Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Last week’s first (figurative) news bomb was the fatal shooting of a Spanish tourist who was about to exit Rocinha, Rio’s largest favela. The tourist was in a vehicle driven by a tour guide, which (according to the police) disobeyed an order to stop.
Two PM’s, as members of Brazil’s Military Police are known, then opened fire on the vehicle, killing an innocent passenger.
The above event, however, was completely overshadowed by the Mother Of All Bombs, dropped by Federal Justice Minister Torquato Jardim, who declared that the commanding officers of Rio’s PM were “partners in organized crime”, using as an example the recent gangland-style execution of an PM battalion commander.
This declaration astonished all local Rio politicians, from the Governor right on down through state and municipal legislators. Why? Because the PM are entirely civilian — NOT military — organizations, and PM commanders are (theoretically) controlled by the state governor and his Secretary of Public Safety.
The appointment of commanders of local PM battalions, squadrons, divisions, sections, etc. has long been a prime political plum. State and local deputies, councilmembers and other politicians joust with each other over who gets appointed to what; allegedly, even federal congress members get involved.
The Governor of the (failed) State of Rio is a staunch ally of the Temer administration; the current and past presidents of the federal Chamber of Deputies are both long-serving Rio de Janeiro congressmen. All are PMDB, the party with no principles but many interests.
So, how could the Justice Minister detonate this bomb? What does he know that we don’t?
Everybody in Rio has long known the PM are corrupt, and generally inept. PM are underpaid and are relatively easy prey for criminal gangs to pressure in the communities where they live.
Everybody in Rio has long known that the “militias” who run those favelas not controlled by the drug-based organized crime are former members of the Polícia Militar, the military services or prison guards.
Everybody in Rio has long known that, although originally thought to be a form of combating the drug lords, the militias are now identical to the gangs — offering “protection” while demanding rake-offs from local businesses, not to mention making deals with organized crime, dividing up the favelas among themselves rather than fighting over territories.
Recently, when the armed forces and PM conducted mammoth search operations in favelas, designed to haul in weapons and bandidos, almost nothing was found. The only logical reason for this abject failure was that the bad guys had been tipped off by someone in the PM.
Rio’s PM commanders have long known who the drug lords are, and who the militia leaders are, and where they are located; all too often, they protect their own. What Justice Minister Jardim clearly knows, using federal military intelligence sources, is the names of the crooked cops at the top.
The states of Acre and Espírito Santo were in similar situations some years ago, and federal task forces intervened in both states, forcing out the crooked cops and their crooked political cronies. In the Curmudgeon’s opinion, that is what is needed in Rio de Janeiro.