More than 1,400 police officers and Brazilian Marines rolled into a massive complex of slums near Rio de Janeiro's international airport before dawn today in the latest security push ahead of this year's World Cup. Not a shot was fired as the Mare complex of 15 slums became the latest impoverished area to see security forces invade in an effort to push out heavily armed drug gangs that have ruled Rio's shantytowns for decades. In the coming days, army soldiers will begin patrolling the virtually treeless, flat area of about two square miles in northern Rio that hugs the main road to the airport and is home to about 130,000 people.
Security forces will eventually set up permanent posts in Mare as part of the "pacification" program that began in 2008 and is meant to secure Rio ahead of the World Cup and also the 2016 Summer Olympics. Police have installed 37 such posts in recent years in an area covering 1.5 million people. In recent months, gangs have brazenly attacked police outposts in other shantytowns on orders from imprisoned gang leaders who want to stymie the spread of "pacified" slums. "This had to happen and it's about time," said one longtime resident. "We've needed to clean up this neighborhood for so long, but we've always been ignored." Over the arc of the 5-year-old "pacification" program, shootouts in the affected slums are unquestionably down. But many residents complain of heavy-handed police tactics. "Those of us who live here are stuck between the gangs and the police," says a 15-year-old girl. "We don't know who is really going to control this place." (Read more Brazil stories.)