Rio drug gang exposed by grandmother's video

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The Independent US

A Brazilian grandmother has been heralded as a hero after taking on drug dealers in her Rio slum neighbourhood with a hand-held video camera, recording their activities and uncovering a ring of corrupt policemen.

The 80-year-old, known only as Dona Vitoria, spent two years shooting a home-made documentary of drug traffickers in the Ladeira dos Tabajaras favela through the curtains of her Copacabana apartment.

This week police in Rio made 20 arrests, including nine policemen, after Dona Vitoria provided them with 33 hours of footage showing dealings between the teenage traffickers and military police in the notorious shanty town.

Hidden in her small flat, where she had lived for 38 years, the grandmother secretly filmed groups of heavily armed teenagers patrolling Tabajaras' open-air drug markets and touting automatic weapons on the steep slopes of the favela. In one scene, narrated by Dona Vitoria, she says: "Look at this - the future of Brazil. It's not possible ... that these children are sniffing coke and nobody does anything about it." The conflicts that rage in many of Rio's 600 shantytowns are no secret. Since the 1980s a steady stream of weaponry has found its way into the city's hilltop favelas, fuelling disputes between three main drug factions: the Comando Vermelho (CV), the Terceiro Comando (TC) and the Amigos dos Amigos (ADA).

Yet most people, especially those who live in the breezeblock slums, prefer to keep quiet in accordance with the lei da favela (laws of the favela) imposed by the traffickers.

"I'm blind, deaf and dumb," one Tabajaras resident told The Independent, when it visited the community, which straddles the mountain between the beachside locales of Copacabana and Botafogo.

"I've never had so much as a slap in the face [from the traffickers] because I keep my mouth shut." Just metres up the road two teenage "soldiers" sat slumped against a concrete wall, 9mm revolvers poking conspicuously from their belts. In daylight, the pair were busy dividing heaps of cocaine into £1.15 and £2.30 packets. Their two-way radios buzzed constantly with news from other parts of the favela. Concrete slabs had been placed in the road to prevent police incursions.

"It's pó do Comando (cocaine of the CV or Red Command drugs faction). The best you can get in Rio," they explained, sitting on the steep ladeira, a shortcut used frequently by Emperor Dom Pedro during the 19th century. Further up the street more young men, all with rifles, stood staring out over the sprawling city.

Dona Vitoria preferred to speak out, handing 22 tapes of footage over to the police, showing boys - some as young as 10 - carrying machine guns and using and selling drugs. Following Dona Vitoria's tip-off police spent three months listening in to phone conversations between traffickers and corrupt police officers, in which they negotiated protection. This week authorities pounced on the drug traffickers who, they say, shift around £11,600 worth of cocaine each week.

"My soul is calm," said Dona Vitoria. "This is what I battled for. I knew there would be a good outcome. I feel fulfilled, it was all worthwhile. The policemen arrested aren't fit to wear their uniform; they used it to commit evil. They sold arms to the bandits, which were used to murder people. We cannot accept this."

Rio's authorities were quick to praise the budding filmmaker. "This is the path to victory: integration between the security secretariat, the police and citizens," said the state security secretary, Marcelo Itagiba. "People need to understand that drug users make up part of the chain that feeds drug trafficking and criminality."

But other experts are unconvinced. Marcelo Freixo, of human rights group Justica Global, believes that Brazil's vast social problems mean that arresting Rio's young drug traffickers will make little difference to the cocaine industry as a whole. "The overwhelming majority of the drug lords and 'soldiers' who act in the favelas are young and getting even younger," said Mr Freixo. "This leads to the constant and easy substitution of such people."