The Impact of Militia Actions on Public Security Policies in Rio de Janeiro

Crime and Globalization: Debate papers, March 2010
01 March 2010

An examination of the rise of militias – well-organised private vigilante groups made up of rogue, dismissed or retired police officers, firemen and prison guards - in the recurrent episodes of extreme urban violence in Rio de Janeiro, which represents developments in urban security that spread far beyond Brazil.

In many unruly megacities around the world, the state often cannot provide law and order and satisfy basic security needs and is superseded by a wide range of alternative illegitimate security arrangements, creating a power and governance vacuum.

The state monopoly on the legitimate use of force is eroded and "markets of violence" or a "markets of force" emerge as a mode of security regulation. With the absence of rule of law, security protection and governance, security ceases to be a public good and transforms into a private commodity. The social contract between state and citizen, expressed by the payment of taxes and the protection implied in an effective monopoly of the legitimate use of force, is seriously weakened.

The militias rationalise their violence by pretending to provide security to neighbourhoods and remove the drug gangs and the violence caused by their competition over drug trafficking free zones. Their "legitimation" comes from the absence of regular law enforcement that is supposed to restore public order.

Ribeiro and Oliveira show that the militias have another rationale as well. The ultimate goal of militias is profit, levying security taxes on inhabitants, business and services. This economic rationale has caused violent disputes between different militias.

The perverse reality Rio de Janeiro is witnessing today is that – on top of the violence between drug gangs and between drugs gangs and police – the militias have added yet another wave of violence; of militias against drug gangs, militias against militias and militias against police.