Counterinsurgency in Rio

Brazil’s recently mounted an ambitious combined military/police effort to bring a particularly notorious gang-dominated slum under effective government control. Initially, the incoming troops were greeted as liberators. A week later, Alexei Barrionuevo reports:

Residents watched stone-faced as Mr. Beltrame passed. No one applauded or rushed to shake the hand of the man who had orchestrated the program to “pacify” Rio’s slums ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. Instead, a 54-year-old mother confronted him for several minutes, telling him that a Military Police officer had entered her home, pinned her against her kitchen sink and demanded her son’s money. […]

After a week of searching here and in another slum, the police said they had recovered about 34 tons of marijuana; 692 pounds of cocaine; well over 400 pistols, rifles, machine guns and grenades; but comparatively little cash: about $68,000. All of the money, moreover, was recovered by the army and the federal police — Rio’s own forces turned in none — raising broad suspicions of police corruption. […]

Even military officials have expressed concern that their soldiers would be “contaminated” by the “culture of corruption” inside Alemão, a high-ranking military officer acknowledged. And despite the community being surrounded by about 2,600 personnel from the police and the military, most of the traffickers somehow escaped, fueling an investigation into whether officers helped some of them.


My thoughts naturally turned to Afghanistan. Think of the drug dealers as the Taliban, the Brazilian military as the US military, and the Rio police as the Afghan security forces. Obviously, the parallels aren’t perfect but I think the comparison is instructive especially because there’s no “ideological” or “ethnic conflict” element here and yet a somewhat similar underlying dynamic can clearly exist.