Criminal Groups Control Political Campaigning in Rio Slums

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Drug traffickers and militias are charging candidates in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro state for campaigning rights for coming elections in an indication that in spite of recent security campaigns, criminal groups continue to exercise considerable social control over their areas of operation.

According to political candidates interviewed by O Globo, drug traffickers and militia groups charge candidates between $35,000 and $45,000 to campaign in their territory, and up to $132,000 for the support of local leaders in upcoming elections.

The groups have also created lists of banned candidates and conducted informal censuses so they can base the amounts they charge on the size of the electorate, reported O Globo.

Criminal groups even reportedly profit from campaigns in favelas with a considerable security presence, including Complexo da Mare, which is occupied by the military, and Complexo do Alemao, where a Police Pacification Unit (UPP) is currently in place.

According to candidates, there are substantial differences in the ways in which militias and drug trafficking groups exert control over campaigns. While drug traffickers typically split their territory into different sections to sell to more than one candidate, militias tend to facilitate the election of candidates who offer them political backing. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Although criminal groups have profited from political campaigns in the past, according to O Globo the rules laid down by these organizations are now stricter and the phenomenon has expanded into areas that were previously unaffected. This has had a significant impact on campaigns, prompting some candidates to stay away from certain favelas so as not to put their supporters at risk, while others have elected to pay for criminal endorsements.

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This does not bode well for democracy in Brazil, where there have already been numerous reports of ties between criminal groups and government officials. According to a 2008 estimate, up to 70 percent of money laundering in Brazil is tied to official corruption. One prominent 2012 case implicated politicians in a gambling scheme that was used to launder illicit funds from criminal groups in Rio de Janeiro. In another case the following year, officials in Rondonia state were arrested for allegedly accepting campaign financing from drug traffickers in exchange for appointing the criminals to non-existent political posts.

The recent reports are also a bad sign for Rio’s controversial UPP program, which has been looking increasingly fragile in the wake of criminal counter attacks and alleged human rights abuses. Reports that criminal groups control campaigns in Complexo do Alemao — which was occupied by the military in 2010 and has had a UPP in place since 2012 — suggest that at least in this favela, the UPP has done little to break the social stranglehold of criminal groups. 

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