Postcard-pretty Rio, in Brazil, is pockmarked with favelas (slums). More than a thousand of them, according to some reports. As might be expected, they are areas where crime rates are high and criminals often control the turf. It is not surprising to find that many slums are run by drug lords.
What is surprising is that a recent survey by the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro actually crunched the numbers and found that in reality slightly less than 50% of the city’s slums are controlled by drug gangs.
Most of the other 50% are run by what are known as milicias. The state government, through its Pacification Program (UPP), controls around 5%,
The milicias were formed, on one hand, to counterbalance the drug lords, and on the other, to take advantage of the situation and get some of the action.
Milicias consist of local vigilante groups, thugs and many retired policemen and firemen (in Brazil, the Fire Department is a military organization). The milicias are particularly dangerous and violent, with their strong links to active duty police forces and politicians.
These sinister connections were very much in evidence recently when a former city councilman (vereador) who was also a former fireman (bombeiro militar) was sentenced to 14 years in jail for heading a milicia group.
Cristiano Cirão Matias, a former elected official and sergeant in the Fire Department, was accused of money laundering and illegal enrichment. He has been in protective custody since 2009.
As far back as 1990, his gang charged store owners protection money, ran an illegal transportation system, sold cooking gas and cable television connections. Anyone who did not like the scheme was driven out or assassinated.
Along with Cirão Matias, a member of the Civil Police, Wallace de Almeida Pires, aka Robocop, and another fireman, Carlos Fernando de Souza, were sentenced to seven years in jail.
But the most recent high profile case of Rio milicia violence was the assassination of a judge, Patricia Acioli, on August 11. Suffice it to say that, so far, no less than eleven active duty members of the police have been arrested in the case, with lieutenant colonel Claudio Luiz Silva de Oliveira, a former battalion commander, accused of being the mastermind behind the crime.
It is against this background that state deputy Freixo, a longtime enemy of the milicias, has decided to accept an offer from Amnesty International and spend some time in Europe with his family. At the same time, it should be pointed out that Freixo is a candidate for mayor of Rio in next year’s elections.
Marcelo Freixo (from the PSOL party of Rio de Janeiro), who has long combated the milicias, has already left the country and says he will spend some time in Europe at the invitation of Amnesty International following a series of death threats.
Freixo presided over a parliamentary investigation (CPI) of milicias in 2008 and has been a vocal opponent of the groups.
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