Wednesday, February 26th 2003 – Day 8

I am staying in the Copacabana Praia Hostal. It was a nice place, geat staff, and I would it it to any body staying in Rio. You can share a dorm or book a 3 bedroom dorn by yourself for 50R per night. Each room contains a kitchen, bathroom, double bed, TV, air conditionining and a a bunk bed.

The TV and papers have been concentrating on the shooting and bus burnings that have taken place over the past few days. Remember the FAVELA, I visited on Monday and I said all the shops and markets were shut because of its Drug Baron leader. Well, this leader told all shops to close on Monday and many did. Even so (even thought this guy is in jail), Drug gangs armed with machine guns and home-made bombs have brought chaos to Rio de Janeiro just days before the city’s famous carnival begins.

From the BBC website.

Gang members in the Brazilian coastal city attacked police posts, burned vehicles, forced shops to close and set off two small bombs on Monday. Police say the violence was ordered by the jailed leader of the country’s most notorious drugs gang in retaliation for a tough official crackdown against the criminal groups. Although no one has died, the turmoil comes at the worst possible time for the city, which is expecting almost 400,000 tourists for this year’s carnival, beginning on Friday.

The bombs were set off in the early hours of the morning in a wealthy beachfront area packed with tourists – although no-one was injured. Elsewhere in the city, a police post was sprayed with bullets from a machine gun while many shops stayed closed after receiving threats from the gangs. A number of buses were also torched by gang members, and at the scene of one bus burning, police and bandits took part in a shoot-out. Rio’s state security chief Josias Quintal said the order to shut down shops was aimed at creating “a wave of terror and climate of instability”, but dismissed it as a “desperate attempt” by drug traffickers to retaliate for tough police action against them. Police are blaming Rio’s largest drug gang, the Red Command, for the violence. The violence follows a police crackdown on gangs They say the order for the violence was given by the Red Command’s jailed leader, Luiz Fernando da Costa – better known as Fernandinho Beira-Mar, or “Seaside Freddy”. Such attacks have happened before and are usually designed as a show of force if police action threatens to undermine the balance of power in Rio, according to the BBC’s correspondent in Brazil, Tom Gibb. But the violence hit upscale areas of the city usually immune from gang-related incidents, and while tourists are still expected to flock in for the carnival, the traditional festival celebrated with fancy-dress parades, music and dancing it is a blow to Rio’s reputation. “It is lamentable that this happens when we have a record number of tourists,” said the city’s Mayor Cesar Maia.

In the last 14 years, for instance, almost 4,000 under-18-year-olds were killed by firearms in Rio alone. Anyway, did very little today. Relaxed, went to Centro to see the capitals Catherdral and went back to the Saint Theresa district on the tram.

Addition (from the BBC website from the 27th of Feb 2003

Massive security for Rio carnival

Carnival work goes on, despite violence fears

Police in Brazil police have launched a huge security operation to protect the carnival in Rio de Janeiro, which has been threatened by spiralling violence between drugs gangs.

The authorities in Rio have asked for the army to be deployed, and up to 28,000 police are to be put on the streets to protect the carnival, which begins on Friday.

The drugs gangs have burned and machine-gunned buses, attacked police posts and set off small bombs in a beachfront area where hotels are packed with tourists.

“They’ve chosen the worst moment,” said Jose Eduardo Guinle, head of the state tourism agency.

“Carnival has to be celebrated without a hitch. This is our big chance to recover the image of the city abroad.”

As an aside: Thursday the 27th of February

I saw an attempted bus jack a few hours ago on N.S de Copa as it intersects with rua Pablo Junior. At the traffic lights there, a banger of car pulled up beside a bus at the traffic lights ( the car was in its bus lane). A guy in the front passenger seat got out with a handgun and started banging at the front door of the bus to get in. Everyone in the bus was looking out, but the bus driver put the boot to the floor. The lad went back into the car. They stayed there for a few minutes and drove off.

Friday, 28 February, 2003, 11:42 GMT – Army on streets for Rio carnival

From the BBC

Operation Safe Rio is designed to protect revellers

Thousands of troops and armed police have been sent onto the streets to help guard Rio de Janeiro’s carnival following a wave of violence by drug gangs.

The Brazilian Government’s decision to use troops came after gangs burned and machine-gunned buses, set off small bombs and attacked police posts.

With the massive security operation under way, the police say they have killed seven gang members in the last two days.

