Brazilian politician at risk of assassination by militia groups

A Brazilian politician and his aide are thought to be at risk of assassination by militia groups in Rio de Janeiro, following information discovered during a police raid in May.

Plans to kill state parliamentarian Marcelo Freixo and his aide Vinicius George were found during the raid, which was part of a long-term police operation against the members of militia groups who have taken control of over a hundred shantytowns in Rio de Janeiro.

Police found letters from the head of the militia in Rio das Pedras, a barrio in the west of the city. In the letters the militia head, a former sergeant in the military police, was requesting support from another militia group to assassinate the two men. At the end of the police operation no efforts were made to detain the head of the Rio das Pedras militia.

Marcelo Freixo and Vinicius George began to receive death threats in June 2008, when Marcelo Freixo was appointed as president of a parliamentary inquiry (Commissao Parlamentar de Inquerito – CPI) into the growth of militias in Rio de Janeiro.

Although both men are being provided with some protection this needs to be reinforced immediately, in accordance with the wishes of both men.

The CPI consisted of a panel of elected officials which investigated patterns of state government involvement in the illegal activities of the militias before presenting a final report, submitted to the state parliament and to the public prosecutor’s office for any potential criminal prosecutions.

There is concern that municipal, state and federal authorities have not fully implemented recommendations set out in the CPI report, especially those aimed at criminalizing and prosecuting the activities that bring them funding. This has meant the militias continue to expand despite the arrest of a few of its key members.

The militias consist of off-duty police officers, prison guards and firemen who have ousted drug dealers from shantytowns (favelas) and now control communities with violence, while extorting money for the provision of security, as well as gas, transport, cable TV and other services.

The militias are accused of wielding political power by guaranteeing, through intimidation, votes for certain state deputies. Although militia groups have existed in Rio de Janeiro for some time, their expansion dates back to December 2006, when over a hundred shantytowns were invaded.

Attempts to investigate and denounce the role of the militias in Rio de Janeiro have been met with threats and violence, including the abduction and torture of three reporters from the newspaper O Dia along with one resident in May 2008 and the bombing of a police station in July.

The growth of the militia groups can be attributed to decades of public security policy based on negligence, human rights violations and impunity of perpetrators. This has allowed criminal and corrupt police officers to thrive at the cost of those working tirelessly to serve the community.

Following recent newspaper reports citing lax security and privileges enjoyed by police officers held in detention in the Batalhão Especial Prisional, special prison unit, there is added concern for the safety of the two men.

The report states police investigations have uncovered cases of officers being allowed out of the prison to threaten or kill witnesses. Police investigations have cited the prison as a recruiting ground for assassins. Several militia members are being held there.