Brazil Military Deployment in Rio Shows Past Failures of Militarization

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Brazil’s defense minister has announced a new phase of security operations in Rio de Janeiro that will involve a massive military deployment, a strategy often used throughout Latin America that has repeatedly failed to produce long-term improvements.

In preparation for the second phase of Operation “Rio Wants Security and Peace” (“O Rio Quer Segurança e Paz”), Brazil Defense Minister Raul Jungmann announced on July 28 that some 8,500 military personnel will be joining the roughly 1,500 already deployed to Rio de Janeiro state in an effort to clamp down on rising insecurity.

“This operation aims to use intelligence to reach organized crime — its command chains and methods — to reduce its operational capacity and to strike at it,” Jungmann said according to a Defense Ministry press release.

However, Jungmann stated that unlike in 2015, when Brazil’s military police assumed control of various marginalized neighborhoods known as favelas amid growing violence, the military will not be occupying such areas this time around.

“We won’t have occupations, as we had in Maré,” the defense minister said, referring to the Complexo do Maré favela, which saw a military deployment in 2014. “We can have, eventually, patrols, but they will always occur and will be successively followed by other, more diverse operations.” 

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The day after the announcement, when making a presentation about the results of the first phase of the military operation, Jungmann reiterated his focus on intelligence gathering as key to the initiative’s success.

“Only intelligence will allow us to strike against organized crime and reduce its operational capacity,” he said according to a separate Defense Ministry press release.

Jungmann also stated that the new operations would seek to avoid past mistakes.

“We’re not going to repeat the previous strategy of long stays, doing patrols. We’re not going to occupy communities,” he said. “We’re going to continue in the same breath of surprise. We will not announce when we will start or finish phases of these operations, but I want to say that we are already preparing the next one.”

InSight Crime Analysis 

Rio de Janeiro has been experiencing a significant decline in security conditions recently. Crime is on the rise — in more ways than one — and security forces are struggling to contain growing insecurity. Police in Rio are both killing civilians and being killed themselves at record rates, though incidents of the former are much more common than the latter. And these issues have not been solved by militarized security deployments like those seen during last year’s Olympic Games and this year’s Carnival celebration, which put on stark display the security impacts of the city’s financial crisis brought on by Brazil’s overall economic slowdown.

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But despite past failures and evidence from elsewhere in Latin America showing that increased militarization often does little to improve security in the long-term, authorities in Rio have once again turned to this strategy. Cecília Olliveira, a Brazil-based journalist who focuses on security issues, told InSight Crime that the fact that authorities are once again resorting to this flawed approach “clearly signifies” that there is “no strategic plan” to deal with the security situation.

The military deployment “is being used to contain the immediate circumstances, but not resolve them,” Olliveira wrote in an email. “If this were an effective strategy, we would not need the army on the streets again.”

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