Brazil’s military to take over security in violence-scarred Rio de Janeiro
by Marina Lopes (feat. Robert Muggah)
February 16, 2018
SAO PAULO, Brazil — Brazil’s military will take over security in Rio de Janeiro after a spike in violence tainted the city’s Carnival celebration, President Michel Temer announced Friday.
The military intervention, the first of its kind since the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship in 1988, will be in effect until December. Brazil’s Congress is expected to ratify the measure early next week.
In a televised speech, Temer labeled the intervention an “extreme measure” necessary to crack down on organized crime and drug trafficking that have overtaken the city of 6.5 million people, the country’s second-most populous.
“Enough,” he declared. “We won’t allow them to kill our present and assassinate our future.”
Rio’s secretary of security resigned after the announcement. Gen. Walter Souza Braga Netto, who coordinated security in Rio during the 2016 Summer Olympics, will be at the helm of the intervention.
Infamous for its spells of violence, Rio saw a four-year respite in homicides at the start of the decade. But as Brazil sank into its worst recession on record, the city’s police budget dried up, and areas that were once heavily policed were left to the mercy of warring gangs.
The surge in crime has had serious repercussions for residents. In the past year, homicides, assaults and thefts in the city have spiked to levels not seen in 15 years. Nearly 400 schools canceled classes at various times last time because of violence, and 70 percent of the city’s residents have contemplated moving to escape the situation, according to a 2017 poll.
The chaos came to a head this week when gunfire, assaults on tourists and mass muggings marred the city’s largest event, Carnival. Rio’s mayor and the state governor were widely criticized for skipping town as 6 million people gathered for the week-long party that has become synonymous with the city.
“The failure to restore public security is due in part to a fundamental lack of leadership from the state governor and the mayor. They have shown no interest or appetite to mount a serious response,” Robert Muggah, director of the Igarapé Institute, a Rio-based think tank that specializes in security issues, told The Washington Post. “The [state’s] disastrous handling of public security during this year’s Carnival is symptomatic of deep, systematic neglect,” he said.
Luiz Fernando Pezão, governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, told local media that the state miscalculated the amount of policing the city would require during the holiday.
“We were not prepared,” he said.
Violence is on the rise in Brazil as a whole; the national murder rate ranks among the dozen highest in the world.
Security woes have propelled tough-on-crime candidates, such as former military officer Jair Bolsonaro, to the fore in this year’s presidential race. Temer’s deeply unpopular government hopes the military intervention in Rio will address voter concerns about violence ahead of the October elections.
Residents of Rio are used to soldiers patrolling their streets. The measure would mark the 13th time that the city has called for the military to help with chronic security issues. But past interventions were widely limited to special events, notably the Olympics and the 2014 soccer World Cup.
For many, the military takeover brings back unwelcome reminders of Brazil’s dictatorship — the last time the military was in charge of the day-to-day operations of Rio’s security forces. Gen. Eduardo Villas Bôas, the head of the army, criticized the increased use of military intervention to quell security crises throughout Brazil.
“Public security needs to be a priority of the states,” he tweeted in December.
While the details of the intervention have yet to be hashed out, the government hopes that a heftier budget and access to national resources will help get the city under control.
“Residents will see a more robust security system, with a larger operational capacity and more integrated intelligence,” said Defense Minister Raul Jungmann. “We hope that people will feel safer.”