The elections are this Sunday. Paramilitary groups control several neighborhoods. They present themselves as the guarantors of the “strong hand” and now seek to make a place in politics.
The dominance of the militias in Rio de Janeiro has grown vertiginously in recent years, a power strengthened by coercion among the poorest and whose tentacles are exposed in the process of the municipal elections that are held this Sunday throughout Brazil.
The situation in the “cidade maravilhosa”, the second most populated in the country, has gained strength when more than 5,500 cities will elect mayors and councilors who will govern for the next four years this November 15.
These paramilitary groups, made up mostly of policemen and uniformed men -active, retired or expelled-, they have a training and a subculture similar to that of the Army, but acting outside the law itself.
The militias emerged during the time of the dictatorship in Brazil (1964-1985), although they have registered an unusual growth since the 90s, especially in the neediest communities in Rio.
There they began selling themselves as “protectors” and “security providers” at a time when drug trafficking began to leave high rates of violence in the favelas.
Despite the methods used, the militias are endorsed by those who believe in a “strong hand” to “fight evil.”
High-ranking political authorities have come to publicly acknowledge the relationship with some of its members, although they have always claimed to be unaware of their illicit activities. Among them, President Jair Bolsonaro and one of his sons, Flávio, who, like his father, began his political career in Rio.
The militiamen have also been credited with participating in one of the murders that most impacted Brazilian public opinion in recent years, that of the leftist activist and councilor from Rio Marielle Franco, shot and killed by two former police officers in March of 2018 with Anderson Gomes, who was driving the vehicle where they were moving.
This same Thursday, the Brazilian Federal Police carried out a dozen raids on properties of the brothers Natalino and Jerominho Gimaraes, who were behind bars convicted of founding and commanding “the Justice League”, a group that gave rise to what would later become the largest militia in Rio.
The brothers are suspected of money laundering to finance the campaign of Carmen Gloria Guinancio Guimaraes Teixeira, daughter of Jerominho Guimaraes, who aspires to a position in the Rio council.
According to research, the Guimaraes seek representation in legislative and executive positions in the 2020 elections to regain the power they had.
Today, 72% of the urban area of the Fluminense capital is controlled by criminal groups – between drug traffickers and militias – and the latter are the most dominant, with power over 57.5% of that territory.
2.2 million people live there, that is, more than 33% of the 6.7 million inhabitants of the city, according to the Map of armed groups in Rio de Janeiro.
For the sociologist Daniel Hirata, one of the researchers who participated in the study that gave rise to the Map, this is because the business model they manage differs completely from that used by drug trafficking.
The militias have a diversified market: They exercise control over public services that the State should provide – gas, water, internet, transportation – but they also dominate the real estate sector from its origin, appropriating land on which it illegally builds and then selling the properties.
“To this is added the protection and extortion market – perhaps the only specialization of the militias – because it is the one that encompasses all the other criminal markets,” he told EFE news agency.