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Softly, With a Big Stick | Rio’s Militias Today


Add to the necessary new readings list:

This book is the result of research performed by the State University of Rio de Janeiro’s Violence Laboratory, with support from the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

The objective of this study is to trace the evolution of the militia phenomenon in Rio de Janeiro, documenting changes to their structure and composition, tracing their territorial extent, and analyzing their profitability, their modus operandi, their perceived legitimacy and their community relations.

As the title suggests — no sapatinho means “wearing baby booties” or, if you will, walking softly with your big stick — these parapolitical groups have adjusted their management practices and continue to thrive.

The following video is a brief subtitled report by local TV on the release of the report.

The most striking aspect of the study is its pessimism:

It has to be understood that the militia is a phenomenon that can no longer be extinguished. The militia is here to stay. Unfortunately, the  militia is an evolution of longstanding criminal activities by police in which police agents have simply decided to eliminate the middleman and take over the business..

These assumptions are fundamental if the militia is to be combated. It must be understood as permanent and implacable, that there is no way to eradicate it, that its bosses are far from foolish, that the enemy is better organized and much better prepared that is the drug traffic.

All very well and good, but the notion that militias are organized criminals who just say no to Bolivian marching powder is an urban legend — albeit a common one over the years. Former mayor Ceśar Maia used to trot it out constantly while staunchly defending the “lesser evil” hypothesis.

Less pessimistic analysts advocate a sizable push by federal police and other federal authorities against these groups — think Dillinger and Hoover.

The first step when attacking a militia would be a «shock of socialization», showing residents that the State can be relied upon, that they will receive infrastructure in their communities, and that from here on out the police will be more reliable.

The shock of the social would probable continue the strategy of the UPPs — the Pacification Units — recently installed in Rio shantytowns as permanent police infrastructure, and undergoing evaluation as we speak.

If an attempt to reassert a militia occupation is made, residents will have improved access to trustworthy state agents.

An initial attempt at providing such a mechanism, a «Dial-a-Militia» anonymous hot line — has it been a success?

As explained above, this was an anonymous hotline created by the state assembly’s  commission of inquiry –CPI –into the militias. It operated between July and November of 2008.

Although the commission reported receiving 1,162 calls, the database to which we had access logged only  849, and it is not clear from the means of categorizing calls that all such calls were complaints … In any event, this database illustrates the kinds of complaints received by this channel for a brief period.


Above: comparison of “Dial-a Militia” complaints with the general anonymous tip line in metro Rio.

This graphic confirms that the implementation of Disque-Milícia parallels a decline in the number of criminal complaints. It seems likely that persons felt more confident complaining to an organization specifically set up to deal with militias, or that they thought that the CPI would be a more efficient anti-militia resource than it actually was.

Crimes reported to the Disque-Milícia line, most common to least — I apologize, I haven’t mastered tables in WordPress …

  1. Extortion
  2. Threats
  3. Homicide
  4. Voter coercion
  5. Others
  6. Protection rackets
  7. Black market cable TV
  8. Politicians with militia ties
  9. Black market cooking gas
  10. Kidnapping
  11. Assault
  12. Property claim-jumping
  13. Loan sharking
  14. Illegal evictions
  15. Drug traffic
  16. Obstructing public throughways
  17. Curfew
  18. Clandestine cemeteries
  19. Irregular construction
  20. Corruption
  21. Black market public transport