Crime and corruption provide an opening for outsider candidates in Brazil

With Brazil’s presidential election upcoming in October 2018, crime and corruption are featuring prominently on the campaign trail.

Small City in Brazil

Background

Over the past year, Brazil has been plagued by corruption scandals and a growing violent crime problem. With presidential and legislative elections scheduled for 7 October 2018, the government deployed the military last month to the state of Rio de Janeiro, home to the eponymous commercial hub. Such efforts are an attempt to curb the crime perpetrated by organised criminal groups, often concentrated in and around shanty towns known as favelas. The efficiency of the military deployment was undermined by the recent high-profile assassination of a local councilwoman in Rio de Janeiro city. The killing has sparked protests and accusations of police involvement. As the war on crime continues, a corruption conviction is almost certain to prevent the presidential front runner, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (‘Lula’), from running for re-election. In remains unclear whether current president Michel Temer will run for re-election amid an ongoing corruption investigation and record low approval ratings. This uncertainty leaves the field wide open for a candidate outside the political establishment to sweep in and secure votes.

Crime and corruption

On 14 March, unidentified gunmen shot and killed councilwoman Marielle Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes, in Rio de Janeiro’s city centre. Franco was in the back seat of a vehicle when two vehicles pulled up alongside and opened fire, with four bullets hitting Franco’s head. The killing was well-organised, carried out by a well-trained shooter, and the bullets used were from police-issued stocks. These factors suggest that the murder was committed by either corrupt police officers or former police officers acting on behalf of a criminal gang.

Franco, the only black woman elected to Rio de Janeiro’s 51-member city council, was an outspoken critic of police violence against citizens of the state, particularly black citizens. She campaigned to draw attention to extrajudicial killings perpetrated by security forces. The murder sparked well-attended protests throughout Brazil, as well as memorial events worldwide. The international outcry is increasing pressure on the Brazilian government to investigate the murder and produce a suspect. The killing has also highlighted the racial divide; violence, perpetrated by the state and civilians, overwhelmingly targets people of colour in Brazil. In 2017, law enforcement killed over 1,100 people; almost 80 per cent of the victims were non-white. These statistics are likely to feature prominently in October’s elections.

Police corruption is a major concern in Brazil. In mid-March, police arrested nine members of a paramilitary group operating an extortion ring in the Baixada Fluminense district; four of those arrested were active-duty police officers. In 2008, Franco was part of an investigation into crime groups with police or former police membership. The investigation resulted in 67 police officers being prosecuted.

Franco, the only black woman elected to Rio de Janeiro’s 51-member city council, was an outspoken critic of police violence against citizens of the state, particularly black citizens.

Violent crime in Rio de Janeiro state has increased over the past six months, with the violence being attributed by police to territorial fighting between criminal gangs and drug-trafficking groups. In 2017, 6,731 people were killed in the state, the highest death toll in nearly a decade. This rapid escalation prompted President Michel Temer on 16 February to sign an executive order transferring law enforcement in the state to the military in an attempt to tackle crime. He also created a public security ministry which oversees national law enforcement.

The decision was made after months of rising crime culminated in Carnival celebrations that were marred by violent robberies and gunfights between gangs. When the intervention was first announced, it had a public approval rating of 80 per cent but quickly fell to 71 per cent after the first month. On 24 March, seven people were killed in fighting between military police and alleged drug traffickers in Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro. According to police, their patrol came under fire from drug traffickers. Locals speaking to the press gave a conflicting account, claiming that the police opened fire on a group of men who were exiting a dance hall. At least one of the victims was reportedly shot in the back while running away, and the families of several victims claim they were not affiliated with drug-trafficking gangs. Similar incidents are likely to occur while the military deployment continues.

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