Pubdate: Sun,  5 Mar 2006
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2006 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Jack Chang, Knight Ridder


Death Of Gang Leader Fails To Stop Battle For Control Of Rocinha

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Since the day in October when police killed
the head of the Friends of Friends gang, the residents of Rocinha,
South America's largest slum, worried about when the struggle for
power would begin. Two weeks ago, they got their answer.

More than three dozen members of a rival gang, Comando Vermelho, or
Red Commando, swept into the streets at the upper reaches of Rocinha's
hillside sprawl. Hurling grenades and firing automatic weapons, they
blew up power transformers, cutting off electricity and shutting down
traffic lights in the middle of the evening rush hour.

They were dressed as state police.

In the ensuing battle, six people died -- five of them bystanders,
including a 14-year-old boy. Fourteen people were arrested, mostly as
they fled. After three hours, fighters from Friends of Friends, known
in Portuguese as Amigos dos Amigos, managed to repulse the assault.
But residents doubt that that's the end of the fighting.

With millions of dollars at stake in drug sales, Rocinha is too great
a prize for drug gangs to leave alone. Perched above some of Rio de
Janeiro's most affluent neighborhoods, Rocinha enjoys easy access to
rich Brazilians with a growing taste for cocaine processed in the slum.

To many in this beautiful, crime-plagued city, the bloody battle was
another painful reminder that entire neighborhoods have become war
zones. Official government forces are barely present in the slum, and
early-morning dance crowds include scores of teenagers carrying
automatic weapons.

"We're talking about a situation that is out of control, where the
violence feeds on itself and the poverty of the community," said
Marina Maggessi, the chief narcotics investigator for Rio de Janeiro
state police.

Bank teller Roberta Gomes said she'd hoped during the weeks of peace
before the Feb. 15 shootout that Rocinha finally had seen the end of
the gang wars that long had devastated the slum.

Like many of her neighbors, she'd expected a turf battle to erupt
quickly after police killed Rocinha's top gang boss, Erismar Rodrigues
Moreira, in October. As the Carnival holiday approached last month,
the peace still had held, and hope grew that the worst was over, Gomes

Many in the slum even allowed themselves to take pride in Rocinha's
samba school of musicians and dancers, which had made it into the
city's top Carnival parade for the first time in almost a decade.

The Red Commando assault shattered those hopes. "We don't see an end
to the violence now," Gomes said. "We are always expecting something
terrible to happen."

On the slum's tense streets this week, several people said Red
Commando was preparing another invasion. Members of Friends of
Friends, many of them boys in their teens, stood guard with pistols
and AK-47 rifles. Police made no effort to dispel them, though they
were just blocks away.

"The fighting always returns; that's something you learn living
here," resident Josie Ferreira said. "People who think it will stop
are fooling themselves."

The return of the gang wars wasn't the only bad news for Rocinha.
After finally making it into the main Carnival parade, the slum's
samba school turned in a disastrous performance, rating last in the
standings. School director Francisco Ferreira blamed the poor finish
on heavy rain and mechanical problems, including a float that briefly
caught fire. The school will be relegated to a smaller parade next

Perhaps it was just fate. The school's theme this year was
"Happiness has no price," and it warned of the corrupting
temptation of material riches, a potent message in a neighborhood in
which the promise of a quick buck lures many boys into the drug trade.
- ---
MAP posted-by: SHeath(DPF Florida)