If you live in a favela or have friends who do, you know about violence wreaked in them by drug traffickers, milicianos and police. Today, given an upcoming crackdown on crime by formal and informal security agents — though this position has significant support in many favelas — there is worry about the changing climate in Brazilian cities.
In a recent article, Americas Quarterly editor Brian Winter, who for some years has closely followed Jair Bolsonaro (including exclusive interviews) predicts that “upcoming months will bring an onslaught of death.” He notes this is the PSL candidate’s top priority, i.e. “relaxing laws and rules for security forces, allowing them to shoot first and ask questions later (to an even greater extent than today, considering police already kill 5,000 people per year). The goal is to intimidate or kill drug dealers, thieves and other criminals – and thus reverse the inexorable rise in crime since democracy returned to Brazil in 1985.”
Brazilian society, says Winter, “is in the mood to pound some heads”, though most public safety specialists warn of failure since “Brazilian society has changed since the 1980s and … militarization of security has spectacularly failed in places like Mexico and Central America – and in Rio de Janeiro since February of this year.”
Instead of “pounding heads”, specialists say, crime reduction depends on sophisticated measures such as better training, equipping, paying, controlling and managing police forces; effectively using intelligence and information; integrating the judiciary and penitentiaries as actors in public safety policy and increasing the role of federal government in controlling and funding this key area of national life.
Just as Bolsonaro promises to do, a president leading such an approach would be meeting Brazilian society’s central demand to be able to peacefully live and move about the country.
With a less sophisticated public safety policy, Winter claims, the human price will be high. Inocents will die and be tortured. Milicianos, he says, will take advantage of the situation to settle accounts and intimidate enemies. We’ll see more murder cases such as city councilwoman Marielle’s.
Opponents of Jair Bolsonaro’s PSL, women, journalists, non-whites and non-heterosexuals, already report violent attacks over and above pre-first-round times. Jair Bolsonaro, himself a victim, says he cannot control his supporters. The Mapa da Violência site is receiving and publishing such reports.
Even before the Bolsonaro wave, constitutionally protected human rights were not a given in Rio de Janeiro. Last night, Morro dos Prazeres favela residents held a protest to defend the young William Preciliano, said to be wrongfully arrested two months ago. Such arrests in the favela have occurred twice before.
During the protest, this blogger asked human rights defenders present about strategies for what promises to be a new PSL era. Some, awaiting second-round results, doubt that Rio will actually come to be governed by the ideology of Bolsonaro’s party. Others trust the continued power of denouncing illegalities.
Of course government institutions and NGOs working in this area won’t give up on defending society’s weakest members. Even if the PSL dominates the state legislature as of 2019, we did see the election of five black women to it. Along with colleagues, they’re likely to defend the rights of those suffering the collateral damage of the expected hardline public safety policy. The press, which began covering informal urban territories in a more complete fashion starting in 2008, with pacification, will also play an important role in the clashes and teeth-gnashing that await us.
Thanks for a balanced report, Julia. You discussed one aspect of the threat posed by Bolsonaro, the extrajudicial war on crime. You cite various forces that might keep Bolsonaro in check. I hope you are right.
These are times to keep a cool head. I don’t have a cool head, I believe in the 2040’s, when I am long dead, books on the history of Brazil will come out that will judge the election of Bolsonaro an enormous retrograde step. It will cost at least a decade to repair what will be lost in the four years of his term, on many, many fronts. I went to the rally at Copacabana beach this morning, such a beautiful morning, and kept muttering to myself, “It’s insanity! Public insanity!”
Here is my take on the crime issue:
Bolsonaro supporters imagine that Communist do-gooders have been soft on crime and that’s why we have a crime problem. Extra-judicial murder use to be the norm in post-WWII Brazil. Possibly it made life a little safer for the elite. But did it eliminate crime? Obviously not; Brazil isn’t Sweden today. To eliminate crime the Bolsonaro way, you would have to execute not only criminals and anyone who MIGHT be a criminal, but also their relatives and friends, and everyone associated with the latter. The sons of a murdered poor man will likely turn to crime unless they can earn a living some other way. For this they need help. To help the underclass is something the rich have never been willing to do in Brazil. Bolsonaro supporters are choosing genocide; it won’t work.
excellent comment! sad times
Thank you Julia. There’s still time for a miracle — the polls have changed rapidly in this election — and Bolsonaro may not win. But if he does, I for one want to give him a chance. Support him if I agree with his policies, oppose him if I don’t. I count on you to relate as clearly and honestly as you can the issues in the new administration that seem most significant to you. I know you want to be constructive but encourage you to take a stand if it is called for.
I hope in my post I didn’t appear to say that all supporters of Bolsonaro are advocating genocide. People will be voting for all sorts of reasons, on both sides. I am sure many good people will vote for Bolsonaro. We must hope that voters are informed, and that’s where journalists like you come in.
We especially hope voters in the favelas are informed. They suffer most from the violence and might vote for anyone they think can stop it. Like all of us, they should be aware of the full consequences of a vote for a particular candidate. Their votes matter. One vote by a favalado, however humble his circumstances, counts as much as one vote by the President of Brazil. I have always wished the NGO’s that work in favelas would emphasize this point.