SÃO PAULO – The president of Brazil, Michel Temer, has taken one of the most extreme measures available to him to face the irrepressible escalation of violence in Rio de Janeiro: leaving the security of the State in the hands of the Armed Forces.
According to the decree signed by Temer, the police is in the hands of the Army until December 31.
It is the first time that such a radical measure has been taken, and with such unpredictable consequences, since democracy was established in Brazil in 1988.
Back then, a measure like the one taken by Temer ended a military dictatorship that even today is defended by some with the argument that politics has nothing to do in a place as violent as Brazil.
The president himself has underlined, in a televised speech after signing the decree, the seriousness of the situation in the city.
“Organized crime has almost taken control of Rio de Janeiro,” he said.
It is a metastasis that spreads throughout the country and threatens the tranquility of our people,” he described.
Therefore, he continued, I take this “extreme measure”. “Enough is enough”, he finished.
It is important to highlight that organized crime is a result not of street fights or bad blood among Brazilians, but of impunity in political circles. Crime, political and of many other types is institutionalized, carved into daily life and violence almost always starts from the top down.
It is there where organized crime operates from, not from the favelas in Rio. This, of course, was not recognized by Temer or any other of his predecessors, who kicked the can down the road every single time.
The security of the city depended so far on the overflowing hands of the state forces, which were unable to do much as the capital collapsed in a spiral of murders and violence, and where there were almost six thousand shootings in 2017, according to the Fogo Cruzado platform. Those shootings ended up in 700 people dead.
In simpler numbers, two people were killed out of every 16 shootings a day. That is 28% more than last year.
The whole year was a pulse between the statistics, moving uncotrollably upward, and police resources, which were more and more insuficient.
The culture of carioca violence in Rio de Janeiro
The 2017 trend does not seem to remit: only in January there were more than 317 shootings in the capital, 41 of them concentrated in the same favela, Cidade de Deus.
All this blood spilled comes from the same place, in the opinion of politicians and agents: The tensions, irreparable, between gangs that seek to control drug trafficking and security in the favelas.
But the criminality problem is not the only one that affects Rio residentes. The State, in bankruptcy, is forced to freeze the salaries of agents, pay them late and limit their resources. It is a perfect storm.
The solution until now has always been to resort to federal power, either by asking for money from the central government or by the intervention of the army in specific neighborhoods during specific periods.
That’s how they got out of the way for the 2016 Olympic Games. And that’s how the way was opened for Temer’s decision today.
With this climate, it is not easy for the state government to raise money to take the lead.
The National Confederation of Commerce estimates that last year the city lost about 200 million euros in tourism, but nobody wants to visit a place where violence is part of the culture.
The owners of the supermarkets are accustomed to having a gun in the face at least once a month.
Last October there were only 11 days that people did not see at least one school closed because of violence.
In Rio, 72% of those interviewed in the country’s largest survey, Datafolha, said they would move if they could.
Even Carnival has not offered the relief it offered before.
The State deployed 17,000 agents, 43% more than last year, and even so, this has been known as the year of the most violent Carnival.
There are viral videos of young people beating tourists and television reports of shootings between celebrations.
The figures have not yet been disclosed, but the authorities warned that the number of weapons confiscated by the police was “incredible”, which then forced the Government to act.
The Governor, Luiz Fernando Pezão, admitted that more troops were needed.
“We are simply not prepared,” he said.