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March 29, 2007

In Capital's Slums, Militias Fuel Urban Violence

No, not Baghdad. Rio de Janiero. Which may not technically be Brazil's capital, but come on, who's zoomin' who?

A decorated police officer was sitting behind the wheel of his Toyota pickup truck here last month when a group of men surrounded the vehicle and pumped more than 40 bullets into him.

Such execution-style killings are not unusual in a city where police and gang members routinely battle for turf in the shantytowns, but this one sent ripples through Rio. The slain officer, Felix dos Santos Tostes, had been moonlighting as the leader of a militia unit -- one of the well-armed groups that have multiplied throughout the city's slums in recent months, complicating an urban conflict that has defied solution for decades.

The militias have wrested control of nearly 100 of this city's 600 slums, or favelas, from the drug gangs that have long held sway, according to police and nongovernmental organizations. Tostes's murder showed why the shift worries so many people here: Although the militias profess to make the neighborhoods safe, violence is following them. And the deep connections some of the groups maintain to police and political circles make monitoring and controlling them extraordinarily difficult.

Law enforcement and government officials have traditionally advocated a hard-line stance against the easily vilified drug gangs, but Rio's new governor, Sergio Cabral, is urging his colleagues to reject the notion that the militias are the lesser of two evils. He has compared the recent rise of the militias to the situation in Colombia, where the involvement of paramilitary fighters has further muddied that country's long-running battle against Marxist guerrillas. Cabral visited Bogota this week to discuss methods of controlling violence with his Colombian counterparts.

"The government says the militias should be investigated, but the situation is almost comical," said Rodrigo Pimentel, a former military police officer who is now a security consultant. "A lot of people inside the police intelligence units in charge of investigating them are involved with the militias themselves. That's why when the police give the government a list of suspected militia members that should have 700 names on it, there are only 40 or 50."

The militia groups controlling the various neighborhoods are not affiliated with one another. Some were started by residents of the favelas themselves, but many are led by off-duty or retired police officers, firemen and private security workers.

Interesting article. The government maintains its monopoly on the use of force only so long as the public perceives it as exercising that monopoly wisely and justly. When the government fails to do so -- as here, where straight law enforcement is ineffectual against drug gangs -- extralegal vigilantism inevitably ensues.

Via Pajamas Media.


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posted by Ace at 01:15 PM

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