About 2,700 members of Brazil's security forces on Saturday occupied a slum complex that sits along two highways connecting Rio's international airport to its main tourist zone.
The dawn operation met little resistance and is a part of the city's five-year-old "pacification" policing program, which has established permanent police units in select slums, or favelas, ahead of this year's World Cup soccer tournament, which Brazil is hosting.
The permanent patrols are meant to avoid the violence that has resulted from periodic police raids to combat drug trafficking in the favelas. But the pacification program has encountered difficulties in recent months, as police units have been fired on and some officers have been accused of abuses against the local residents.
The decision to send Brazil's armed forces into the favela, the Complexo da Mare, on Saturday came after the beleaguered Rio de Janeiro state government requested assistance from the federal government. Rio's state police had occupied the favela a week before the military occupation, which is expected to last until at least late July. The government says it will then replace the troops with a police unit.
The current occupation is reminiscent of a similar move in 2010, when federal troops took over a favela called Complexo do Alemao after a series of violent events shook the city. In that case, Brazil's military ended up occupying the favela for more than a year before the police were ready to form a unit there.
Critics say this occupation is a political move intended to impress voters nervous about security ahead of elections for governor and president this fall.
Even as armored tanks rolled slowly through the residential streets of the Complexo da Mare, where more than 100,000 people live, the neighborhood was relatively peaceful on Saturday morning. Residents shopped at a fresh food fair and played soccer next to patrols of armed soldiers. Some residents said they planned to hold a protest against the occupation, but others expressed guarded optimism about it.
"I used to get home in the early morning and there would be dance parties and gunshots," said Maria Goncalves de Sousa, 35, a janitor at a restaurant who said the presence of the troops made her less fearful. But she added that the governor "has his eyes on the World Cup," which will begin in June. "Here we are near the airport and Brazil Avenue, where all the tourists go through."
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