Drug gangs rule favelas away from World Cup crackdown

By Shasta Darlington, CNN; May 29, 2014 — Updated 1945 GMT (0345 HKT)

Rio de Janeiro (CNN) — Women shake their hips seductively and children dance in flip-flops to booming electronic music while young men brandish pistols and the occasional assault rifle.

It’s just another funk party in one of the lawless favelas on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.

Since 2008, when authorities launched a so-called “pacification” effort, police have stormed dozens of slums to squeeze out criminal gangs and make the city safer for residents as well as the hundreds of thousands of tourists expected for the World Cup, which starts next month, and the 2016 Olympic Games.

Initially, police targeted shantytowns closest to tourist hot spots, the iconic favelas that cling to hills overlooking Copacabana and Ipanema.

But far from the sunny beaches and pretty promenades that line the coast, drug gangs still reign supreme.

Even during the day, the drug business is brisk and carried out in the open. Armed men, often just teenagers, stand watch at corners and communicate by radio as housewives, workers and children coming home from school walk by.

Sales are made from a plastic table erected on a corner, piled with little baggies of marijuana, hashish, cocaine, crack, even an inhalant containing ether. Money is stuffed in plastic containers.

The local dealers agree to talk while they carry on with their trade.

“What we sell most is the famous white powder, the 20-real hits,” says Jorge as he holds up little baggies of cocaine, worth about $8.

A hit of crack costs about $2 and a baggie of marijuana about $4.

They say most of their customers are locals, but they increasingly have more clients coming from Rio’s wealthier neighborhoods because of the heavier police presence there.

Jorge, 22 with bleached hair, wears board shorts and flip-flops and has an AR-15 slung over his shoulder.

“I was born in the middle of trafficking. I didn’t see any other alternative,” he says. “If I could choose a profession, I would be a fireman or a doctor.”

(Read the remainder of this article at: http://edition.cnn.com/2014/05/29/world/americas/brazil-drug-gangs-world-cup/index.html?hpt=ila_c2