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Rio’s Governor Joins Police on Operation From the Air

By C.H. Gardiner

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A helicopter ride from Rio de Janeiro to the resort town of Angra dos Reis used to be typical for rich and famous Cariocas escaping the city to beachfront villas.

Governor Wilson Witzel inspects illegal arms seized by police during an operation in Rio de Janeiro. (Photo: Rio Governor's Office)
Governor Wilson Witzel inspects illegal arms seized by police during an operation in Rio de Janeiro. (Photo: Rio Governor’s Office)

But this Saturday, Rio’s Governor Wilson Witzel flew the same route in the Civil Police’s armored helicopter to participate in what authorities said was a reconnaissance mission targeting drug gangs that dominate the area.

Via social media, Witzel said that this was the start of a new operation aimed at eliminating organized crime in Angra. In the video, he can be seen sitting next to police from the state civil police, as well as the mayor of Angra dos Reis Fernando Jordão.

“We’re going to put an end to the criminality that is terrorizing this city. The mess is done. We’re going to clean up the house,” Witzel said in the video posted to his Instagram account.

Local residents reported gunfire in several neighborhoods, and a video shared on social media shows the helicopter overflying Angra and firing. Jordão told Brazilian paper O Dia that the aircraft was targeting a stand used to sell drugs and that no one was hurt.

In the past, the use of the helicopter has been criticized by human rights groups who say that shooting from a mobile platform is inaccurate. Last year, during an operation in the neighborhood of Jacarezinho, a local police base was nearly hit by gunfire allegedly originating from the helicopter.

Angra dos Reis has for years been a tourist destination and an escape for Rio de Janeiro’s wealthy. But in 2014, drug gangs from the capital started moving into the area.

Governor Wilson Witzel in the Civil Police's helicopter. (Photo: Wilson Witzel Instagram)
Governor Wilson Witzel in the Civil Police’s helicopter. (Photo: Wilson Witzel Instagram)

With several factions competing in a violent war for territory, insecurity has risen dramatically. According to Rio de Janeiro’s Institute of Public Security, between 2016 and 2018, the number of violent deaths in Angra has doubled.

In September of 2017, English tourist Heloise Dixon mistakenly entered into the Angra community of Água Santa with her husband and two kids and was shot twice in the stomach.

The seaside town also came to the attention of authorities in December of last year when investigators found that the vehicle driven by the killers of Councilwoman Marielle Franco used fake plates manufactured by a gang from Angra.

Witzle ran for Governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro on a platform of being hard on crime. Since then he has been working hard to cultivate a tough guy image, appearing in videos exercising and singing march cadences with the states’ special operation unit, the BOPE.

Earlier in the year, soldiers from that unit told the Rio Times that the Governor had encouraged them to take a more proactive role in targeting criminals.

Critics of the Governor have stated that he has essentially given police a license to kill. Although crime in the state is down, compared with the previous years, the number of fatal shootings by police have increased.

The Civil Police did not release any information regarding results from the operation that Governor Witzel observed.

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