O NY Times e as milícias do Rio

Matéria longa que saiu no NY Times do último dia 9. É o Brasil sendo visto lá fora…

NY Times – January 9, 2012

In Brazil, Officers of the Law, Outside the Law


NITERÓI, Brazil — Patrícia Acioli, a judge known for imprisoning corrupt police officers, pulled into the driveway of her home one August night in this city across the bay from Rio de Janeiro. Her pursuers arrived at the same time. Then they did their work, shooting her 21 times until her body lay crumpled in the seat of her car.

“I rushed outside after hearing the shots,” said her son, Mike Chagas, 20, a college student. “No one should ever have the experience of seeing their own mother shot to death on their doorstep.

“I knew immediately that she had been killed because of her work,” he said.

Hours before she was gunned down, Judge Acioli had issued arrest warrants for three police officers accused of killing an unarmed 18-year-old man in a favela, or slum, part of a group of officers being investigated for forming an extermination squad. The same three men would later be arrested in connection with her murder, along with eight others in the police force.

Their testimony in court here, describing in chilling detail how they tracked Judge Acioli and plotted for months to kill her, has revealed a disturbing aspect of Rio de Janeiro’s newly assertive security policies, a cornerstone of its efforts to secure the city before playing host to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics.

Officials have been lauded for reclaiming lawless areas from drug traffickers in various favelas across a sprawling metropolitan area with 11.8 million residents. But the image of a city on the mend has been undermined by the actions of its own security forces, particularly the spreading militias composed largely of active-duty and retired police officers, prison guards and soldiers.

These groups function like a criminal offshoot of the state. According to judicial investigations, they extort protection money from residents, operate unlicensed public transportation, charge commissions on real estate deals, mete out punishment to those who cross them and, most alarming, carry out extrajudicial killings.

Alba Zaluar, an anthropologist at State University of Rio de Janeiro who studies public security, sees the militias occupying a paramilitary role by going well beyond the line of lawful policing. Their power is expanding, according to research she oversees, with 45 percent of Rio’s favelas under the control of militias in 2010, up from 12 percent in 2005.

“They’re invading, watching over, buying favelas from traffickers,” Ms. Zaluar said.

While the militias have recently expanded with vigor, their sway in various parts of Rio, especially on the city’s western fringe, is not new. Originally called “polícia mineira,” a nod to the aggressive policing tactics in Minas Gerais, a state bordering Rio, militias have operated in Rio for three decades.

A 2008 legislative investigation of Rio’s militias led to the arrests of several officials tied to the groups, including legislators, councilmen and senior police officers. The Rio militias, together with death squads formed by police in neighboring São Paulo, have been responsible for hundreds of murders each year and impunity in these cases remained the norm, according to a 2009 Human Rights Watch report.

Rio officials, including Fábio Galvão, the state’s under secretary of intelligence, say they are well aware of the problem, contending that after militias grew in the middle of the last decade, so did the number of arrests of suspected militia members, from just 5 such arrests in 2006 to 250 in 2009 and 143 in 2010.

But Mr. Galvão said that combating the problem was made more challenging by the growth of the militias and the ability of jailed militia leaders to coordinate activities from behind bars.

Mr. Galvão said that the big expansion of the militias occurred about six years ago, before high-profile episodes like the killing of Judge Acioli got media attention. “A monster was growing,” he said. “When they started to fight back, it was already a big business.”

In recent months, signs have emerged that the militias are expanding beyond their bastion in Rio. A report in the newspaper O Globodescribed how militias had spread to 11 of Brazil’s 26 states, often initially winning over slum residents by killing drug traffickers before imposing their own methods of coercion and control.

Mr. Galvão, the intelligence official, echoing scholars who study the militias, said that while homicides tended to decline in areas under militia control, other crimes, like beatings and rapes, often increased.

The use of torture by militias was detailed in a harrowing account in 2011 by Nilton Claudino, a former photographer for a Rio newspaper who was discovered with a reporter by a militia group while they were on an undercover assignment in Jardim Batan, a Rio favela.

He described seven hours of excruciating torture, with methods including electric shock and temporary suffocation with plastic bags. He said his torturers, from a militia called Águia, or Eagle, included police officials. He later fled Rio and went into hiding.

“One of my torturers told me, ‘Your life will never be the same,’ ” Mr. Claudino wrote in the account. “He was right.”

Neither public officials nor researchers have reliable estimates of how many militia members operate in Rio, though they are thought to number well into the hundreds and perhaps higher.

The brazenness of militia leaders, including those recently arrested or imprisoned, has been notable. Ricardo Teixeira da Cruz, a leader of a militia called League of Justice, was reported in 2011 to have been commanding subordinates from prison. Another leader of the same militia escaped from prison in September, a day after officials cracked down on the group.

During one day of November testimony in the Judge Acioli trial, Cláudio Luiz de Oliveira, a senior officer arrested in the case and charged with ordering her murder, smiled for photographers. Judge Acioli had been investigating the involvement of him and his subordinates in dozens of killings in which they claimed the people killed were resisting arrest.

Other police officers arrested in the Niterói case described how they had reached out to a militia across the bay to carry out the judge’s killing. But then the police, enraged over the warrants for their arrest, simply chose to kill her themselves. Investigators are still trying to determine whether her killers belonged to a specific militia or to a more loosely organized death squad.

“I felt wronged and decided to execute her,” said Sérgio Costa, one of her killers. He said he used two guns in the ambush. “Since I wasn’t sure she was dead, I got another gun out and put more shots into her.”

Outrage followed the judge’s killing in August. Other judges spoke of death threats. Protesters even created a shrine on Niterói’s beach remembering the judge, posting messages of grief on a tree, including one with the fading words “warrior against impunity.”

By December, Djalma Beltrami, the new commander of the police battalion that Judge Acioli had investigated, was himself arrested on corruption charges. Officials charged him and more than 10 other officers with receiving almost $100,000 in bribes from drug traffickers in a favela not far from where Judge Acioli was killed.