Photo: Antonio Bonfim Lopes
Antonio Bonfim Lopes, reputed boss of the drug gang that controls the sprawling Rio slum of Rocinha, was arrested by Brazilian police in the wee hours of Thursday.
Lopes, known as “Nem,” was taken to prison in an armored vehicle and streets were closed to traffic as the police convoy made its way through Brazil’s second-largest city.
“It is a victory for everyone,” the commander of the Rio de Janeiro state police, Col. Erir Ribeiro Costa Filho, said of the arrest, while state Gov. Sergio Cabral announced that security forces will move into Rocinha on Sunday to re-establish the rule of law.
Lopes was apprehended after a car carrying two of his men was stopped at a police checkpoint in Lagoa, an affluent area neighboring Rocinha.
Claiming to be employees of the Congolese Consulate in Rio, the two men invoked diplomatic immunity and refused to allow a search of the vehicle, Costa Filho said.
Cops then escorted the car to the regional headquarters of the Federal Police, where the men’s story was checked and found to be false.
Police searched the car and discovered Lopes hiding in the trunk.
Lopes and his men offered the police up to 1 million reais ($571,000) to release them, Costa Filho said.
“The detainee arrived at police headquarters apparently calm and aware of his situation,” Victor Poubel of the Federal Police told a press conference. “Later, he called his mother to tell her he had been arrested and asked that his children be taken to school today.”
Authorities started preparing days ago for the planned occupation of Rocinha, a “favela” of some 70,000 people perched on hilltops amid several upscale neighborhoods.
As the siege tightened, five suspected drug dealers and an equal number of retired and active-duty police thought to be working for the traffickers were arrested as they tried to flee Rocinha.
Security forces have driven drug gangs out of a score of Rio favalas since late 2008 as part of a strategy that calls for the permanent stationing of large police units in the reclaimed areas.
In each case, the occupation has been preceded by raids to arrest dealers and seize drugs and guns, a measure aimed at averting deadly shootouts when the main body of the police arrive.
With Rio de Janeiro set to serve as a venue for the 2014 soccer World Cup and to host the 2016 Olympics, Brazilian authorities are anxious to end the drug gangs’ dominance in the favelas and bring crime under control.