Rio beefs up Carnival security amid wave of violence
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Authorities in Rio de Janeiro state said Thursday that security is being beefed up as the world-famous Carnival bash begins, following a wave of violence caused by rival drug trafficking gangs.
Gov. Luiz Fernando Pezao said in a press conference that security forces will now total more than 17,000 statewide per day. That includes 2,000 extra agents who were off duty and will now work during the bash.
Last year Rio used almost 12,000 policemen during Carnival, but it also counted on the help of 9,000 members of the country’s armed forces. Brazil’s most popular Carnival party starts on Friday and ends Tuesday.
Rio police spokesman Ivan Blaz said that this time, military presence is not necessary. “This is the biggest increase Rio Carnival has seen in the number of policemen on the streets, he said. “That figure is what we need to give people a safe Carnival without losing presence in the most sensitive parts of the city.”
Gov. Pezao also promised to pay policemen more than $20 million in delayed salaries and bring back a bonus program that was downsized due to the state’s financial crisis. He said the decision is due to a rise in state revenues.
Officers have said police’s low morale was also stimulating gangs to face off, which could affect the city’s biggest party.
“It is not easy to face what we face with an economy crisis like this in Rio,” the governor said. “But now we have the money to say we can pay.”
Rio’s security secretary Roberto Sa said police face a war-like challenge from local gangs. In the weeks before Carnival, several key arteries were blocked by confrontations and there have been many victims.
“This year alone we seized 65 assault weapons, 42 policemen got injured and five died. This makes criminals feel powerful,” Sa said. “We cannot accept this and we will work even more to stop them.”
Earlier on Thursday, mourners buried a 13-year-old boy who had been being killed during a shootout between police and suspected drug traffickers in a Rio slum.
Jeremias Moraes da Silva was walking home after playing soccer on Tuesday when he was struck by a stray bullet in the slum of Mare. He died shortly after being rushed to the hospital.
Also on Tuesday 3-year-old Emily Sofia Neves Marriel was shot dead during a robbery in Rio’s north zone.
On Wednesday a stray bullet wounded 4-year-old Joao Pedro Soares da Costa.
According to Rio da Paz, a group that works to reduce violence, 44 children have been killed by stray bullets in Rio de Janeiro since 2007.
Stan Lehman contributed with this report in Sao Paulo.