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The links between politics and paramilitary police mafias in Rio

. Nov 15, 2020
militia groups rio de janeiro elections Military police patrols favela region in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Photocarioca/Shutterstock

The assassination of city councilor Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes on March 14, 2018 opened Brazil’s eyes to a long-lasting phenomenon in Rio de Janeiro: the expansion of paramilitary police mafias, commonly known as militias. While two hitmen were arrested for their involvement in the murder, the police have yet to identify a motive or who ordered the assassination. What has been ascertained, however, is that the gunman and his getaway driver are members of a death squad linked to paramilitary groups in Rio de Janeiro, against which Marielle Franco spent her public life fighting.

Since that tragic day, more and more has been revealed about the links between militias and Rio de Janeiro politics.

These ties go all the way to <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/10/04/arrests-marielle-franco-case-jair-bolsonaro/">Brazil&#8217;s First Family</a>, as Jair Bolsonaro and his politician sons made their careers in Rio de Janeiro and paid tribute to prominent militia members on several occasions, even employing their family members in their parliamentary offices.</p> <p>The links between militias and Rio de Janeiro politics run so deep that the state prosecution service created a task force during this year&#8217;s municipal election campaign to investigate mayoral and council candidates allegedly backed by these criminal groups.</p> <p>According to a report from the Civil Police&#8217;s crime hotline, militias and drug-trafficking groups have a hand in the local elections of at least 14 cities in <a href="https://www.britannica.com/place/Rio-de-Janeiro-state-Brazil">Rio de Janeiro state</a>. The document shows militia involvement in nine cities, with five of them located in the violent and populous Baixada Fluminense region, to the north and west of Rio de Janeiro city. Complaints include allegations of candidates being members of criminal groups or receiving their tacit support, to residents being threatened with violence if the militias&#8217; candidates are not elected.</p> <p>Nova Iguaçu tops the list of cities with the most complaints of militia interference in local elections. <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/11/08/brazil-epidemic-political-violence-ahead-municipal-elections/">Two city council candidates were assassinated there in October</a>.</p> <p>Known for their extreme violence, heavy weaponry, and indirect support from law enforcement, these paramilitary groups operate by extorting residents — demanding payment for security, gas, electricity, cable television, and internet — and promising safety in return. They are also known for controlling the illegal trade of drugs and cigarettes in their respective communities.</p> <iframe src="https://open.spotify.com/embed-podcast/episode/1Ophrzl6ra2VufPpsGRzFt" width="100%" height="232" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" allow="encrypted-media"></iframe> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Rio de Janeiro&#8217;s Justice League</h2> <p>On Thursday morning, the Federal Police launched an operation targeting two men convicted of leading paramilitary police mafias, brothers Natalino and Jerominho Guimarães. The investigation concerns allegations of militia money laundering to fund election campaigns in Rio state. Feds believe the pair were hoping to elect Jerominho&#8217;s daughter Carminha Jerominho to a seat on the city council and reclaim the power they once held in Rio de Janeiro&#8217;s west zone.</p> <p>Natalino and Jerominho Guimarães founded the Liga da Justiça (Justice League) militia in the 1990s, which became the largest and most widespread paramilitary group in the state. Known for their extreme violence — Natalino was once nicknamed &#8220;Mata Rindo,&#8221; or the Laughing Killer, and other members of the group included Leandrinho Bone-Breaker, Ricardo Batman, and Julinho Gunfight — members of the Liga da Justiça were known for cruising neighborhoods of Rio&#8217;s western outskirts in imported cars painted with Batman logos, terrorizing local residents.</p> <p>The Guimarães brothers used their influence to become elected officials in Rio de Janeiro, before being sentenced to 11 years imprisonment in 2008.</p> <p>The Federal Police investigations found that paramilitaries have been using smartphone apps and social media to choose their preferred candidates by way of polls among their fellow members. Having selected their target, militias then moved to fund their chosen candidates and spread harmful lies about their competitors.</p> <h2>“The militia is the state”</h2> <p>According to sociologist José Cláudio Souza Alves, who has studied militias for the last 27 years, the lines between politics and paramilitary groups are almost non-existent. &#8220;The militia is the state,&#8221; he says, adding that many of these criminal groups include city councilors, state lawmakers, and members of state governments among their members. &#8220;Without this direct connection with the state infrastructure, militias would not work the way they do.&#8221;</p> <p>The researcher points out that it is common to see family members of militias employed in the parliamentary offices of lawmakers and councilors. This was the case with Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, the eldest son of President Jair Bolsonaro. During his spell as state lawmaker in Rio de Janeiro, he employed the mother and wife of notorious paramilitary <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/02/12/bolsonaro-adriano-nobrega-militia-organized-crime/">Adriano Magalhães da Nóbrega</a>.</p> <p>Mr. Nóbrega, a former Military Police captain, was accused of leading a paramilitary mafia in the Rio de Janeiro district of Rio das Pedras — one of the oldest militias still in activity — and forming part of the so-called <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/01/23/flavio-bolsonaro-death-squad/">Office of Crime</a>, the death squad responsible for the assassination of Marielle Franco. Mr. Nóbrega was killed in February this year, during a police operation. 

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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