain who promised to take a tough stance on crime, to be their new president.
Bolsonaro took office in January 2019, and he’s committed to stepping up enforcement in the worst neighborhoods, even sending troops into the favelas to take on the gangs. One of the most elite and well-armed units is known as BOPE.
Their mission is to act in situations where the local police cannot. That includes hostage situations, combating drug dealers and protecting the population through specialized operations. “Despite being a military force, we are actually part of the police and we use specialized equipment and weapons,” one BOPE member told us.
CBN News traveled into a favela with them for a training mission – it’s a safer neighborhood because they’ve already cleared it. But you can see the tactical way they learn to move, because you don’t really know who the bad guys are until they are shooting at you. And with women and children in here, they have to go right by all these civilians, and the level of training that it takes to keep from shooting people that don’t need to be shot is really high.
“Our first priority is always to protect the lives of the citizens. We must be very aggressive, however, because of the sheer amount of violence in the areas where we operate,” one official told us.
“Victory for us is going to battle against these gangs who often bring superior numbers, and winning without losing any of our men,” he said.
But for the people living in these favelas, victory might be simply making it home safely for one more day.