Brazilian police expressed "euphoria" Wednesday after capturing one of Rio de Janeiro's most wanted alleged drug trafficking bosses in a rare high-profile success for the city's beleaguered security forces.
The arrest of the man known to most by his nickname "Rogerio 157" came after months of failed attempts. Nearly 3,000 police backed by army troops were involved in the operation in Rio's northern zone, authorities said.
He is accused of drug trafficking, extortion and murder.
Immediately after, police officers toting rifles took selfies alongside the accused man, sparking controversy. Several officers grinned or laughed in the photos and in one of them "Rogerio 157" is also grinning.
Rio state security chief Roberto Sa told Globo television that the celebrations, which analysts said broke police regulations, must be put in context.
"We have to understand the euphoria and reprimand any kind of attitude that could glamorize these types of criminals," he said.
One of the officers who took part in the arrest, Gabriel Ferrando, called the arrest "a victory for Rio."
"Rogerio 157," whose real name is Rogerio Avelino da Silva, was paraded before journalists handcuffed and wearing blue jeans and a black T-shirt with the words "wild spirit" written upside down.
As the alleged crime boss of the huge Rocinha favela, da Silva was one of the most powerful underworld figures in the 2016 Summer Olympics host city.
Da Silva had been especially high on the wanted list since September, when his gunmen engaged in street fighting with loyalists of a jailed rival trafficking boss nicknamed "Nem" for control of Rocinha.
The violence, in which residents filmed gang members firing automatic weapons in the narrow streets of the favela, as poor neighborhoods are known, prompted deployment of more than 1,000 police and soldiers with armored cars and helicopters. Da Silva slipped away.
A $15,000 reward was offered for information leading to his arrest. But the seeming ease with which he then eluded police special forces and heavily armed military units only highlighted the authorities' weakness against narco gangs running the favelas.
"I want to congratulate the police for an arrest that is so important for our society," Sa told a press conference.
- Gangsters' high life -
Well over 100 police officers have been killed this year in Rio de Janeiro state, a toll likened by experts to that of a war zone.
Over the years, Rio authorities have tried multiple strategies to bring order to the favelas, where almost a quarter of the population lives.
These range from building new public housing to get people away from the cramped alleyways typical of places like Rocinha, to erecting tourist-friendly cable cars, or going for brute force with troops on the streets and police raids often leading to allegations of serious human rights abuses.
None of the policies has resolved the underlying problems of poverty, lack of basic services like sewage systems, and daily insecurity. With police unable even to patrol safely, local gangs running drug trafficking and mafia-like protection rackets fill the vacuum.
In Rocinha, a community of teeming, colored houses on a hillside overlooking a rich area of southern Rio, da Silva ruled more like a warlord than mere drug dealer, according to Brazilian media.
Police photos published in Globo newspaper claim to show his luxury house in the dirt-poor neighborhood, complete with an enormous wall-mounted television and a hydromassage device.
Pictures taken in residences of other alleged drug chiefs after they were arrested or went on the run also show jacuzzis, home gyms, rooftop barbecues and other comforts in stark contrast to the hardscrabble conditions faced by their favela neighbors.
According to media reports, da Silva's current problems began when he attempted to shake off the authority of his jailed former Rocinha boss "Nem," whose real name is Antonio Bonfim Lopes, and who still reportedly exercises considerable control from behind bars.
This, Brazilian media say, angered "Nem," who ordered gunmen to try and oust "Rogerio 157," leading to mayhem in the favela and the decision by the authorities to clamp down.