Paramilitary “militias”, more powerful than drug trafficking in Rio de Janeiro

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A report revealed that these groups control much of the city’s population. Who they are and what they are looking for.

An unpublished report in Brazil revealed that paramilitaries already control more than half of the city of Rio de Janeiro. Carried out by a group of researchers from various Brazilian institutions, the report pointed out that one in every three inhabitants of the city lives in areas controlled by the “militias”, as they are known. That is, a total of approximately two million people: little less than the population of Uruguay.

The report, released this week, indicates that the militias as a whole surpassed the territorial control of the large drug trafficking groups, such as the Comando Vermelho (CV). The narcos emerged in Rio starting in the 1980s and mainly occupied the city’s favelas and, according to the report, today they have control of 39 of the 161 neighborhoods in Rio. The militias began to act from the year 2000 and quickly occupied more than 40 neighborhoods of the city.

In the Metropolitan Region of Rio, the advances of the militias are even more extensive. They dominate a territory with 3.6 million inhabitants, while the CV dominates areas with 2.9 million inhabitants. There are also areas in dispute between the two criminal groups – the militias and the drug traffickers.

At the beginning, there were those who said that the paramilitaries had come to fight drug trafficking. In other words, in the places where the State does not reach and where the groups that handle drug trafficking grew there was a false hope of security.

President Jair Bolsonaro said in 2018 that the militias had popular acceptance, but soon lost their way, as the columnist from Or Balloon Elio Gaspari, in his column this Wednesday.

According to specialists, militias work in different ways. One, as if they were companies parallel to the private sector and the State with illegal charges by providers to the inhabitants; two, involved in the illegal sale of land, with percentage collections of profits from small to large businessmen, always with direct threats in the neighborhoods where they operate.

There are several stories of people feeling intimidated by the militias. At the end of last year, a group of high school students threw a party to raise money for their diploma at a club in the Campo Grande neighborhood. They were teens of 16 and 17 years old. At the end of the party, at five in the morning, two men appeared, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, who identified themselves as ‘militiamen’ and took the money collected, as the father of one of them said. This man said he was “shocked” when he saw the scene, but cautiously told the boys to hand over the money. “It’s like a robbery, but it’s scary to do something. We can’t report them either, ”he said.

The militiamen are mainly former military and civil police and former firefighters. These groups began by controlling the transport of the lower and middle classes of the West Zone of Rio, which are neighborhoods that remain after Barra da Tijuca and before Angra dos Reis, such as Campo Grande, for example.

They offered consumers, at the exit of supermarkets, services such as gas, cable TV and security. Some of these “public services” still maintain first names, such as ‘gatonet’ (historically, in Rio, ‘cat’ is the nickname for the cables used illegally to lower the consumption registered to the electricity bill, but ‘gatonet’ has become popular as the name of the illegal cable TV service).

In 2008, the militias showed their power when two journalists from the Carioca newspaper The day were tortured for 7 hours by militiamen in a favela in the West Zone. The subject of the report was precisely the militias. The newspaper reported at the time that the journalists even suffered electric shocks.

The case alerted politicians and Brazilians in general to the virulence of the paramilitaries. And it generated a Parliamentary Investigations Commission (CPI) in the Rio Legislature. The “militiamen” also act in Baixada Fluminense, a huge complex of municipalities with social problems, where two candidates for the next municipal elections were assassinated less than fifteen days ago.

There, as the Brazilian press reported, the militia present their candidates for the November municipal elections at open-air parties or, by the rules of the pandemic, in open bars. Voters are forced to vote for the candidates presented by the militia, according to a newspaper report Newspaper.

Last week, Rio police killed 17 paramilitaries in two actions in which the Federal Rodoviária Police participated. In one of these operations, the police officers intercepted four militia cars in the municipality of Itaguaí, in the Metropolitan Region of Rio.

One of the dead was a former police officer, known as Bené, and the others were his bodyguards, according to official information.

According to the Rio de Janeiro Public Ministry, the militia seeks to expand towards the Costa Verde, where tourist destinations such as Angra dos Reis are found. According to investigators, the ‘militiamen’ act armed, offering irregular transportation, on motorcycles (‘mototaxis) and vans.

The actions of the police were justified as necessary to prevent the militias from expanding when the local elections in the almost 6,000 municipalities of Brazil are close enough and do not try to influence the vote of the Cariocas. The first round of the elections will be on November 15.

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