Stratfor Parachutes in on Rio Militias


“Rio: Where does the danger live?” Caros Amigos coverage still offers more insight than the parachute X-9s, I think.

The Stratfor intel newswire — always an interesting read — on Rio militias (March 30).

I will try to annotate.

Illegal militias control more than 80 of the approximate 600 slums, known as favelas, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Beginning in the 1980s, the militias ran out drug traffickers and criminal gangs in many favelas. The militias, which have gained prominence in recent months, not only contribute to Rio’s unstable security environment, but also could develop into shadow governments or even competitors to the real state and city governments.

“Beginning in the 1980s, the militias ran out drug traffickers and criminal gangs in many favelas.” That statement surprises me. What’s your source on that? However, it is my general understanding — reading between the lines, per speculum enigmitate — that these organizations do go back more than a decade, or further.

It’s just that most [English-language] press reports describe them as recent developments.

According to conventional wisdom in the Brazilian press — but no one ever sources the number, and Rio state public safety folks refused to vouch for it — the number of favelas with milita presence is about 100.

I would say there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that “development into shadow governments or even competitors” has already happened, and that we may have moved beyond that during the Garotinho years into a state of full-fledged — or half-fledged, or considerably well-fledged, at any rate — parapolitics.

Also not a development that has cropped up in the last few months.

Just because a militia or a death squad operated in a shantytowns and the press did not notice it does not mean that bystanders and people guilty of breathing while black did not get their heads blown off. 50,000 people in the last 8 years or so, one reads.

The thing to watch now is the degree to which parapolitical groups wield influence within the “real” state and city governments.

There is a parapolitical angle here that is deeply rooted and long established. We await details.

The militias — not the government — provide social services, utilities and justice for the tens of thousands of people living in the favelas. They run off drug traffickers and criminal gangs and provide protection for a nominal “tax”; mototaxi operators, for example, pay approximately $10 a week, and merchants, depending on the size of their businesses, pay up to $25 a week. The militias even provide cable television, electricity, garbage pickup and water to the favelas by siphoning off local utilities — again, for a fee.

See, e.g., Rio: GatoNet Goes Dark; Alleged Militia Chieftain Netted.

In reality, the militias are not much different than the gangs they replace in the favelas; both operate outside the law, and both finance themselves through protection rackets and other “taxes.” To the favela residents though, the militias are more benevolent. Because the militias provide services the city and state governments are unwilling or unable to, they are popular with favela residents. In many ways, they act as de facto governments, sometimes with constituencies of between 40,000 and 60,000, depending on the favela.

This seems wrongly stated to me. My sense is that drug gangs do not principally live by taxing residents of the “hillsides.” Or did not used to, anyway. Maybe they are changing their business model.

They make money by selling blow and crack to the “asphalt.” This is a retail business geared to the, er, alt.leisure industry.

They do not tend to provide services.

They tend to take whatever the fuck they want from and do whatever the fuck they want to whomever they want. Caco Barcellos has a book, O Dono do Santa Marta, that you ought to have a read of. For one thing, it makes an intriguing case story in the ethical quagmire that can result in becoming part of the story in return for access.

They have lately tried to emulate the militias in the “service area” — a Vigário Geral group even says it will follow the official Penal Code in its kangaroo courts, I read — but they have a ways to go with that rebranding project, I think.

We need to account for evidence, however, that militias likewise do not live by “taxes” alone, but by running organized crime enterprises themselves, with political cover from “law and order” legislators.

See also “Militia Laundered Money”: From the Rio Roundup and Rio’s Brave New World: Miranda on the Militia Melee in the Cidade Maravilha.

Some militia commanders are very powerful and, like the city’s gangs, could make problems for city and state governments. Although the militias are illegal, the government cannot do much about them. They are often led by off-duty or retired police, security forces members, firemen and even local politicians. The leaders’ status lets them avoid disciplinary action for their involvement in the militias and protect their militia members from such actions.

Again, what all those jobs have in common is that they are subject to military rather than civilian justice, while politicians — many of them former military police who have stood for office, like Ubiratã “The Butcher of Carandiru” Guimarães in Sâo Paulo. See Sampa: Military Police Under the Gun.

Militias are more prominent in Rio’s favelas then they are in those of Sao Paulo, mainly because of the differences among the cities’ police forces, favelas and criminal organizations. Police in Rio are not as well-paid as those in Sao Paulo, and more of them reside in favelas. Living in the favelas endangers policemen, who are often there alongside the very criminals they pursue; however, they have no choice because they are too poor to live elsewhere. This causes them to join together for mutual protection, becoming a de facto militia — something the favela residents, who want protection from criminal gangs and drug traffickers, encourage. The Rio police also have a reputation for being more corrupt than the Sao Paulo police; thus, they have better mechanisms for participating in illegal militias without fear of disciplinary action.

Really? I am not so sure about that analysis.

Define “prominence.”

Reputation is not reality, and the fact is that the military may have a lot more friends helping them with their, ahem, press relations in São Paulo.

Again, just because the Jornal Nacional does not report it does not mean that it does not exist.

Malufism lives. Brazilian journalists regularly have their work censored and spiked by media bosses.

