New details about militias in Brazil’s rural areas reveal how these criminal groups have spread rapidly in strategic regions around the country.
Brazil's militias are present in at least a dozen of its 26 states, according to an August 5 report by O Globo.
Their territorial expansion is accompanied by illegal deforestation and land hoarding practices that dovetail with the interests of local politicians and businessmen, according to the report.
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Brazil's Federal Police (Polícia Federal - PF) and Federal Public Prosecutor’s Amazon Task Force (Força-Tarefa Amazônia, do Ministério Público Federal - MPF) denounced the militias' incursions in May 2019 during an investigation called Operación Ojoura.
The investigation revealed the participation of businessmen and farmers in forming the rural militias in the region of Boca do Acre and Lábrea, located in Northern Brazil's Amazonas state.
The militias were hired to forcefully displace people from territories and occupy the lands using repressive methods, such as threatening them with firearms, according to O Globo.
InSight Crime Analysis
The presence of militias in close to half of Brazil’s states has become one of the country’s most challenging security issues, further complicated by the fact that they appear to be sanctioned from on high.
These types of criminal structures are mostly made up of active and retired police officers who are hired by businessmen and landowners to forcefully drive out rural dwellers and appropriate lands.
The militias are fed by both corruption within the country’s security forces and economic incentives as former police officers can earn more money by working for them.
As InSight Crime previously reported, the militia phenomenon has expanded outside of Rio de Janeiro in recent years.
Julio Altieri, who works with the Rio de Janeiro-based security consulting company Amarante, told InSight Crime that limited security budgets, Brazil’s economic difficulties, and strategies focused on militarizing security efforts have aggravated the issue.
Also hampering efforts to counter these illegal groups is that Brazil's current government offers them tacit support.
When he was a senator in 2008, Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro said that the militias “provide security, and therefore, maintain the order and discipline among communities. This is what's called a militia. The government should support them now that it cannot fight against the drug traffickers. And, maybe in the future, it should legalize them.”
The relationship between paramilitary organizations and political and business sectors is not new in Latin America. In Colombia, the Attorney General's Office has accused banana companies of financing paramilitary groups between 1996 and 2004. The protection money went to buy weapons, which the paramilitaries used to systematically displace and murder civilians, prosecutors say. This allowed these groups to strengthen in the Urabá area, a drug trafficking hub in northwest Colombia.