By Doug Gray, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – As militias continue to control several favelas in Zona Oeste of Rio, the Secretary of Public Security Jose Mariano Beltrame last week put into action the second phase of Operacao Temis, designed to hit the sources of money that help the gangs exert control over their communities.
Despite having been prevalent for several years, it wasn’t until 2006 that a concerted ‘invasion’ of favelas by militia groups – largely made up of serving and former policemen, firemen and prison guards – took control of around 100 communities across the city. By ousting the drug gangs they consider their powers justified, and areas such as Rio Das Pedras are now ‘dry favelas’ – ie drug free – but the ‘official’ status of those in control makes their strength an even greater problem for the authorities.
Groups such as Amnesty International have also denounced these groups for wielding political power by guaranteeing deputies votes through intimidation tactics, and recent threats against the lives of those behind the operation are an indication of the size of the issue.
The means of the control and funding of the militias is every bit as illegal and the use of violence just as liberal as that long associated with the city’s notorious drug gangs. The extortion of money for everything from illegal transport, illicit cable TV and internet supply, and even the distribution of marked-up cooking gas and alcohol maintains the groups’ power in place of drugs, and it is these sources that the current police operation hopes to stem.
This increasingly unstable situation led to a parliamentary inquiry into the militias and a state-sanctioned operation against them has now been underway for several months. Stage two of this went into action last week following the arrest of 45 people with known militia links two weeks ago – the release of the names of those arrested showed that 21 were currently serving Military Police and 3 were Civil Police.
This phase of Operacao Temis will see Beltrame call upon other official bodies – from DETRAN (the Transport Ministry) to National Gas Unions and internet suppliers – to work alongside some 340 Military and Civil Police to help squash the prevalence of the contraband businesses. It is estimated that 100,000 illegal cable TV connections are being used in the homes of Zona Oeste, and attempts by the cable companies to deal with the situation have been met with aggression.
Last week the operation seized several ‘kombi’ vans, motorbikes and minibuses operating as illegal transport in Campo Grande, and Beltrame’s goal is to return such services to official providers with the help of regular daily patrols of the favelas. On Tuesday three illegal cable TV centers were discovered along with gas deposits, all of which have been confiscated.