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Brazil and the rethoric of fear

[1]

By Mauro Victoria Soares (for Safe Democracy)

Mauro Victoria Soares analyses the wave of attacks that occurred in São Paulo and says that the motivation of the strikes was apparently to press the governors to concede benefits for jailed leaders of the organization that are not allowed for prisoners under the regime, but the action overall was a demonstration of force and efficacy. To make things worse, the immediate response of the police, conversely, prompted a jump in the number of suspects murdered. Since the problem of organized crime has structural causes, comprising a multitude of factors, Victoria Soares remarks that if the actions of the crime organizations constitute a menace to the Democratic Rule of Law, the problem will definately not be solved through a break of this same Rule of Law, he concludes.


[2] Mauro Victoria Soares is graduated in Law and has a master degree in Political Science, both from University of São Paulo. He is a PhD candidate in Political Theory at the same university. He is currently starting a period as a visiting scholar at Columbia University, in New York.

STATE OF SAO PABLO, the most populated in Brazil, was surprised over last weekend (May 12-15) by a wave of attacks to several branches of its police force, mostly police posts and stations, patrol vehicles and off-duty policemen.

The actions were coordinated by one of the largest crime organizations in the country, the First Command of the Capital (PCC), which was also responsible for simultaneous riots at about 70 prisons around the state.

I was a retaliation for the transfer of 765 suspected members of the PCC –some of them its detached bosses– to a high security prison distant from the city of São Paulo, the capital of the state. The official death toll stood at 115 (71 of which were suspects dead in police counterattacks) on Tuesday 16, after more than 250 attacks recorded.

SAO PABLO CONVULSED
Concentrated iniatially upon police officers, the violence of the shots against the stations extended to banks and was followed by assaults to buses, emptied of passengers before being set ablaze. The city of São Paulo was eventually convulsed by a disrupted public transportation, schools and shops closed and a large part of its population retired by the evening on Monday, scared about disordered rumours of possible new attacks (an actual self-curfew).

The motivation of the strikes was apparently to press the governors to concede for jailed leaders of the organization benefits that are not allowed for prisoners in a special regime. The action was overall a demonstration of force and efficacy from PCC controllers. They targeted police officers and probably aimed to mine the strength of the corporation by defying its power.

Actually, the affront is not a novelty to brazilian defense institutions: among some of the facilities at their disposal, these crime bosses commonly run outside operations from the prisons by using their cell phones –probably the way they commanded the uprisings.

HOW TO FIGHT CRIMINALITY
The network under these criminals’ control is known to include police agents who take part of the whole structure, providing weapons among other resources. The flaws in the penitentiary system (and in criminal justice institutions generally) are a rough question of public policy, whose debate must be priorized in order to find articulated solutions to fight criminality, with the contribution from different sectors of government and society (as defended by the observers from the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch organizations) – beyond the warfare discourse that dominates the first reaction to those attacks.

[3] The immediate response of the police, conversely, promoted a jump in the number of suspects murdered from 38 on Monday to 71 on Tuesday, exactly after the attacks had waned and the police counteroffensive (an overnight operation) started. There are cases, for instance, of reportedly innocent people killed by the police (officers wearing black ski masks) in hitting back patrols over poor zones of the suburbs.

NOT THE BEST WAY
As a method of combating crime, this sort of vigor is certainly not the best we may expect from the department of defense, despite the conservative rethoric of some groups exhaustively echoed through the media. In fact, large segments of impoverished people are already used to this kind of repressive tactic, which daily affects them.

Since the problem of organized crime has structural causes, which comprise a multitude of factors, merely intensifying the repression will not bring out teemful outcomes, except for its ordinary collateral effects.

Cases of infringement of civil liberties are regularly committed by brazilian police forces, though it has never contributed to the clampdown of these criminal initiatives (as the attacks bring to light).

If the actions of the crime organizations constitute a menace to the Democratic Rule of Law, it is definitely not through a break of this same Rule of Law that the problem will be solved.