It is true that São Paulo cops do not tend to live in shantytowns.

But I think there is a similar dynamic of vigilante justice — in São Paulo these take the form of roving death squads, whom you saw openly displaying their t-shirts on the floor of the state assembly during last May’s crisis with the PCC — linked to non-drug vice rackets.

In Rio, the favelas are scattered throughout the metropolitan area, whereas in Sao Paulo they are mainly on the city’s periphery.

Important point that, yes. PM activities on the periferia are less visible and therefore less subject to public scrutiny, because stray bullets do not often kill lawyers and real estate brokers in adjoining bairros nobres.

Somewhere in this black-box situation is the explanation why the PCC is, I tend to think, a lot more violent, militant and organized than Rio drug gangs.

It is, I think, a lot more sophisticated, a lot more diversified, and a lot more strategic in its actions. Not overwhelmingly so, however: Low-level employees tend to bungle. Although it occasionally thinks about doing Colombian-style shit like carbombing the Bovespa, as we read two or three years back. The car bomb got stuck in the usual nightmare traffic, had a flat, and got caught. Or so one read at the time.

The Rio favelas’ locations make them ideal points of sale for narcotics — many members of the city’s middle class and elite go to the favelas for drugs. Therefore, the favelas are very valuable to gangs like Red Command (Comando Vermelho, or CV) and are constantly fought over. These turf wars give the militias something to protect the favela residents against.

And the Amigos de Amigaos, yes, those are the two main groups that you read about. There is a third faction emerging, one reads.

What you do not read about are the non-narc vice rackets, however. The grey-market sin-tourism economy, as it were.

In Sao Paulo, the criminal gang First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital, or PCC) controls much of the crime in the area. It is a well-organized gang that operates mainly in the state’s prisons — where its power and money come from, and where most of its leaders reside. PCC arranges drug supplies for small vendors that do the retail sales, and sponsors bank robbers and other criminals in exchange for a cut. Because of this, PCC is not as interested in controlling territory as are the gangs in Rio. The Rio gangs control favelas because they use them as fortresses, from within which they pursue their criminal activities.

Generally true. Sâo Paulo is more like L.A., to Rio’s New York. It is a centerless, sprawling automobile-driven wasteland, only with catastrophic flooding and capyvaras.

Crime is mobile, hostile, agile.

The militias might make individual favelas more secure, but they make Rio’s overall security climate more unstable. When a militia clashes with a gang or tries to take territory from a gang, repercussions can be felt outside the favela. Because many of the militias’ leaders are police and local politicians, gangs often target them for assassination. These assassinations can then trigger massive police responses, with the gangs retaliating against police on the streets of Rio.

Yes, that begins to get at the dynamic.

In the first half of March, CV engaged the Rio police in an undeclared war, killing more than a dozen police officers on and off duty in the space of a week. These attacks were in response to a raid in the favela Complexo do Alemao, where police seized a cache of CV weapons. The raid was part of a series of operations against the gangs in the favelas, which caused the CV to lose significant territory.

Local authorities with some credibility are denying that this was a concerted, coordinated campaign by the CV. Does Stratfor know something we do not?

See also Rio: “Rumors” and Rumblings Over Militia Mishegaas.

The militias are gaining prominence and power in Rio’s slums. Eventually, they could be tempted to leave the favelas and exert their control over more affluent parts of Rio. To prevent their influence from spreading further, state and city governments would have to disband existing militias and prevent other favelas from being occupied. There also would need to be a system to effectively punish the police officers involved in the militias. However, given the economic realities in Rio, the climate of corruption within the security forces and the lack of government control in the favelas, this fix will be very hard to achieve

That is true. It will be hard.

We keep waiting to see what the state-federal FNSP program is going to come up with in this respect.

The idea behind this phase of the integrated national public safety plan there is to vet and retrain local police for joint operations, while the federal police work on busting official corruption, interstate smuggling and trafficking, white-collar fronts, political and judicial cover, and things like that.

Federal money flows to states that agree to participate. That is the carrot.

Federal police operations like Anaconda — judges with their tongues down the throat of some organized crime operations of legendary proportions, in Alagoas and elsewhere — are the stick.

Alagoas — talk about your temporary autonomous zones — recently activated a similar arrangement.

This double filtration is supposed to produce a cleaner, more professional force. Labor reforms for civilian government personnel is also an important component.

Which is why you saw a 24-hour strike by the Federal Police last week, for example.

Military personnel, who tend to get kicked out on the street with nothing to do — which is why you have ex-elite paratroopers working for the traffic and fielding some kickass and expensive insurgent-grade weaponry — are supposed to be able to find better opportunity in civilian policing.

But as to putting more professional cops in community policing roles in the shantytowns in the short to midterm, yes, that does seem to be a tough one.

See, e.g., “The Army Will Not Patrol the Streets of Rio de Janeiro”: Pan-American Games Edition and Brazil: What Is the FNSP?

Grade: C+. The general account of the bad actors is not bullshit.

A discussion of the options for the good guys is kind of MIA, I tend to think. To the extent that I know anything.

Let me comment more later.

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