Militias are extorting the poor
Ana Luiza Albuquerque
Folha de São Paulo
Rio de Janeiro residents are sick of being extorted by paramilitary gangs, said Ana Luiza Albuquerque. There were 1,614 complaints to authorities about militias in the first quarter of 2019, an 87 percent increase over the same period five years ago; the number has only accelerated since populist President Jair Bolsonaro took office on Jan. 1. The mafia-like militias used to control their neighborhoods by offering protection from drug gangs and selling goods like gas and cable access. But lately they have “extended their tentacles” and now demand fees from everyone from fishermen to manicurists to hospital patients, and Brazilians are complaining to the government. “People are panic-stricken by the militias,” said sociologist Ignacio Cano. Ordinary citizens are normally so afraid of reprisals that they won’t report extortion, but with unemployment high and the poor getting poorer, they simply can’t afford to keep paying protection money. Cano says some are also speaking out to protest last year’s murder of Marielle Franco, a politician who investigated the paramilitaries and was killed by former police officers with ties to the Bolsonaro family. But it’s unclear what good the denunciations will do. Bolsonaro is on record as saying the paramilitaries are useful because they prevent violence. And with the money these gangs take in, they can buy off police—and politicians.