Armed militias in many of Rio de Janeiro's favelas are setting exorbitant prices for gas cylinders and other basic goods, knowing residents have little choice but to pay up.
The average price of a gas cylinder in favelas controlled by gangs and armed militias is approximately $28, around 40 percent higher than the average price in the rest of the state, according to Brazilian news site Globo. Residents attempting to bypass the price hike and purchase cheaper gas from legal vendors may face violent reprisals.
"You can't buy gas anywhere else. You can only buy gas with the militias," a favela resident told Globo, adding that cylinders bought from different providers would be confiscated. "That's if they don't attack you because in the favela it's forbidden to buy gas from somewhere else," he said.
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The militias – vigilante networks initially formed to combat Rio's powerful drug gangs, often comprising active and retired members of the security forces – have steadily evolved into criminal groups and gained a chokehold on a long list of basic services in the state. Aside from gas cylinders, these groups reportedly control internet and cable TV services, as well as transportation and construction businesses in many of Rio's favelas.
The militias have also usurped territories and criminal economies previously controlled by drug gangs. And according to a 2020 study by the Brazilian Public Security Forum, armed militias now control half the area of Rio De Janeiro.
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Militias in Rio's favelas have long filled a vacuum left by a largely absent state, stepping in to deliver services including electricity, internet, water, and even clandestine television.
But while services such as television have been sold at a lower prices – allowing militias to undercut legal providers – these groups are now taking advantage of their monopolistic territorial control to hike costs for gas cylinders. And with no other suppliers, residents of many Rio favelas are at the whim of criminal groups.
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In addition to controlling basic commodities, Rio militias have also set up lucrative extortion rackets targeting local businesses, car parks and real estate companies. The militias are also heavily involved the drug trade and money laundering; the groups boast a vast network of legal businesses used to conceal illicit funds.
Heavy-handed state interventions have done little to unseat these groups. Past operations have rarely targeted zones held by militias, instead opting for territory held by drug trafficking gangs.