By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – One of Rio’s largest “militia” extortion gangs was dismantled on Thursday, August 7th, as military police (PM) arrested seventeen of its members during an operation in the Rio de Janeiro Zone Oeste (West Zone) neighborhood of Campo Grande. In 2011 figures from the Rio’s Divisão de Homicídios (Homicide Division) showed that 45 percent of the murders were committed by militias the year prior, and the plague has continued.
Among the arrested members was police officer João Henrique Barreto. Barreto, also know as Cachorrão (Big Dog), was reportedly the leader of the militia. He and the other members, according to police investigations, had been illegally charging residents of “Minha Casa, Minha Vida” (My Home, My Life) program homes fees for electricity, water, gas, cable TV, food and “protection.”
Many services the residents should have made payments to the government for and to not the men of the militia. Allegedly, some residents who did not pay were threatened with murder while others were tortured, robbed, and/or injured.
In some cases, not yet confirmed, residents who did not comply with militia demands may have been murdered with their bodies hidden. “He who doesn’t pay, can buy a ticket to the afterlife. Get it? You have to pay. This is how it works,” a former member of the militia told the O Globo TV program, Fantástico.
The militia reportedly operated by ordering families in Minha Casa, Minha Vida condominiums to leave and then placing those homes on sale on the internet. The militia members would then charge the new residents exorbitant fees for power and “protection.”
“Hundreds of workers, who have earned the right to have a property, and an hour for a chance to live in the [middle class], were expelled, tortured, threatened,” Alexandre Capote, a delegate from the Delegacia de Repressão ao Crime Organizado (Department to Combat Organized Crime), told Fantástico, adding, “only because these militiamen wanted to sell these properties.”
The Minha Casa, Minha Vida program began in March 2009 as a Brazilian Federal Government subsidized public housing campaign. Condominiums were constructed, to met the need of the city’s lower income residents, particularly those displaced by construction for the recently completed FIFA 2014 World Cup and developments for the upcoming 2016 Olympic Games.
Many of the condominiums were built in city’s Zona Oeste in Campo Grande along Estrada dos Caboclos and in the neighborhoods of Cosmos and Santa Cruz. The construction for the housing was paid for mostly by PAC funds and construction of 100,000 units was projected for 2016.
Militia involvement was a threat to the program from the onset. Earlier in April of this year, RJTV reported threats allegedly made to Minha Casa, Minha Vida, participants by militia members to leave their home on Estrada dos Caboclos.
“The was a rifle, a pistol, a stick and mallet,” a woman who had allegedly purchased a home from the militia only to later be kicked out of that home and to reportedly lose her son during a standoff with militia members told RJTV in April. During the interview she remained unidentified, later adding, “When they want to play, they kill the person with the sledgehammer.”
During the ongoing crackdown on the militias, police previously arrested Marcos José de Lima Gomes, also know as, Gão, for crimes of conspiracy on August 5th. Gão was the alleged head of the militia after replacing former PM officer Toni Ângelo Souza Aguiar. Also known as, Erótico, Aguiar had been arrested in July of 2013.
The operation on the 7th, involved 350 agents from various units working to serve 27 arrest warrants. Of those, seventeen were completed by 9:30 AM. An ongoing operation, the units, as of the 7th, had plans to fulfill an additional ninety search and seizure warrants.