Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

BRAZIL: Book Takes Dark Journey into World of Police Corruption

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jul 27 2006 (IPS) - Amancio, a military police officer in Rio de Janeiro, was severely wounded in the back by an automatic rifle fired by a drug trafficker, according to official reports. But he was actually hit by “friendly fire” in the stomach, he told a friend just before he died in the hospital.

During a firefight with members of a drug trafficking gang in a “favela” (shanty-town), Amancio felt relieved when he saw a group of his colleagues show up. But when he signaled to them, the only response he got was a bullet to his stomach.

Amancio, a black man, was armed and out of uniform, as he was working undercover. He did not understand why his fellow officers opened fire without giving him a chance to identify himself. In the end, being black turned out to be fatal for him.

He was buried as a hero, as a victim of the drug traffickers.

The case is described in the book “Elite da tropa” (Elite Troops), in which André Batista, a military police captain in Rio de Janeiro, his former colleague Rodrigo Pimentel, and anthropologist Luiz Eduardo Soares, a former national secretary of public security, present 23 different cases to paint a picture of the corruption, hypocrisy and violence rotting away the military police force from within.

The book is based on real-life characters but changes their names to protect their identities. However, the numerous crimes committed in the name of the fight against crime and laid out in detail actually occurred.

The authors thus show readers that torture, summary executions, intrigue and an unbridled dispute for power within Brazil’s military police are the other face of the fight against crime.

The first part of the book depicts the Battalion of Special Police Operations, the elite troops within the military police, whose nearly 150 members are trained “to be the best urban warfare troops in the world,” prepared for high-risk missions in favelas ruled by drug gangs.

In his vivid description of the cases involving members of the Battalion, Captain Batista, who returned to the university to study law before undertaking the writing project, appears to be torn between loyalty to his police force and a visceral rejection of the spirit that moves the troops to engage in such brutality and corruption.

The last 150 pages of the book read like a screenplay of an episode in which the state secretary of public security was implicated, as well as military and civilian police commanders, a drug lord, and several civilians, including women, who found themselves caught up in a deadly drama.

What the book reveals goes beyond complicity, to a sort of association or fusion between police and criminals, involving extortion, the exchange of favours, and groups of police officers serving their own illegal interests.

For example, a drug lord is forced to return to his post in the favela, to continue funneling his profits into the election campaign of a police chief running for Congress.

“Elite da tropa” makes no pretension to being great literature, but merely aims at providing an uncompromising, hard-hitting vision of the world of police corruption.

As a university professor and activist, anthropologist and political scientist Soares, who helped write the book, has specialised in research on violence.

He served as coordinator of security and justice in the Rio de Janeiro state government in 1999 and as national secretary of public security during the first year of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s term.

In that position, he was chief architect of the national security policy that has only been partially implemented since he was forced to step down in October 2003 by accusations of nepotism prompted by the fact that he hired both his ex-wife and his current wife to work in the secretariat of public security.

In this book as well as a previous book he co-authored with two hip hop activists from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Soares helped orient the authors and organise their experiences into a coherent narrative.

The dark journey that “Elite da tropa” takes into the world of police corruption aims to shed a light on the complexity of the problem of violent crime in Brazil, one of the world’s most violent countries in terms of homicide rates, and especially Rio de Janeiro, which has the highest murder rate in Brazil.

Understanding how the country’s institutions of public security actually function, and the corruption and human rights violations that plague them, is essential to paving the way for a broader debate on how to make them more accountable and effective.

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