Militias Consolidate Power in the Shadow of the UPPs
Source: Arnaldo Bloch e Chico Otávio, O Globo
Excerpt and Translation: C. Brayton
With the exception of Federal Police agents who escorted the prisoners, no one was paying much attention to a small group of people waiting outside the Fourth Jury Court for the brothers Natalino e Jerônimo Guimarães to emerge, just days before Carnaval.
These persons were not there to protest in the names of the victims of the Justice League — the largest militia in the Western Zone. They were there to applaud them, honor them, and to celebrate their «not guilty» verdicts on charges of attempted murder, though not their release — the two remain are still on trial for other crimes. …
In light of such victories — including the recovery of her site on the City Council by Carmen Glória Guinâncio Teixeira, daugher of Jerominho — the Justice League is still capable of consolidating its power in the Western Zone via intimidation at the ballot box.
Of all the community police stations — UPPs — installed to date, the only one to operate in former or current militia territory is the UPP in Batan, in Realengo, where O Dia reporters were tortured in 2008. Taking a page from the playbook of the narcotraffic, but keeping one foot firmly planted, as police and firefighters, in the heart of the state, militias are spreading terror throughout disadvantaged communities, and especially in those shantytowns located far from the elite Southern Zones and areas crucial to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
Arrests have been made in these cases: 600 in all, most of them based on the state assembly’s parliamentary commission of inquiry — CPI — into the militias.
Professor Luiz Cesar Queiróz, of the National Observatory of Cities, however, believes that imprisoning militia members has not interrupted their influence over the social centers of the communities they occupy, which continue to operate even while their founders are jailed.
“Why do the militias in these area not mobilize to promote metropolitan policies in the areas of transportation, education, environment, health, and so on? The answ3er is: because they are only interested in their own backyards, in the political and economic machine that drives business in their areas of influence. …
This is the context in which the militias appear. The candidates they help to elect are parochial NIMBYists* — a conservative criminal organization that maintains itself through the exercise of political power.
Militias need political representation in order to shore up the social control they exercise. And so it is that, one hand, they impose order through terror, while at the same time perpetuate the old UDN* style of practical politics.
* NIMBY = «Not in my backyard,» a term for political activists with limited goals, such as «A nuclear reactor? NIMBY!
* UDN and its fabled «banda de música» was a mid-20th century opposition party and ferocious antagonist of the Vargas admnistration — the later, non-dictatorial one — known for their heavy rhetorical artillery and populist rabble-rousing and conducted by the journalist and information warrior Carlos Lacerda. Somewhere here I have the story of how Lacerda hired and armed thousands of shantytown dwellers in a mobilization in support of the 1964 coup.
The architect of the CPI, state deputy Marcelo Freixo (PSOL) agrees that the arrests have not even scratched the surface of the political machinery maintained by criminal gangs, including militias.
Militias are at the peak of their territorial domination.
“I have information showing that many of these social centers identified with militias maintain their contracts with the city government. Deco has a social center, as does Girão, and Fausto Alves is another.”
“The CPI recommended that licensing the operations of VW van services be granted to individuals rather than coops, another area in which militias have a major influence.”
But nothing has changed.
The current scheme remains alive and well.
A former state public security secretary and author of Elite Squad and Elite Squad II, the anthrologist Luiz Eduardo Soares defends the thesis that militias have achieved more power in the Western Zone than the drug traffic ever could.
He views the area as an expression of Rio’s shadowy conscience, which explains the silence with which the militia problem is often greeted.
— Militias are not discussed, have not been discussed for many years, and will continue to be absent from news coverage, even when the media focuses briefly on the problem, as it did when four undercover reporters were nearly tortured to death by a militia group.
The tendency is for the militias to inhabit the twilight of public awareness. Social elites do not believe the militia exists — the same attitude they take toward the Western Zone in general, as a matter of fact. They view militias as beings from another planet. The problem receives a little ink from time to time during a crisis event, but soon returns to hibernation.
State Public Safety secretary José Mariano Beltrame does not agree with this analysis.
— The militia problem is not a matter of political will. It is a matter of speed. Rio police have 40 years’ experience in combating drug gangs and only 15 years combating the militias. For this reason, it is easy to spot and arrest a drug trafficker. In the case of a militiaman, we have yet to develop the necessary expertise. Identifying a militia member is difficult. It presents us with a real puzzle.”
There is no such crime as “belonging to a militia” in Brazilian law.
— I recently met with Senate president, José Sarney, and brought with me a proposed amendement to the penal code that would cover this sort of activity.
— Even so, we have removed DRACO, the organized crime division of the state judicial police from the direct command of the state judicial police. It now answers directly to the Secretary of Public Safety. Had there been no political will, we would not have joined Freixo in forming a CPI into the militia and arrested hundred. We would never have caught up to big dogs like Jerônimo e Natalino.
Clearly inclined to speak highly of Draco, Luiz Eduardo defends the argument that the problem is much deeper than this analysis imagines. In his view, the police, as they are currently organized, are a factory churning out mayhem, misrule and a lack of governability. They refuse to submit to oversight and the transparency owed to society.
Once again, the UPP program has strayed from its original mission and become a systematic and self-perpetuating [parallel] political policy The militias, dominant in at least 100 communities, and the number is growing.
— The state government ought to do what so far it as refused: to shake up the hornet’s nest of the police forces, and not just in individual cases but for the purpose of a general institutional reorganization, which would be passed along to Congress with amendments to Article 144.
The militias walk the streets as free men today because we have not radically restructured our police, eliminating the most prolific sources of its sustainability: The «gato orçamentário».
A gato, in New World Lusophony, is a slang term for an illegal hook-up of some kind: water, gas, electricity, entertainment, transporation. Have no electricity in your home? Local utility refuses to drive out to where you live? «Yank yourself a cat.»
Because the public safety budget is unrealistic and because the salaries paid are mere pittances, there is nothing to stop and off-duty cop from working a bico for a private sector security contractor. This is technically illegal but is condoned in order to balance the books.
It is this illegal state that enables the state to offer such salaries and balance its books. In other words, says Soares, black-market, disorganized private security is what “underwrites” the official state budget.
Tolerating such dealings as an indirectly “legiitmate” means to a legal ends.
In this way, a perverse illegality takes shape and flourished, oriented by criminal schemes — militias, death squads — that terrify local citizens who are coerced into paying protection money. None of these are conducive to the rational complexity of a modern democracy.
Ao se tolerar a ilegalidade “legítima” -se florescer a ilegalidade perversa, orientada para ações criminosas, desde as que provocam insegurança para vender segurança, até grupos de extermínio e milícias, que persistiriam em uma estrutura incompatível com a racionalidade e a complexidade da vida democrática.
— There was no doubt but that militias and candidates would cooperate ever more closely during the elections, albeit in a more moderate and unobtrusive style.
State public security secretary Beltrame rose to refute his former colleague.
— Militia is not a synonym for police. It is an organization with police among its members, as well as firemen, politicians and prison guards. Militias are state agencies that make use of state resources to gain information, which makes them very powerful.
To argue that low salaries are to blame for this is the same as saying that every poor person is a bandido or a marginal. In the last 15 years, Rio police salaries have risen by 100%. It will take us some time to acquire the necessary expertise, but RIo in on the front lines of a struggle that will play out elsewhere in Brazil. One day, the militias would lose their territorial controle. But this will not solve every problem: Only when “shock campaigns” — public-private associations of social services and urbanization operations — will the militia find itself with no market for its protection racket. .