War in Brazil

Tulio Ribeiro
Police officers drive past people carrying a body after a drug raid in Rio de Janeiro on July 21. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)

Brazil is at war, in 2023 it continues its upward curve.

The city of Rio de Janeiro is 2068 KM from Natal, capital of the state of Rio Grande do Norte, is the clearest example that Brazil is living a war that it simply does not accept. In these places, like the western metropolitan area of Rio with 2.5 million inhabitants, the same population as Kiev, the State does not exist to give guarantees, the population is adrift of the fight between drug factions, but also of the militias that are often commanded by former soldiers who sell protection but deliver insecurity and death. The government simply fights as it usually does, but loses as never before. There are already more than two dozen cities in Rio Grande do Norte subject to marginalization, with orders coming from prison. Brazilians already know that tension and fear are part of their working day.

Brazil, with the process of prisoner exchange from one state to another, with the objective of isolating the faction leader from his subordinates, nationalized the war through internal prison communication. There are many cities controlled by criminals, they finance mayors, they have large companies such as urban transport and construction companies, Brazil does not assume it but lives a war that is getting worse every day. And the federal government and most state governments are lost and inert in the face of the diversity of guerrillas. These are places that do not have NGOs to pacify, justice does not act, there is no institutional force to protect the population. They are municipalities whose schedules, politics and economy are determined by criminal factions. Among them, Pure Third Command (TCP), Red Command (CV), Crime Syndicate and First Capital Command (PCC), but there are others.

Health services closed their doors, schools cancelled classes and shopkeepers were told to close their stores early. Teaching was suspended in the private education network and in several public and private universities. Basic health units suspended calls. Public offices that are open usually close early and the concern is to get home safe and sound. One never knows the forecast for the return of public transport circulation on these occasions. For the population, the impact of the violence goes beyond the burned buses and destroyed stores, leaving a climate of fear. Yes, this is Brazil today, mainly in Rio Grande do Norte and the West Zone of the ‘wonderful’ city (as the song said) of Rio de Janeiro.

In Rio Grande do Norte, there are already more than 30 people arrested and reflected in 24 cities since the criminal actions started, in the early hours of Tuesday (3/14). The ‘Crime Syndicate’ is a dissidence of the PCC, which began to be configured in 2012, when prisoners linked to the São Paulo faction questioned the obligation to carry out orders and send funds collected from crime to São Paulo. With the split, the two factions began to dispute organized crime in Rio Grande do Norte, but the Union gained increasing strength and is now more present on the streets and in prisons. The PCC is more organized, but the Union has more members. And they are more violent, they are involved in petty crime. I would say the PCC operates wholesale [drugs], that’s how the local military police analyze it. From the closing of businesses and schools to arson and shootings, this is what exists in the state today. The federal government has stated that it will send the National Guard, a unit that gathers military from several states, which may reach 300 military, a small structure to help with the size of the war, especially since Brazil has 26 states in addition to the Federal District.

The state government reports previous actions as the cause: “We believe that with previous police actions, 15 days ago, where there was a public security confrontation in relation to criminals, where a large amount of drugs and weapons were seized, this disturbed crime to confront the public security system”, said the Secretary of Public Security and Social Defense, Francisco Araújo, this Tuesday (14/3). On the other hand, anthropologist Juliana Melo, professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN) and researcher in the prison system and in the area of public security, has a different approach.

“To say that what happened is just retaliation is to render invisible a bigger problem. The worse the prison is, the more violent the society is. Everything that happens inside the prison system has consequences for what happens outside. Our penitentiary system is marked by the violation of enormous human rights, and the prison system manages to be worse than in other places in Brazil”.

The story of bus driver Marcos Antonio da Silva, 37, shows the truth about living in Rio Grande do Norte today. He was passing by João XXIII Avenue, in the East Zone of Natal, when he received a message from the company on his cell phone: all buses must return to the garage. The capital of Rio Grande do Norte had dawned on Tuesday (14/3) under the impact of repeated attacks on buses by armed groups. Shortly after, Silva’s bus was approached by four men on two motorcycles, and everyone had to get off the vehicle. “As I was leaving, they started throwing gasoline at me and it landed on my feet. The bus was full, with between thirty and forty passengers. A woman had just gotten on with a child about 4 years old, and the child was screaming non-stop: ‘I’m going to die, mommy, I’m going to die’. I thought I was going to die too. fire there.”