The carnival celebrations starting Friday are going on as normal, with some streets packed with drunken revellers following samba bands.

Most of the violence happened on Monday when shopkeepers were forced to close their businesses after receiving threats.

There have been frequent shoot-outs between gang members and the police and almost 40 buses have been torched.

Bus victim

On Thursday seven more buses were burned out.

Justice Minister Marcio Thomaz Bastos said the extent of the violence led to the decision to use the army.

“The destruction of buses and the curfew imposed by organised crime in the state have made us attend the call from the governor,” he said.

“The federal government has decided to put the army in the streets.”

The latest victim of the violence was a 70-year-old woman who died in hospital after being badly burnt when the bus she was in was set on fire.

The authorities are blaming the violence on the city’s most powerful gang, the Red Command, which has thousands of heavily-armed followers and controls many of the shanty towns.

They say they intercepted the gang leader giving orders on a mobile phone from inside the maximum security jail where he is a prisoner.

Fernandinho Beira Mar, or Seaside Freddy, as the gang leader is known, has now been transferred to another high security jail in the neighbouring state of Sao Paulo.

Almost 40 buses have been destroyed

With 400,000 visitors expected for the celebrations over the coming days, the city authorities say they are worried the violence could affect Rio’s tourist industry.

The head of the state tourism board TurisRio Sergio Almeida told the Associated Press news agency that they had had few cancellations so far.

“But if the violence continues it will hurt carnival,” he said. Rio state governor Rosinha Matheus said some 36,000 police officers and 3,000 soldiers would keep the peace under an operation dubbed “Safe Rio”.

Violence mars Rio carnival dawn From BBC

Friday, 28 February, 2003, 22:46 GMT

Rio’s famous carnival celebrations have officially kicked off, after Friday morning was marred by more street violence between security forces and drug gangs.

One armed gang of about 30 men initiated a three-hour shoot-out with police on one of Rio’s biggest thoroughfares, Brazilian media reported.

A motorist died after being shot at point-blank range by one of the group when he refused to give up his car.

Tens of thousands of armed police – and, for the first time, troops – have been sent onto the streets to help guard Rio de Janeiro’s carnival following the wave of violence.

‘Inferno’

In another incident, 28 terrified passengers on a bus bound for Sao Paulo threw themselves to the floor when their bus was hit by a hail of bullets and a Molotov cocktail.

The Brazilian newspaper O Dia said the Avenida Brasil, a dual carriageway, was “transformed into an inferno: cars screaming off in the wrong direction, a bus on fire and many bullets”.

In addition to the man who died, other motorists were attacked and ordered to abandon their vehicles in the incident, which occurred during the early hours of Friday morning local time.

It was the latest in a string of attacks in which over 50 buses have been torched.

On Monday shopkeepers were forced to close their businesses after receiving threats.

More than 50 buses have been torched

The violence prompted the Brazilian Government – headed by Workers’ Party President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – to deploy military police.

He said the population was threatened by “insecurity, unrest and fear”.

Revellers vowed not to let the violence spoil the four days of carnival, a pre-Lent festival of drinking and dancing.

Alex de Oliveira, who – at 135 kilograms (300 pounds) – was elected carnival’s Rei Momo (Fat King), received the symbolic key to the city and festivities began.

No soldiers could reportedly be seen as evening approached.

Seaside Freddy

The authorities are blaming the violence on a drugs cartel, the Red Command, which has thousands of heavily armed followers and controls many of Rio’s shanty towns.

Notorious gang leader “Seaside Freddy” was moved away

They say they intercepted the gang’s leader giving orders on a mobile phone from inside the maximum-security jail where he is a prisoner.

Fernandinho Beira Mar, or Seaside Freddy, as the gang leader is known, has now been transferred to another prison in the neighbouring state of Sao Paulo.

With 400,000 visitors expected for the celebrations over the coming days, the city authorities say they are worried the violence could affect Rio’s tourist industry.

‘No worries’

Rio state governor Rosinha Matheus said 36,000 police officers and 3,000 soldiers would keep the peace under an operation dubbed “Safe Rio”.

But our correspondent in Rio, Tom Gibb, says most visitors seem to have taken little heed of the stories of violence.

Major Gilberto Tenreiro of Rio’s tourist police said he thought the worst was over.

“The violence was a phase that has already passed,” he told news agency Associated Press.

“We are doing everything to make sure tourists can enjoy carnival without any worries.”

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