Vigilante Groups in Brazil Trump Drug Gangs and Become Rio’s New Authority

Brazilian favela in Rio The push of vigilante groups in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas (shantytowns) in the last three years is the most important and alarming information of the just-released study by the Rio de Janeiro University’s Violence Research Center (Nupev-Uerj).

The results of the research conducted with the university’s Applied Statistics Laboratory were presented by sociologist Alba Zaluar, who is in charge of analyzing the data of several studies and surveys carried on in Rio’s favela in recent years.

“You need to integrate the armed forces, the federal police and the state and local police, in a public security policy capable to tackle this headway,” said the sociologist, while reporting that these vigilante groups went from controlling 10% of the most violent areas in the city in 2005 to 36% in 2008.

In fact, the militias rise – they are formed by former and active policemen – ended up becoming so crucial in the final analysis because they controlled 108 favelas four years ago and last year this number jumped to 400. They grew to fill up the vacuum left by the state’s absence in the areas most riddled with crime and imposed themselves expelling traffickers and exercising control over the community.

“The militias took care of the sales of gas cylinders, the ‘gatonet’ (catnet, the clandestine cable TV) and they went on expanding until they were able to control every real estate transaction in the favelas they occupy. It is big business, which can pay even more than drug trafficking,” stressed Alba Zaluar.

One of the graphs presented by the researcher illustrates the Nupev coordinator’s concern: In 2005, 53% of the most violent areas were in hands of the criminal gang Comando Vermelho (Red Command); in 2008 this percentage had fallen to 38.8%.

During that same period, Amigos dos Amigos (Friends of Friends) gang fell from 14.5% to 11.5%; and the Third Command, still another criminal group, dropped from 13.8% to 12.3%. Favelas seen as neutral totaled 8.6% in 2005 but had fallen to 1% in 2008. On the other hand the militias jumped from 10% to 36%.

According to the survey, the militias today control 41.5% of the slums, against 40% that are in the hands of the Comando Vermelho. While the vigilante groups expanded from the Barra da Tijuca and Baixada de Jacarepaguá towards the west side, the Comando Vermelho grew stronger roots in the north side, the suburban areas and the docks area.

“The wars that we have been watching, as the one at Morro dos Macacos (Monkeys Hill) against Morro São João  (St John Hill) are a direct reflex of this battle for territory among criminal factions which are losing space to the militias. We need to do something urgently,” says Zaluar.

The units of the Polícia Pacificadora (Pacifying Police, UPP), and new public security policies were also pointed out by the researcher as important factors in the combat against violence in the studied areas, but she stressed that it is necessary to “change the way police see the favelados (slum residents) and the favelados see the police. You need to establish a relationship of trust.”

Of the total of 965 favelas included in the studies developed until last year, half of them are located  near the Guanabara Bay, the international airport and the port zone. The three are strategic locations for the supply of drugs, guns and ammunitions. That’s why the sociologist is in favor of joint actions of the Armed forces and all the existing polices, local, state, civilian and military.

Zaluar’s concern with the violent death of youngsters which are less than 30 years old, led her to a conclusion that she believes deserves a lot of attention: “The chances of dying between the ages of 15 and 30 is directly linked to the mother’s schooling.” Based in this observation she drew the profile of the women who most need the state’s attention: they are poor, slum residents and have spent little or no time in school.

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