As for Rio de Janeiro, there are several neighborhoods that are in the West Zone, totally lost in the humbler regions and also in the North Zone. Neighborhoods such as Gardênia Azul, Vila Kennedy, Tijuquinha, Tirol, Campo Grande, Campinho, Bangu, among others. On March 7, traffickers of the Third Pure Command (TCP) invaded the Divino and Menezes hills, between Campinho and Praça Seca, which were being commanded by the Red Command (CV), deepening the war that Brazil hides. In the West Zone, Gardênia Azul, in Jacarepaguá, is one of the main points of conflict. The region accumulated nine shootings in January, two of which were due to a territorial dispute between drug traffickers and militiamen, three others due to police actions and operations, and the other four for no identified reason. Residents of Gardênia Azul report that drug traffickers imposed a curfew and families are worried about the return to classes in the public school system.

Cidade de Deus, next to Gardênia Azul, was also affected by the invasion, the training grounds of the Brazilian champion clubs, Vasco da Gama and Fluminense, were the scene of gunshots and gas bombs on the 15th. Comando Vermelho, the community focused on seven shootings in January, one of them in disputes between armed groups. Muzema, chosen a year ago to host the state government’s Cidade Integrada citizen security program, accumulated four shootings in January this year, two of which were disputed. In Curicica there were four shootings, one of which involved a confrontation between armed groups.

The war in Rio’s West Zone neighborhoods continues to make residents feel insecure and fearful, even worse, they already have it embedded in their daily lives In the face of new disputes over territory in several neighborhoods in Rio’s West Zone, Rio, Luiz Henrique Pires, announced new bases and reinforcement initiatives in the region. The commander stated that since the end of last year, the corporation identifies an “instability” in the region with the increase of territorial disputes by criminal groups that move and listed initiatives to reduce the insecurity of the population. But these are lesser actions than the fringe force, and are temporary as there are not enough to war and guard the rest of the city. The factions maintain total control of their bases while a society dies every day.

The truth is in the statements in the national media by the population. “All of a sudden, we are here and we could be at risk of taking a stray bullet,” said one resident. Another resident commented, “It is difficult. It used to be very good to live here. Now, the danger remains.”

Fear is a common feeling in the region, “We don’t leave the house at night, we just stay at home. I only go out during the day,” said one resident.

Last month, a Military Police corporal was shot dead inside the condominium where he lived, in Anil. The action lasted about 15 seconds. Security cameras captured the killers surprising the victim in the building’s hallway. And then leaving the scene of the crime.

In addition to the dispute over the region, there is the connection with the prison situation, where up to 60 prisoners live in one cell. Anthropologist Juliana Melo is left out of the government position.

“Everything that happens inside the prison system is reflected in what happens outside. We think they are two separate realities, but they are very united and linked. The more the prison system is a machine to grind and kill people, the more consequences it has for those outside, because this situation spills over,” explains Melo, an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte ( UFRN).

There were 40,800 violent deaths in the country throughout 2022. In Brazil, the average number of disappearances is between 40,000 and 50,000, where about 30% are children. The number of deaths in 2022 is 14% higher than that recorded before Covid. Brazil literally lives a conglomerate of problems that weaken society and the State is far from providing an action that will change this situation. Anyone who comes to Brazil for tourism and goes to the famous Copacabana beach is confronted with underage prostitution. The inequality is latent when you see, next to the most famous hotel, the Copacabana Palace on Avenida Atlântica, nightclubs that host Brazilian women for prostitution, with names in Italian, English or Moroccan, these houses are the stage for the exploitation of human dignity and the worker who is activity, including adolescents and children. This network is linked to the sending of women to be slaves in Europe in places of sexual entertainment. Many of them disappear and all this is linked to the trafficking force. Mothers offer their daughters on rural roads. The Guardianship Councils in Brazil have their members elected in electoral campaign, in most cases they are votes of this corrupt system. Instead of public servants and health and legal professionals, we have ‘supervisors’ elected and financed by the ‘owner’ of the marginalized area.

Brazil is at war, in 2023 it continues its upward curve. Unfortunately, the picture is that Brazilian society has already lost the battle, it only lives on appearance. World champion in inequality along with Qatar, having two Brazils is impossible, separating one rich from the other poor and marginalized. If there is no partnership of the majority of its 215 million to structure a continuous change, the country will live, from time to time, falling into the hands of a discourse of ‘saviors of the homeland’, which will only worsen the situation even more.

Translation by Internationalist 360°