President Michel Temer’s government, in a combination of illegitimate rise to power, a push for a social and economic program that is antinational and antipopular (which has not effectively brought the economy’s recovery, even as the government and the press try to make the population think otherwise) and overflowing evidence-based charges of corruption (including the infamous recording done of the presidential advisor with a suitcase filled with R$500,000 bribe money) currently holds the worst levels of popular approval in Brazil’s history. The political party that now is placed in the Federal Executive power, the MDB, comitted to an ultraliberal economic policy, to the taste of the “market”, with a document titled “Bridge to the Future” still during Dilma Rousseff’s government, the predecessor. Among the measures therein written there was an emphasis on the social security reform. Since the government had used its political capital to insulate the president through two charges sent to the Chamber of Deputies, charges that could suspend him, the reform was not approved. In reaction to this unsuccessful reform, the government turned to war on crime issues in Rio de Janeiro and got a measure approved in the National Congress authorizing the Armed Forces to take command of the state’s public security services.
The results of such intervention so far have been negligible. Rio de Janeiro lives a severe public security problem. Although it presents better statistics than many other Brazilian states, criminality levels have considerably increased in the last three years. Furthermore, criminality has different characteristics than other areas in the country because of the armed confrontation between drug dealers, militia (policemen groups that control many areas and that organize as mafias) and the police, and said clashes are caused by the territory dispute of a relevant portion of Rio’s metropolitan area, where reside the most in need, the favelas and the poor neighborhoods.
The significant drop in public security in Rio de Janeiro (which is not, as it is put, a phenomenom exclusive to Rio, but that has some specific characteristics in the former Brazilian capital) is essentially linked to two factors: the failure in implementing the “Peace Police Units” in poor and previously drug dealing-ruled regions and the effects of the economic crisis in the state of Rio de Janeiro and its public finances.
The Peace Police Units (“UPP” in Portuguese) had substantially reduced criminality in areas where it had been implemented in the first few years of service (having the first one been opened in 2008), but have started to face problems after the popular uproar generated by the death of the bricklayer Amarildo by the hands of UPP policemen in Rocinha favela in 2013. The bricklayer was put through torture and then killed by officers. After this event the credibility of the UPP project was seriously smeared. Gradually, the policemen left many of the spaces they had been operating in these poor communities, and the people who dealt drugs and had inhabited these spaces headed back. However, it was the economic crisis that was the most important factor for the deterioration of public services in Rio de Janeiro, including public safety. Public security now faces the scrapping done to the state machine that supports it as police cars cannot patrol the streets and there is a lack of policemen in adequate numbers. Rio de Janeiro was the state that has most been affected by the grave crisis Brazil went through in 2015 and 2016, the years that put together comprehend a diminishing of 7% in national GDP. And that has happened because of federal government’s decisions (those, therefore, do not imply Rio’s government), state policy and are also due to the effects of the Operation Car Wash in the state economy. Concerning the federal government, besides the recessive policies adopted since 2015 (that have started during Dilma Rousseff’s government), the state oil company Petrobras, in Temer’s government, changed its management, setting aside its long-term strategic vision that had always been its trademark to a short-term focus administration, ceasing to be the important investor in Brazilian economy that it had been in recent years so that it could go after active asset sales and the amortizaton of financial commitments. Additionally the company’s focus has been defended as the exploration of oil and gas: this new type of management differs from most other big companies in the sector which aim at integrating the services from oil wells to gas stations and not specializaing in the commodity production. To these new Petrobras guidelines, beyond the cuts in investments that had very negative effects over the economic activity and employment, were added effects from Operation Car Wash that affected the sectors of oil, shipbuilding, heavy civil and energetic constructions, including the nuclear energy sector. Hundreds of thousands of jobs were eliminated by Operation Car Wash and tens of thousands in Rio. Differently from what occurs in developed countries, the investigation in Brazil imposed excessively strict punishments to the wrongdoing companies. One of these punishments was the prohibition of many of them to serve the public sector and receive the payments to which they were entitled to by contracts. Such measures have put many Brazilian contractors in a difficult situation. That is not common practice in developed countries where companies take up compliance commitments with the mandatory acceptance of new practices and the payment of fines determined by the government. They are not, normally, ruled out from being hired by the government. On the other hand, regarding state government, an excessively concessive policy of exemptions to the private sector has compromised future revenues. The convergence of all these factors in the Brazilian context of economic crisis and political instability made the state government’s revenue decrease in R$20 billion a year, a relevant portion of the state budget. So, the public sector in Rio as a whole has entered a crisis. Universities, health care units, public security are all working in precarious conditions. Therefore, the current illegitimate and unpopular Brazilian federal government decided to appeal to the demagogy of a military intervention in the public security sector, which is not of constitutional competence to the Armed Forces. There is no plan, no debate with specialists in the area, nor political will to face the causes of the problems, which involve problems in the fields of security and justice, but fundamentally serious problems of economic and social inclusion. “Solve the insecurity issue” has become the motto of a government that will not deliver the economic recovery promised in the current economic policy.
It was in this scenario that Marielle Franco’s murder took place. The brutal death, a killing by firearm shots coming from another car in a pursuit, has all the characteristics of a planned execution. The Rio favela-born legislator reported police abuse and was designated to follow the military intervention in security as a representative of the municipal legislative. The case dates back to two and a half months ago and, to this moment, there have been only especulations about its authorship and the eventual minds behind the crime. The case has been covered around the world and has caused outcry in many countries. Marielle’s tragedy is a grave attack to democracy and to human rights in a country where over 61,000 citizens were murdered in 2017.
Former president Lula’s imprisonment will be two months anniversary on June 7th. Its appeals in Brazilian superior courts, to avoid his prison and ask for his release, were not successful. There was press insistence (especially from the main communication group in the country, Globo) and even from the military in the sense that the habeas corpus should not be conceded to the former president. The Armed Forces commander said, on the day before the habeas corpus judgment, before imprisonment: “I reassure the Nation that the Brazilian Armed Forces understand they share the wish of all rightful citizens to condemn impunity and to respect the Constitution, the social peace and the Democracy, as well as maintain awareness to their institutional duties” in a visible shade of threat that was mainly pointed out by Globo. Although one cannot say that the general’s announcement has influenced the result, the fact that the military has got back some level of resonance in the Brazilian political debate is an example of the political-institutional deterioration lived by the country in recent years. This year’s October election is completely undefined. Lula keeps hold of his candidacy. The left counts on other names, as the former governor and former minister Ciro Gomes. The right has not been able to present a competitive candidacy so far. The race is set to be disputed in this scenario of a breakdown of institutions, the Brazilian way of life, the economy and the society. Hope is placed in the possibility this moment be of a renegotiation of a political pact and the resuming of a national project. But it is not certain whether this will happen or not.