Facing up to reality, at least

Just what is Rio’s post-intervention reality?

Panelists chat before the March 26 public hearing on the Federal Intervention, at the Federal Public Defenders’ Rio office

Tough to say. But one thing is certain: there’s more information about where we went wrong, where we are and how to get ourselves to a better metropolis.

Clique aqui, para português

Turning away from a longtime focus on drug gangs and trafficking, Rio is at last facing up to the reality of its milícias (paramilitary gangs) with an exclusive Intercept Brasil report, a collaborative pioneering effort with the Disque-Denúncia (anonymous call-in) service and the Volt Data Lab, followed by other reporting, arrests and even new attention within the Military Police itself (which overlaps with milicianos):

“In greater Rio, groups led by police, firemen, vigilantes, jail guards and members of the military, off duty or in active service, terrorize people more than longtime traffic lords such as the Comando Vermelho (Red Command).

Ground-breaking research by The Intercept Brasil, based on information obtained on an exclusive basis from Disque Denúncia, shows that of the 6,475 anonymous calls the service received in 2016 and 2017 – regarding drug gang and paramilitary activity in Rio proper –, 65%  were to denounce milicianos. Since there is no systematized government data on milicia growth in Rio, the number of calls – analyzed by keyword – are the strongest indicator of organized crime trends.”

Are milícias an easier target, with the Intervention?

It might be too early to celebrate the hundreds of arrests made last weekend at an alleged milícia party. Some of those arrested, we later heard, may have been innocent partygoers who bought tickets available to the general public.  According to media reports, the Civil and Federal Highway Police raided an apparent milícia headquarters in Santa Cruz, where the party was taking place– based on a two-year investigation. Coming after the murders last month of city councilwoman Marielle Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes, one wonders if the arrests were connected, since the going theory is that milicianos were behind the killings. One wonders even more about this, after this past Sunday’s killing of “helper” of a West Zone city councilman with alleged milícia connections. Globo reports today that another murder, in Recreio yesterday, indicates a turf war.

Jornalists are investigating such news as never before, since O Globo now competes with their own former reporters laid off in successive staff cuts over the past two years, working for new sites– and this is good for Rio. And until they close the case the police, probably due to the presence of discreet military folk at the state’s Public Safety secretariat, are talking less than ever before.

Despite President Temer’s declarations and some good Holy Week stats, there’s no way to know if the Intervention is making a real difference. The lack of planning, public targets and communication in general, along with daily news of various military actions, signal a, shall we say, flexible approach (or reactive?). Yes, the military do function thusly in a shifting environment (to avoid the word “war”). For now, no one has thought of putting Rio de Janeiro public safety through the paces of the famous Hitler’s last hours scene from The Downfall. The movie parody meme from July 2014 may have been overly dispiriting for Brazilians, but bureaucratic difficulties in paying for the Intervention, reportedly affecting 63 crime-combatting actions, could reawaken local black humor.

The state Public Prosecutor’s office, better late than never

Until the laughs come, we’ve got our sad reality. In a late March public hearing on the Federal Intervention, at the Rio offices of the Federal Public Defenders, a panel of government officials (including a military intervention representative) heard favela residents describe the dangers of the intervention for them — as well as the dangers of ordinary policing in informal areas of the city, in general. The panel included state prosecutor Andréa Amin, coordinator of the Grupo de Atuação Especializada em Segurança Pública do Ministério Público do estado do Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro State Prosecutor’s Group for Special Action on Public Safety, or GAESP/MPRJ).

Since 2015 GAESP has been working (among other responsibilities) to implement a Termo de Ajustamento de Conduta (Conduct Adjustment Commitment), agreed on between the state government and the Military Police, to both improve police working conditions and their behavior in favelas. More on this in a post to follow.

Andréa Amin did not question the reality described by favela residents. She spoke of the limits to formally denouncing police abuse, as long as Rio de Janeiro lacks a dependable witness protection program. The role of the state prosecutor’s office in external police control is laid out in the 1988 Constitution, but the MPRJ only began such work in 2015, with GAESP’s creation. Much remains to be done.

“For GAESP” said Amin, “public safety is not in conflict with fundamental rights, human rights. Actually, they’re complementary concepts, not antagonistic hypotheses.” At a meeting the previous week with the new Military Police commander, Colonel Luis Claudio Laviano, and his team, the prosecutor recalled that everyone had agreed on this point.

“But in the field”, Amin added, “On a day-to-day basis, this idea isn’t always so clear. To the contrary, this culture isn’t clear. It’s much more ‘If you kill one of us, ten will die’. This is an enormous challenge for all of us here today. Because it’s very hard to break this cycle, even internally. We get a lot of friendly fire.”

Beyond the usual prescription?

The federal government, despite its hasty and ill-planned decision to intervene here, seems to be moving away from well-worn stunts (violent police incursions in favelas), signaling interest in long-term public policies — though the Temer government’s term, ending in December, is anything but long. Newly-appointed Public Safety Minister Raul Jungmann (object of rumor that he’ll run for Rio governor in October), said last week that he’ll sign a decree this week (now ending) creating mechanisms for the federal government to induce good state-level public safety practices, based on performance indicators. This was a recommendation made last year by the Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada, IPEA.

Favela residents describe dangers and fears at the Federal Public Defender’s office’s public hearing on the Intervention

An OsteRio meeting this week on the judiciary and development (in the sense of barriers to investment), gathered the informed and objective perspectives of lawyers and a former judge. Talk centered on Brazilian institutions. There was consensus on the endemic inequality among the three branches of government, subverting checks and balances. The judiciary occupies vacuums left by the executive and the legislative branches, they said.

What’s lacking are the courage to act, coordination among the branches. “Bills are useless, because you never know what the state assembly will hang on one,” said Marcelo Trindade, lawyer and PUC-Rio law professor, former president of the Brazilian SEC counterpart, the CVM.

When subject to political influence, regulatory agencies do little to defend society’s interests. An example would be Agetransp, which regulates Rio state transportation; earlier this month the state prosecutor’s office requested the annulment of Governor Pezão apppointments to it— allegedly of people lacking qualifications to sit as councillors. Accounting courts (which exist at city, state and federal levels) are also problematic– sometimes corrupt, sometimes overreaching sensible bounds.

And the STF, or Supreme Court? Turn off the TV, suggested one OsteRio participant. Television coverage only serves to swell the vanity of magistrates — who, who knew? — enter and exit elevators by order of seniority.

Even in the Supreme Court itself there is unbridled talk nowadays of how the judiciary actually works. In the words of STF Justice Luís Roberto Barroso, on the request for habeas corpus from former President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, earlier this month:

— Cases should take 6 months, a year. When very complex, a year and a half. We have become used to a very bad standard and we have developed a culture of procrastination that wavers between the absurd and the ridiculous. Brazilian penal procedures produce explicit scenes of third-worldism. Words in Brazil are losing their meaning. Among us, the idea of due legal process has come to mean a never-ending process. And that of guaranteeism means no one should ever be punished regardless of what they did.

Words lose meaning, Justice Barroso said. Rio de Janeiro (and Brazil overall) is a place of great confusion. Many have opinions and suspect everyone in power, but few are certain about who is doing what, and especially, for whom it’s being done. When you’re bottoming out, as we are, a useful first step is to make more explicit the reality of a fragmented, unequal, violent and unjust society. Next comes weaving a rope to climb back up out of the abyss.

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.

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