Safety in Rio de Janeiro, a losing proposition

Antiquated Rio police insignia

Federal intervention could provide a truce for effective public policies, but probably won’t

Given how little we know about the Eastern Command’s new, overarching role in Rio de Janeiro’s public safety — announced late Thursday night– one thing is certain. The planning for it has only just begun.

Not a good sign. Planning is one of the weak areas of the existing state public safety structure, as is working together. Research your blogger has done on the subject over the past four months shows that Rio is an archipelago of interest groups, most of them competing for shrinking resources, be they governmental, private sector or crime-produced. Joining hands to serve society as a whole is a rare phenomenon.

The military may be able to clamp down on criminal activity in greater Rio, for a time (they’ll be here at least until the end of this year). But much more than boots on the ground are needed, to bring us greater safety. Here are what some specialists have been proposing:

  • Police reform— training, lethality, corruption, career paths and advancement, integration between Civil and Military Police forces, demilitarization, management, work conditions, computer and data systems and usage
  • Greater police coordination with the judiciary, so criminals don’t get back on the street so easily.
  • Prison reform — more humane conditions, crackdown on gangs and perks, reduced numbers (shorter terms for less serious crimes)
  • Greater weapons control — bigger role for Federal Police, creation of a Coast Guard, gun licensing system such as that for automobiles
  • Creation of a Public Safety Ministry, with a key policy and policy-inducing role for the federal government (Temer may do this soon, according to press reports)
  • Drug legalization, with Portugal as a model, focusing on public health
  • Crime prevention among youth, in schools and communities at large

Police reform alone is fraught with obstacles (including the need for a constitutional amendment) and entrenched interests; imagine trying to do even a part of the rest as well. Where are the funds?

Military crimes are not subject to the civilian legal system, judged instead by a military court; this has already caused problems in Rio, in a recent case of a military/civil police operation in São Gonçalo, with mysterious deaths resulting.

We’ve got an extremely complex situation — in an election year with more unknowns than Brazil has ever faced. Given the years Rio has been in trouble, financial, administrative and crime-wise, it’s hard to guess just what finally brought president Miguel Temer to this historic decision, and the promise that federal intervention purportedly holds for us.

We may well rue the night we guffawed, as the Paraiso de Tuiuti samba school rolled its Temer Vampire float down the Sapucaí avenue.

About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Safety in Rio de Janeiro, a losing proposition

  1. shotw2arrows says:

    Your seven bullets, “what some specialists have been proposing”, all make sense to me, Julia. Thanks for the reporting.

    In the “police reform” bullet, you say that a constitutional amendment is needed. What is the nature of the amendment? Would it make military crimes subject to the civilian legal system? I couldn’t find whether this is so in the United States. But I checked the shootings at Kent State University during the Vietnam War protests. The National Guardsmen who fired on and killed four students had to face civilian justice. They were all acquitted on a plea of self-defense.

    Of course, Rio police are often acquitted on the basis of similar pleas. So even with a constitutional amendment putting troops under civilian courts, excessive force could trigger local anger and ruin everything. One wonders whether the civil rights of innocent but low-status residents will be respected.

    Ominously, authorities are considering legislation that would allow warrants of search and seizure for entire blocks or even neighborhoods:

    The homes of ordinary law-abiding citizens would be open to intrusion by police. They could enter my apartment in Zona Sul. The Presidential Palace might be searched, although we know crimes are never committed there.

    President Temer has never been convicted of the monumental list of crimes alleged by former AG Janot. Why? Because Congress voted twice to shield him from prosecution so long as he holds office. (A result of the foro privilegiado law. Note that many members of Congress have been implicated in similar crimes and have never gone to trial due to the same law.) But if Temer is guilty, wouldn’t it be ironic if he called in the Brazilian Army to save his flock from the “cancer” of ORGANIZED crime? (Janot’s alleged criminal network was ingeniously ORGANIZED. The organizers have had decades to perfect their skills.)

    If I were Temer, I would be using all the vast powers at my disposal as President to ensure that I not face justice when my immunity expires. He would be a fool not to ”essentially bribe” anyone who could help him. I say “essentially” bribe, because I think under current Brazilian law, nothing prohibits the President from “doing something nice for someone in exchange for their doing something nice for the President”. And the President is an acknowledged master of the art of quid pro quo, from way back.

    I have nothing against the man Temer. Given his age and the state of his health, he is fighting rather gallantly for his life and freedom.

    It’s not about an individual. We are dealing with a culture of corruption that has infected virtually every modern political leader in Brazil. They have been corrupted in varying degrees. Everyone has their opinion of the relative degree of corruption of presidents Cardozo, Lula, Dilma and Temer. Pick a politician. Who has been most corrupt? Jucá, Renan, Dirceu? Some say Eduardo Cunha is champ, others tout Jader “Send A Bullet” Barbalho.

    God or Fate placed millions of souls under the care and protection of these bad shepherds. They should come to understand that they have done wrong. They should pay their debts and depart the arena of politics.

