According to authorities in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the city's illicit miltias have become cozier with the local drug gangs they were originally set up to combat, an alarming development for those looking to stem the miltias' expansion.
As O Globo reported, Rio's organized crime investigative bureau has said that their investigations showed business ties had developed between the city's militias and drug gangs.
The bureau has documented several cases involving militias that have agreed to allow drug traffickers to operate in militia territory, in exchange for a fee. Militias have also recruited gang members to work with them, according to the investigative bureau.
Authorities observed interactions between militias and drug gangs as early as 2010, just prior to the large-scale military occupation of Complexo do Alemao -- one of the first neighborhoods that the government attempted to secure as part of a wider crackdown on crime. Around this time, police recorded phone conversations of militia members discussing weapon sales with gangs in Alemao.
Rio's miltias principally consist of active-duty and former police, soldiers, and prison guards. Active for three decades, they were originally formed in order to push drug traffickers out of certain neighborhoods. However, now the militias carry out a range of criminal activities, including charging locals "security" fees and carrying out extrajudicial killings.
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As pointed in out in the O Globo article, if Rio's miltias are building a relationship with their former drug gang rivals, this could indicate they are under significant financial pressure. If the drug gangs are willing to pay the necessary fees to operate in the militias' territories, this could represent major profits for the militias, and could be too good for them to pass up.
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The question now is whether this will push the militias closer towards getting directly involved in the drug trade. As one judge told O Globo, the potential profits from marijuana and cocaine represent far more than what the militias get from their neighborhood extortion schemes.
The miltias would certainly not be the first paramilitary group to turn away from their original commitment of combatting a criminal group or other illegal armed actors. Colombia's paramilitary organizations originally arose as rural self-defense units against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, but ended up deeply involved in the drug trade. There's also been accusations that some members of Mexico's vigilantes -- originally formed to combat organized crime -- have been compromised.