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Issue #1916      May 25, 2020


From Rio de Janeiro to the Alvorada Palace, let me help you understand how the current president of Brazil came to power.

Brazil’s elite ROTAM police force is known for its military culture and hyper-violence. (Photo: Tyler Hicks)

Even though you are not Brazilian, you have certainly heard about President Jair Messias Bolsonaro. From his terrible performance with the fires in the Amazon to the fight he had with the President of France, now Bolsonaro is giving classes on how not to proceed in the event of a public calamity.

Brazil is now a COVID-19 hotspot, with 300,000 cases. With this in mind, the question that remains is: How did the Brazilian people choose Bolsonaro?

To understand the current situation of Brazilian politics it is essential to understand its militias, who they are, and how they act in Brazil.

However, before we start, it is worth thinking about how the Italian mafia operates. At some point in our lives, we watch movies or hear stories about the mafia. But glamour aside, they are stories of thieves who formed the institution itself; thefts, murders, kidnappings, and more are merely instruments for a great power game. Remember Don Corleone?

Now without all the jazz and good bourbon of the 1950s, where romantic notions of the mafia lay, we jump back to Rio de Janeiro 2020. Wikipedia describes what a militia is nicely: “the generic name of military or paramilitary organisations, or any organisation that has a high degree of performance. The term refers to organisations made up of ordinary armed citizens (nicknamed militiamen), or with police powers that, theoretically, are not part of the armed forces or police of a country.”

Since Machiavelli, we see passages in history books of paramilitary groups that use force and violence to coerce citizens. Simply put they are ex-military, police, or aspirants who use the practice of extortion in needy communities to achieve financial or political, power. Such groups survive on the financial resources derived from the extortion of the population and the clandestine exploitation of gas, cable television, slot machines, loan sharks, and illegal property sales, etc.

With this picture painted of the militias in Brazil, let’s unravel how they came to power and form part of the Brazilian presidency.

In 1970, ex-soldiers began to be paid by the population of Rio das Pedras, Rio de Janeiro, and they got their recognition by ex-mayor Cesar Maia. Thus, deputies and militant councillors were elected by the population. It was not long before the Rio favelas (i.e. shantytowns) became a point of conflict between militia and drug dealers. Among these groups, a former military man – who was expelled from the military for having bombed barracks in order to pressure his own military to increase his salary – decided to run in the presidential election. And, with the political strength of the militias behind him, Bolsonaro was elected president.

You may ask yourself: how does this interfere with my life? Brazil is one of the largest food exporters in the world. However, Brazilian foods today have a high-level of toxicity. Why? Because Bolsonaro’s reactionary regime has enacted mass deregulation. As a result, these militiamen, who form part of Bolsonaro’s government are allowing large corporations to indiscreetly spray pesticides that may cause harm.

The whole world will recover from COVID-19, but Brazil today buries its dead in mass graves, because for the president “it is just a little flu.” Recently, former justice minister Sergio Moro handed in his resignation and presented evidence of corruption, money laundering, and the president’s interference in the investigation of the murder of Congresswoman Marielle Franco.

Franco, a gay, black woman, and from the Maré favela complex, began to denounce the actions of militia groups within the favelas. She was brutally murdered in a crime that directly links the Bolsonaro family. We are still far from finding an answer to whoever killed Franco, but today, after the evidence presented by the former Minister of Justice, Brazil finds itself in a political crisis, as if the health crisis were not enough.

To all workers around the world, unite!


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