Gen. Heleno: Brazil to become a narco-state?

On Monday, retired Army General Augusto Heleno was invited by Band TV as a special guest for the station’s electoral broadcast. He was there to discuss his candidate’s proposals for the country, as well as the runoff stage campaign that started that very day. Gen. Heleno was Mr. Bolsonaro’s plan A for vice president, and the only reason he’s not on the ticket is that the general’s party decided to pull out at the last minute. Now, he serves as an advisor on matters of security and national defense.

When asked about what would be the new administration’s top priority – should Mr. Bolsonaro win the election – the general said: “[Violence] stopped being a public safety issue and became a national security issue. The entire country is undergoing a crisis. I’ve made several warnings: we can’t continue on the path to becoming a narco-state.”

Indeed, Brazil is undergoing a major violence crisis. According to the Brazilian Public Safety Forum, an NGO that monitors violence in the country, Brazil registered 62,517 murders in 2016 – a rate of 30.3 murders for every 100,000 people. For the sake of comparison, that’s 30 times as much as all European countries combined.


No, Brazil won't become a narco-state


Moreover, since last year, Brazil has been confronted with a reality many choose to ignore: the appalling living conditions in our prisons – which facilitate the actions of drug cartels from within the penitentiary system. In the first two weeks of 2017, Brazil witnessed a grand total of four prison riots, which killed 133 inmates. That wasn’t enough to spark an effective reaction from authorities, leading to a similar January in 2018: more riots killed nine inmates and left 14 gravely injured. The deaths are the result of clashes between rival gangs, which fight for the control of both prisons and drug routes.

Which brings us to Gen. Heleno’s remarks.

Does Brazil risk becoming a narco-state?

We’ve discussed the issue with Guaracy Mingarde, a researcher at the Brazilian NGO Forum for Public Safety and one of Brazil’s most respected experts in organized crime.

To answer this question, we need to first properly understand the definition of a narco-state. The term refers to an area under the control of drug cartels, where law enforcement is effectively nonexistent. This is hardly the case in Brazil, although it remains true that the government has failed miserably to repress organized crime.

So why won’t Brazil become a narco-state? “For starters, Brazil is not a major drug producer. And that is a big difference between Brazil and countries such as Peru, Colombia, and Bolivia. Nor is Brazil the main route to a larger market, such as Mexico,” explains Mingarde.

Bolivia’s old narco-state

Back in the 1980s, Bolivia experienced a narco-state during the dictatorial government of Luiz García Meza. His regime rose to power thanks to the funding of Roberto Suárez Goméz, commonly known as the “King of Cocaine.” In return, Meza appointed the drug lord’s cousin as the Minister of the Interior. That narco-regime, however, collapsed just one year later.

Such a regime is difficult to replicate in Brazil. First and foremost, our country is gigantic, and putting such a model in place would require the kind of muscle that our drug gangs lack. Bolivia, on the contrary, is a country with a population smaller than that of the city of São Paulo.

“Furthermore,” Guaracy Mingarde points out, “in those Latin American countries, the economic elites got involved in the drug business. That hasn’t happened in Brazil. As much as I dislike our elites, they are the same as they were centuries ago – and they are not dealing drugs.”

Drug money in elections

Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court has expressed concern about the financing of political campaigns by drug gangs. In some of Rio’s favelas, there is evidence of organized crime groups coercing residents into voting for a specific candidate. Mingarde, however, says that such power is relative. “While there is some degree of success in a few communities, it’s not a widespread phenomenon.”

Read the full story NOW!

SocietyOct 10, 2018

Tags: - -

BY The Brazilian Report

We are an in-depth content platform about Brazil, made by Brazilians and destined to foreign audiences.