Brazil’s president offered on Monday nearly $60 million in federal money to help Rio de Janeiro police combat drug gangs after 17 people were killed in weekend violence that raised questions over the city’s ability to safely host the 2016 Olympics.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva spoke to Rio state Governor Sergio Cabral to offer the 100 million reais ($58.3 million) and the use of Brazil’s National Security Force, a federal police force that can be called in to boost security.
“Whatever the governor wants, we are ready to make all sacrifices to clean up the mess that these people impose on Brazil and the world,” Lula said in a speech in Sao Paulo.
A turf battle on Saturday between hundreds of drug traffickers from rival gangs plunged Rio into a weekend of violence, with drug dealers shooting down a police helicopter over the “Hill of Monkeys” slum and setting at least eight buses set on fire.
Two police officers died when the aircraft exploded after crash landing and a third died in hospital on Monday from severe burns suffered in the crash.
Fourteen civilians have been killed, among them 12 suspected drug traffickers killed by the police and each other.
The violence left parts of the city resembling a war zone only two weeks after Rio was awarded the 2016 Olympics following a slick campaign that downplayed security problems and portrayed a joyful city of beaches and Carnival.
Rio, which will also host matches during the 2014 World Cup, beat out competition from Chicago, Tokyo and Madrid to become the first South American city to host the games.
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“We still have a lot to do, we have a long way to go and what happened this weekend showed that,” Rio’s Mayor Eduardo Paes said at an event in London on Monday
“We are sure by 2016 we will deliver the games and hopefully in a way that the city will be more peaceful and secure for all our citizens,” he said.
Former union leader Lula rejected the idea that the solution to Rio’s violence was to liberalize drug laws.
“We need to be harder and make people consume less,” he said.
Part of the federal funds would go toward buying an armored helicopter, Cabral said. The helicopter destroyed over the weekend was only partly bullet proof.
Hundreds of police invaded several slums on Monday, some just a few miles from where Olympic events will be held. Military police guarded the entrance of the Jacarezinho slum where buses were burned on Saturday, while troops with dogs searched the community for suspects and drugs.
“We intend to take in the drug traffickers who directly or indirectly were part of the helicopter attack,” said Major Oderlei Santos, a spokesman for the military police.
The O Globo newspaper reported Rio police intelligence sources as saying that the initial invasion of the “Hill of Monkeys” slum by traffickers was ordered by gang leaders in a prison in the state of Parana.
That would echo a wave of violence in Sao Paulo in 2006 when a powerful prison gang orchestrated attacks on police that paralyzed the financial capital and left hundreds dead.