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Brazil President Offers Military Support to Stop Rio de Janeiro Violence

November 1, 1994

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ President Itamar Franco on Monday offered army support to fight Rio’s crime wave, but stopped short of ordering a military invasion of hillside slums ruled by drug barons and crime gangs.

After a two-hour meeting in Brasilia, the capital, Franco and Rio state Gov. Nilo Batista signed an agreement providing Rio’s 24,000-strong police with army weapons and equipment and logistical support from the FBI-like federal police.

Justice Minister Alexandre Dupeyrat said Franco rejected plans to declare a state of emergency and send elite combat troops to capture the 1,800 cocaine bosses that rule Rio’s shantytowns like fiefdoms.

But the minister said drug raids into the city’s ″favelas,″ or hillside slums, would be coordinated by generals of the army’s Eastern Military Command and executed with Batista’s approval.

″This operation is for real,″ Batista said. ″I don’t expect any miracles in the short run. But from now on, we’ll be better equipped and coordinated to fight organized crime.″

He said Franco abandoned the idea of military intervention in part because it could influence the outcome of the Nov. 15 gubernatorial and state and federal legislative elections.

Dupeyrat said, however, that federal police and army intelligence units would perform a ″housecleaning″ of police and state troopers corrupted by drug lords and arms smugglers.

Drug bosses often get tipped off days in advance of raids, allowing them to flee their hilltop fortresses and remove stockpiles of drugs, grenades, assault rifles and imported automatic weapons.

On Monday, there were already reports that traffickers were going into temporary hiding as a result of weeks of speculation that the armed forces would spearhead the campaign.

Maurilio Moreira, an inspector of Rio’s anti-narcotics task force, said traffickers in the Vigario Geral and Nova Brasilia slums were moving large amounts of cocaine and weapons to hideouts in outlying suburbs and in the city’s upscale South side.

Human rights observers criticized the campaign as a media show that endangers the lives of the estimated 1.2 million people who live in Rio’s 400 shantytowns.

″What Rio needs is federal intervention in its police departments, not its slums,″ said Herbert de Souza, a leading sociologist. ″Later, we need to mobilize community groups and social workers to combat drug trafficking and misery in the slums.″

This sprawling seaside city has been hit with a series of drug-related deaths, kidnappings and armored car holdups. The violence coincides with the beginning of Rio’s peak tourist season, putting the city’s primary source of income at risk.

Police statistics show that violence kills about 20 people a day in this city of 6 million. But officials at the city morgue estimate the homicide rate to be twice as high.