Brazilian Army to Take Over Policing Duties in Rio de Janeiro
19 Feb 2018
On 16 March 2018, Brazil’s federal government issued a decree to put the military in charge of the state of Rio de Janeiro’s local police and security services. President Temer has claimed that organised crime has all but taken over the state. Rio’s governor requested federal assistance after the world-famous Carnival season was marred by violence. General Walter Souza Braga Netto, who was widely praised for his part in co-ordinating security for the Olympics in 2016, will oversee operations. While the decree has been implemented, it needs to be approved by Congress to be validated for the longer term. If the decree passes, the military will remain on duty in Rio until at least the end of 2018.
- On 16 February 2018, Brazilian President Michel Temer signed a decree putting the military in charge of security in the state of Rio de Janeiro.
- Congress is required to ratify the decree within 10 days. If not overturned, it will be in place until the end of 2018.
- Rio de Janeiro’s governor requested assistance after the Carnival period, an important tourist event, was marred by violence.
Crime: On 16 March 2018, Brazil’s federal government issued a decree to put the military in charge of the state of Rio de Janeiro’s local police and security services. President Temer has claimed that organised crime has all but taken over the state. Rio’s governor requested federal assistance after the world-famous Carnival season was marred by violence. General Walter Souza Braga Netto, who was widely praised for his part in co-ordinating security for the Olympics in 2016, will oversee operations. While the decree has been implemented, it needs to be approved by Congress to be validated for the longer term. If the decree passes, the military will remain on duty in Rio until at least the end of 2018.
solace global comment
The presence of federal troops in Rio state is not a new development. The army regularly patrols the most dangerous areas of the state. However, this announcement by President Temer would take the leadership of policing out of civilian hands and into the military’s.
Crime in Brazil
Many in Rio state will welcome this development. Reported instances of violence increased in recent years. The murder rate in 2017 saw an increase of eight per cent on the year previous and a 26 per cent rise on 2015. The state of Rio, and Brazil in general, has undergone a period of economic challenges. The police budget has been slashed due to austerity measures, allowing organised criminality to thrive and for criminals to become more brazen in their activities; criminal groups have shown increased confidence in operating in previously secure locations. Corruption is also rife in the country and in Rio itself. Reports suggest that levels of corruption have increased in recent years despite the nationwide the crackdown led by federal police under ‘Operation Car Wash’. What began as an investigation into money laundering in Brazil, quickly turned into something much greater, uncovering a vast and intricate web of political and corporate racketeering that is still ongoing.
The question that many will ask is why now? The answer is Carnival. Carnival is a festival that turns global eyes towards Brazil and the city of Rio especially. Thousands of foreign tourists visit Rio during the Carnival period. However, this year’s event was more violent than usual. Three police officers were killed, and local media published videos of armed gangs surrounding and robbing tourists. There were also media reports of gun fights and looting. This criminality has proved to be an embarrassment in Brazil. Rio’s governor has claimed that only the military can tackle the heavily armed gangs. He also admitted that security planning failed to secure residents and visitors during celebrations – an issue highlighted by the media and commentators before Carnival celebrations began.
This move will undoubtedly concern others in Brazil, fearing a challenge to democracy. Many in the country remember the excesses of the 1964-1985 military dictatorship. Indeed, this move would mark the highest profile role held by the army since the end of the dictatorship. While the military will bring initial relief from armed criminal gangs, it may also bring about fears of repression and the use of repressive tactics. In 2016, 4,224 people were killed by police officers, 26 per cent more than in 2015. Between January and November 2017, 1,035 people were killed by police in Rio. Though undoubtedly a number of these killings were legitimate, many were not. In October 2017, Brazil’s Congress approved a bill to protect soldiers accused of the unlawful killings of civilians from having to go to trial in a civilian court, moving such prosecutions to military courts. Under generally recognised international norms, extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations should be tried in civilian courts. In Rio de Janeiro, numerous civilians have faced prosecution in military courts for allegedly disrespecting soldiers, facing punishment under the descato legal provision that disciplines people for the ‘disrespecting of public officials’. Human Rights Watch (HRW) accuse Military Police forces of abusing this part of the Military Criminal Code to stifle criticism. HRW have also highlighted cases in which those detained include artists during performances or people who had posted critical comments on social media.
The move has also been labelled cynical by others. 2018 marks an election year in Brazil. President Temer is incredibly unpopular with approval ratings in the single digits and has narrowly survived a series of corruption scandals and indictment votes. Temer, and others, may be hoping that this grand political gesture helps improve political standings or distracts from the woes of a stagnant economy, endemic corruption, and civil strife. There is a sizeable proportion of the population on Brazil’s political right who favour a return to military rule; Temer may be seeking to placate this demographic. The decree also means that Congress will not get the opportunity to vote on Temer’s pension reform, which is widely expected to fail.
Will the Move Be Successful?
The hopeful answer to the question will of course be ‘yes’. However, as noted above there are a series of issues that need to be overcome for any move to control Brazil’s rampant criminal problem to be successful. While one such problem is criminal justice reform (Brazil’s prisons are by some estimates at nearly 200 per cent of capacity), longer term problems, such as those with the economy, will need to be overcome to fight the underlying deficit of law and order. Indeed, a 15-month military occupation of the vast favela (or shanty town) of Maré in Rio, finished in June 2015, despite not solving the issues of violence between drug gangs – some commentators have suggested that the occupation caused violence in Maré to escalate. The military’s expanded law-enforcement role is unlikely to provide a quick fix to solve problems which are decades old.
SECURITY ADVICEArmed ConflictHigh
Crimes of all type, including kidnapping, happen in Rio. Most criminals are armed and will not hesitate to use violence if they encounter resistance. In the majority of incidents, victims are unharmed when compliant. Do not physically resist any robbery attempt as this increases the likelihood of violence. Travellers are advised to not display valuables or wear expensive clothing, in order to avoid being targeted by criminals for robbery or pickpocketing. Criminals in Brazil are known to target those in possession of high value items or perceived to have high levels of wealth, particularly those who appear to be soft targets
Travellers should refrain from commenting on the current security situation in Rio. As previously noted, critics of the military have faced prosecution, including for online posts. Travellers should fully adhere to any instructions given by the police or military. Security forces are liable to escalate with little notice and act forcefully against suspected criminals.
For most travel to Brazil, including Rio de Janeiro, Solace Global would advised clients to employ the minimum of an airport meet and greet and a locally-vetted driver for all travel. It is advisable that this level of security is increased for other areas of the country or for specific client profiles. Travellers are also advised to use travel-tracking technology with an intelligence feed. This should enable a traveller to be alerted of any security updates within their vicinity, and to update others of their movements in case of an emergency.
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