    But that would leave us with virtually nobody. Middle-class Brazilians say, “I have no one to vote for in 2018.” Nearly everyone agrees on this: the government of Brazil is not OK. Why?

    The public has lost FAITH in its ability to control the destiny of the nation. We hear again: “Brazil is the country of the future! … And always will be.”

    The people put their faith in Emperor Pedro II, the Republic, in Vargas, in Jânio Quadros, the military dictatorship, in Collor, in Lula. It allowed the congress to put them in the hands of Temer. No more saviors appear. In whom can Brazilians put their trust?


    First, we should realize that Brazil is not the first nation to arrive at a political impasse such as this one. The impasse is that we have a bad government and all the major political parties are bad. We can’t expect any party or party coalition, or any charismatic individual, to save the country. That leaves us without any leader or political organization to help us out of a political mess. It’s Catch 22.

    I am going to dedicate myself to researching how other cultures have dealt with situations like the present. The usual outcome of such struggles is discontent, leading to a violent transition of power, followed by civil war, then dictatorship. Successive coups and dictatorships follow until a kind of exhaustion takes hold, and a less repressive regime wins power. (This process can start with a “soft coup”. The ouster of Dilma was legally justified by a stretch in the meaning of the “loan”.)

    How to avoid such a catastrophe? At this early point in my research I can suggest only one solution: grassroots organizations. Here are my bullets applicable to such an organization:

    GOAL: End corruption.

    MEMBERS: Anyone who has corruption charges filed against them could not be a member, until she/he has been tried and acquitted of such charges. Employees or associates of such persons could not become members, unless they can prove they have disengaged from bad influences.

    CONSTITUENTS: Here we must meditate on society a little. In the world of 2018, humans must cooperate on a vast scale in order to have the good things the modern world makes possible. I can easily buy food shipped from all over the world because of a web of international agreements that millions of people abide by. To enforce these agreements, we must allow centralization of law – and power. We hand over power to our elected representatives. But this gives them a tremendous temptation to abuse that power.

    Politicians do not PRODUCE the good things in life. They do not dig the mains that ensure clean water, check out food purchases at the supermarket, discover drugs that save lives, write the songs that lift our spirits, or manage businesses.

    Our constituents would be those who DO produce. They grant politicians ample salaries for carrying out their all-important duties: to legislate, to enable and enforce the laws, and to interpret the laws. But our supporters object to politicians abusing their power by siphoning off the good things produced by others.

    Our constituents, then, can come from the left, the right, or the center. Some would support left-leaning candidates, others their right-wing opponents. All our supporters must stand behind democracy, the rule of law, and absolute opposition to ANY corrupt public servant, whatever his ideology.

    We would not be a political party, but a movement. We seek to influence political movements but our main goal is to galvanize political involvement and get out the vote.

    NEAR TERM GOAL: Every politician who has escaped trial due to foro privilegiado must be tried as soon as possible. I believe a politician on this privileged list can run for office again when his term expires. We must seek to defeat him if he does run for office.

    LONGER RANGE GOALS: A few years ago, a dream came true. It appeared that finally the Brazilian judiciary was succeeding in rooting out crime in the ranks of the elite. Lately the elite has rallied and are standing shoulder to shoulder to recoup their losses. But the new AG, Raquel Dodge, and others may not be backing down. Our organization must do all we can to support their efforts.

    We also support all legislation that makes corruption harder to pull off and easier to punish. Modification of the law of foro privilegiado heads the list.

    Corruption is a worldwide scourge and international studies have listed measures that work against it: disclosure of budget information, government openness, freedom of the press, transparency and access to information, community monitoring initiatives, anti-money laundering legislation, and so on.

    Of course, we cheer on any honest person entering politics for the first time. We encourage constituents to consider the credentials of new candidates. If they like what they find, we applaud supporting new blood in the political system. The same goes for new political parties.

    This has to be a twenty-year project. If, after 20 years, the level of corruption in Brazil arrives at about the modest level on the United States today, that would be success. Perhaps the corruption of Chicago in the 1920’s was similar Rio’s today, so it took almost 100 years to arrive to the indifferent success of Chicago, 2018. Twenty years is not a long time, but it has to START now.

    I apologize, Julia, for not sticking to intervention. I felt compelled to speak against things that are happening in Brazil, things no one seems to be concerned about. I am free to start my own blog but feel I don’t have the prerequisites at the moment. So, thank you for your blog.

    The issues you and other journals have raised about intervention were welcome. I hoped you and the others would have the effect of warning leaders about the dangers of this extraordinary operation. But we noted above the collective search and seizure initiative. Here is a link about troops creating files that include images (a police record?) on individual citizens even though they are not accused of anything:

    I have to think how I would feel if this were applied to me. The whole block where I live could be subject to search and seizure. Presumably the troops could enter my apartment without my permission and then photograph me and my documents, keeping my mug shot for their records.

    One last thing. If Temer were to be elected President in 2018, he would of course be exempt from prosecution for the four years of his term. He is acting like a person who may run for president:

    PMDB president Romero Jucá left discretion aside and said “Temer is a name in the presidential election”.

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