Earlier this week, the Rio de Janeiro state government created a specific group of lawyers to combat organized crime. This is a first. In the past, the judiciary in Rio has taken a back seat to the Military and Civil police, as well as the infamous Batalion of Special Operations, recently made popular by the move, Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad).
There will be five prosecutors assigned only to cases involving organized crime AND militias. This is an important point.
Militias in Rio de Janeiro have been around since 2000, but only recently have they received any attention from the state security apparatus. A inquiry committee last year found that at leat 225 people should be indicted for their involvement in the city's militia groups.
The Justice League is the largest and well known militia. It operates in western Rio, and like many of the other militias, these guys are well organized, pay a salary to all its members, and makes money mostly from extortion, calling it a "protection fee". Protection from the drug gangs, that is.
These guys also extort small business owners who operate in Rio's informal economy - mostly street vendors. They also sell illegal cable TV connections - TV a gato in Portuguese - and operate an illegal propane tank service. Many people in RIo use propane tanks to fire their stoves.
Militias control nearly 200 separate communities in Rio, and while many people don't like having them around, they can't complain. When the militias come into town, the drug trade is completely removed from the community. Militias were initially formed to operate outside the law when targeting drug traffickers in Rio.
This is part of the reason why the government took so long to target them head on. People down here consider that the militias are the lesser of two evils. But the development of a state level prosecution team to focus on organized crime and militias is a step in the right direction. The government should work to control these pockets of urban turf, whether they're owned by drug traffickers or militias.
It's refreshing to see that Rio is doing something... Finally...
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