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Brazil sends troops to fight Rio de Janeiro crime wave

by N/A (feat. Robert Muggah)

Financial Times
July 30, 2017

Brazil has sent thousands of troops to occupy the streets and beaches of Rio de Janeiro to combat a crime wave sweeping the city only one year after it staged South America’s first Olympic Games.

A force of 10,000 security personnel, including 8,500 soldiers, fanned out through the city’s centre and tourist areas after a sharp increase in armed confrontations between police and drug gangs this year. “We were deployed here because the situation is tense, it’s very bad,” said one soldier standing guard by an armoured car in a popular harbour area in the city centre. Local people approached the soldiers to take selfies.

Only one year after Rio staged a controversial but ultimately successful games that showcased the city’s staggering natural beauty, a budget crisis afflicting the state government combined with increasing gang violence is crippling the metropolis of about 6.5m people. Rio is at the centre of a deep malaise afflicting Brazil’s economy, with public funds being squeezed by the worst recession in the country’s history and a political crisis that has weakened federal and state governments. The home to Petrobras, the state-owned oil company, Rio has also been hit by the fall in the oil price. This has been exacerbated by a giant corruption scandal at Petrobras and its contractors, which included most of the country’s largest construction companies.

Rio’s former high-flying state governor Sérgio Cabral has been jailed as a result of the investigations, as has Brazil’s former richest man, Rio oil and logistics magnate, Eike Batista. Almost as soon as the massive security operation for the Rio Olympics was lifted last year, violence began to increase as drug gangs reasserted themselves in slums throughout the city, analysts say. Territorial clashes between gangs also started to increase.

In the period from January to June criminal homicides have risen 10 per cent in the state of Rio, compared with last year, while homicides in confrontations with police have risen 45 per cent, according to the state security secretariat. Violent deaths resulting from attempted robbery have risen 21 per cent. The violence is taking its toll on Rio`s cash-strapped police, who complain they lack funds even for petrol for their vehicles. News organisation Globo reported that every 54 hours, a policeman is killed in the city. “The objective of this mission is to defend the integrity of the population, preserve public order and guarantee the functioning of our institutions,” said President Michel Temer, authorising the order to send the troops.

“This sounds cliché but we are in a perfect storm in terms of the collision of a number of factors coming together," said Robert Muggah, research director of the Rio-based Igarapé Institute, a think-thank on security and violence. He said these factors included rising crime since last year, a rolling economic crisis, less investment and leadership in security and a re-organisation of organised crime, with factions jostling for territory in the drug trade.


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