As police move in on Rio’s favelas, a drug lord seeks amnesty


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RIO DE JANEIRO -– As authorities move to bring some of Rio de Janeiro’s worst slums under their control, the leader of a powerful drug-trafficking gang there has said he wants to turn over his weapons and the territory he commands to the Brazilian government in exchange for amnesty.

Marcelo Piloto, head of the Comando Vermelho, or Red Command, gang in the Mandela favela in northern Rio, said that he and many other drug traffickers would be eager to take advantage of a voluntary demobilization program similar to that available to leftist guerrillas in Colombia.

“I’d do whatever it takes to get some kind of amnesty,” the heavily armed leader said in an interview on his home turf recently. “Any way I can pay my debt to society.”

The offer took on more urgency this week, when authorities in Rio announced they would invade and retake the favela that Piloto controls Sunday. In the past, they’ve entered with tanks and helicopters to reclaim a small number of the more than 1,000 favelas in the city that until recently had been out of the reach of the state.

Drug gangs still dominate many of the city’s slums, but over the last few years security forces have begun a process of “pacification.” Police continue to expand their control, and many believe they could eventually take back the whole city.


“Many, many drug traffickers are saying they want amnesty,” said Jose Junior, head of AfroReggae, a favela-based cultural organization that has worked with traffickers to turn themselves over. “But amnesty doesn’t exist in Brazil. What exists at the moment is that there are benefits for those who turn themselves rather than being caught.”

According to a website belonging to Rio police, Piloto is wanted and a reward of thousands of dollars is offered for his capture. His current whereabouts are unknown.


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--Vincent Bevins