One of Rio’s most wanted drug kingpins has been arrested in a massive security operation, raising questions about how his capture might affect criminal dynamics in Brazil's second-largest city.
Rogério Avelino da Silva, alias “Rogério 157,” was arrested by security forces during a December 6 operation involving some 3,000 soldiers and police officers, the Rio State Security Secretariat said in a press release.
Cristiana Bento, one of the police detectives who coordinated Rogério’s arrest, told the Guardian that “the arrest was very important to dismantle organized crime.”
Police officers present during Rogério’s arrest told O Globo that the criminal leader had been under surveillance. Authorities made the arrest when Rogério fled from a safe house where he was under bodyguard protection and attempted to hide in a home in the Parque Arará neighborhood.
Rogério 157, nicknamed for Brazil’s penal code for armed robberies, was wanted on charges of homicide, extortion and drug trafficking. Authorities had offered a $15,000 reward for information leading to his arrest, following accusations that he sparked a recent turf war for control over the drug trade in Rocinha, one of the city's largest marginalized neighborhoods known in Brazil as "favelas."
The outbreak of violence in Rocinha in September was linked to a feud between Rogério and his former boss, Antonio Francisco Bonfim Lopes, alias “Nem.”
Nem, who was arrested in 2011, continues to run the Amigos dos Amigos gang, which controls drug trafficking operations in Rocinha. The turf war apparently erupted when Rogério, Nem’s former bodyguard, broke from the ranks of Amigos dos Amigos and joined forces with the Red Command (Comando Vermelho), one of Brazil’s most powerful criminal networks.
Rogério reportedly had been altering his appearance to avoid arrest and unsuccessfully attempted to bribe police officers to release him from custody. Several police officers, whom a supervisor described as pumped up on “adrenaline” following the high-profile arrest, posted “selfies” with the captured criminal leader on social media.
Bento told O Globo that Rogério will be transferred to a maximum security prison in the Rio neighborhood of Gericinó within a day. The detective also said that a request will be filed to transfer him to a federal prison outside of Rio de Janeiro state.
InSight Crime Analysis
While Rio authorities have hailed Rogério’s arrest as a win in the fight against organized crime, experts told InSight Crime that his capture is unlikely to disrupt existing criminal control over Rocinha, and could lead to further violent turf wars.
Desmond Arias, an associate professor at George Mason University, told InSight Crime that although Rio authorities perceive Rogério’s arrest as a “successful operation against someone who is making a lot of trouble in the city,” this type of targeted action against an individual will do little to help security forces regain territorial control or stop systematic violence in Rocinha.
“Rocinha has a history of just this type of split” between rival gang factions due to the favela’s size and strategic significance for drug dealing and other illicit activities, Arias said, noting that the Red Command and the Amigos dos Amigos have sparred for control over this area in the past.
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Júlio Altieri from the security consultancy firm Amarante told InSight Crime that Amigos dos Amigos and the Red Command will likely maintain their areas of criminal control in Rio’s largest favela for the foreseeable future.
According to Altieri, major turf wars are unlikely as long as soldiers and police officers continue to occupy Rocinha and media attention remains fixed there. However, he warned that territorial battles could resume after security forces pull out of Rocinha or if one of the rival criminal groups can successfully co-opt authorities.
According to Altieri, Rogério, like his former boss and current rival Nem, is likely to continue exerting control over the disputed territory from prison. Rogério’s power will stem in large part from his relationship with the Red Command, one of Brazil’s oldest and strongest criminal networks, which runs its illicit activities from inside the country’s penitentiaries.
Altieri noted that the Red Command has the largest stockpile of weapons, money and territory of any criminal group in Rio, currently controlling almost every favela in Rio’s south zone.
Amigos dos Amigos on the other hand “are not at their best moment,” he said. The criminal group has been slowly losing its foothold in some of the favelas they once controlled and has been increasingly seeking support from other local gangs.
On the other hand, Arias cast some doubt on Rogério’s ability to run operations from prison due to his recent change in gang loyalty. According to Arias, Rogério’s continuing control hinges on “his relative strength within the Red Command and how much they are willing to go to bat for him,” as well as his popularity on the ground in Rocinha.
A resident of Rocinha who spoke anonymously to the Guardian echoed Altieri's and Arias’ predictions, saying “when these guys are jailed there is no interruption to their command. People are worried because the war in Rocinha has not ended with 157’s arrest. And the unfolding of this arrest will be more confrontation, more dispute for territory.”