Police announced the killing of one of Rio de Janeiro's most wanted drug traffickers, sparking mixed reactions in the neighborhoods he once ruled and opening a new power void in the city.
Marcio Jose Sabino Pereira, alias "Matematico," was reported injured late Friday night during a joint operation by federal, state, and military police. While he escaped the resulting shootout with several accomplices in a damaged car, his body was found Saturday in the trunk of another vehicle.
This was the tenth operation intended to result in Matematico's capture since police began hunting the suspected kingpin five months ago, according to a report by the Agencia Brasil news service. Civil Police Deputy Chief of Operations Fernando Velloso told Agencia Brasil the operation was an attempt to arrest, not kill, Matematico.
"We're not going there to kill anybody," he said. "We're going to hold [them]. But those who offer resistance in the face of the state may find that they lose. We have the power and we're going to use it. There are others [in the gang] who may think they will ascend to a more privileged position. Maybe they will ascend. Or maybe they will stop in the same place [Matematico] did today."
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A report by news website R7 noted that so far, Rio's Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) program has spared the trafficker's territory, which may explain why Matematico was reportedly able to control more than a dozen Rio neighborhoods. But his death at the hands of police is one indication that the security forces have maintained a keen interest in targeting his organization, the Third Pure Command (TCP), which suffered several major blows in the past year.
Two key TCP lieutenants were arrested in April. One of them was in charge of a kidnapping scheme -- which involved taking relatives of bank employees hostage -- in order to finance an attempted invasion of the Vila Kennedy neighborhood, Red Command (CV) territory long coveted by Matematico. April also saw the arrest of a top accountant for the TCP and the arrest of one of Matematico's girlfriends.
The news of Matematico's death brought mixed reactions throughout Rio. A rival from the Vila Kennedy neighborhood was arrested by police on his way to a party to celebrate the kingpin's death. On the other hand, flowers and messages of sympathy were left at Matematico's grave in the Jardim da Saudade cemetery. One of them carried a threat promising that "who betrayed [Matematico] will pay," an apparent reference to rumors that one TCP gang member placed a GPS tracking device on Matematico's car, allowing the security forces to find and kill him. According to the R7 news website, this rumor has not been confirmed by police.
Now the threat is that Matematico's death could create a dangerous power vacuum in Rio, precipitating a violent power grab by his former subordinates and rivals. Rio has precedents for this kind of conflict; when Friends of Friends (ADA) boss Nem was arrested in late 2011, the Rocinha neighborhood he once ruled erupted in violence.