The End of War and Peace: The Thesis of Frédéric Gros and the Federal Intervention in Rio de Janeiro

Image Caption: 03/17/2018 – Army Patrol in Vila Kennedy (Rio de Janeiro-RJ). By Mauro Pimentel/Agence France-Presse[1]


“The war as ‘armed, public and just conflict,’ slowly disappears, with its lies and its nobilities, its atrocities and its consolations. The future of the states of violence, regulated by security procedures promising to reduce its risks, stand before us, requiring thought to inspire new attention and to invent new hopes.”[2] Such is how Frédéric Gros, French political philosopher and professor at the Institut d’études politiques de Paris (SciencesPo), concludes his well-received book States of Violence: An Essay on the End of War.[3] Assuming that the dichotomy between national and international studies is innocuous insofar as these fields are evidently intertwined, Gros’ work can help us critically understand the current situation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

At the request of governor Luiz Fernando ‘Pezão’ de Souza to “put an end to serious compromise of public order,” President Michel Temer placed the state under federal intervention in the sphere of public security since February 2018 and is expected to remain so until the end of the year.[4] Temer named Army General Walter Souza Braga Netto as Interventor Federal [loosely translated to Federal Interventionist], who in practice assumes the powers of the State Secretary of Public Security. Also according to the decree, “the position of Interventor is of a military nature.”[5] It is important to note that the Interventor is not a regular political nor military position in Brazil. It is put in practice only in special or urgent contexts, and appointing one is a power vested upon the President by the Constitution (art. 84, caput, X)[6].

It is within this context that Gros’ argument about the intriguing diversity of actors involved in the sphere of contemporary violence becomes relevant. In “classical conflicts,” soldiers of a given country would confront each other on a particular battlefield. That is, the ones who would fight were considerably easier to identify, usually unified under a clearer motto and confronting each other at a pre-determined space. On the other hand, in the case of Rio de Janeiro, violence embraces multiple actors, starting with the State itself, consisting of various entities such as the Army troops, the Interventor Braga Netto, President Temer himself, the state’s governor, and the police.  In this cloudy battlefield, private actors gain prominence, just as Gros predicts as a global trend, with local criminal factions such as the famous Comando Vermelho (Red Command) active in the favelas, or shantytown communities,  which are not only populated by criminals but also by a resounding number of families (women, children, elderly, etc.). Here, we can observe how the frontiers of conflicts become less predictable, once one’s own neighborhood can be classified as a potential area of war. The national media is also a separate and private actor, serving as an important influencer and articulator of political narratives.

Another, perhaps more cruel, problem highlighted by the French political philosopher is the perpetuation of this scenario, which can even extend to the point where the security system and the recent intervention regulate (and do not combat) the states of violence in Rio de Janeiro. This framework can be understood as a result of faulty, overly bureaucratic, and corrupt security and justice systems, making it clear that federal intervention is aimed at maintaining the political status quo, ignoring the urgency of structural reforms (e.g. investments in education and health) that could bring more positive changes to the state of Rio in the long run. Again, there is a noticeable contrast between conventional forms of violence and violence today, the former with its formal temporality (e.g. declaration of war, mobilization of armies, ceasefires, etc.) and the latter converging with Gros’ concept of perpetuation of tension, where a dispute can continue to occur (and take victims) over an indefinite period.

Thereby, just by deducing from Brazilian political history and recent coverage by national newspapers, one can expect as an immediate result the imprisonment and death of those marginalized by this security system: black, poor, and young population of the local favelas. This expectation is, unfortunately, corroborated by the law approved by Temer last year, which guarantees that violations committed by military officers will be judged only in military courts, rather than in civil courts.[7] Enabling impunity of common military and police violence with a tendency towards serious humanitarian costs under this law correlates with another point by Gros: the barbarization of conflicts.

A study conducted by the Observatory of the Intervention, arranged by Candido Mendes University’s Center for Studies of Security and Citizenship, shows little to no significant improvement in state security resulting from the intervention.[8] For instance, two months prior to the intervention, 1,299 shootings occurred in the city of Rio and in the Metropolitan Region, while two months after the intervention, this number increased to 1,502 shootings. Between February 16 and April 1, 2018, there were twelve cases of homicide with fifty-two victims; according to Nexo, during the equivalent period last year, six cases were registered with twenty-seven people killed in total.[9] The latest report also indicates that after five months, the number of shootings rose to 4,005, including the death of a fourteen year-old boy who was on his way to school and shot from behind by the police in a helicopter during an “operation” at a community known as “Maré.”[10]

The “mediatization” of the violence, as articulated by Gros, is also an important component in Rio’s case. The press’ treatment appears to have potentially influenced the public’s perception of violence. As also identified in the Observatory’s report, media coverage has been often sensationalist or simply incomplete; for instance, it would merely highlight increased robbery rates while neglecting historical police violence. Indeed, according to the aforementioned report, 87 percent of the residents of the city of Rio “are afraid” of being murdered and 92 percent “are afraid” of being hit by a stray bullet. The media’s articulation of expectations as well as its biased approach are dangerous given the persistent sociopolitical narratives disseminated in the country by the conservative elite. The coverage even provides a pretext for the federal intervention with an army general as the Interventor. In practical terms, this trend in the media may influence the population (or electorate) to approve “military in politics” (again).[11] This media influence is particularly pertinent this year with the upcoming Brazilian election and the presidential candidacy of current Federal Deputy Jair Bolsonaro (Social Liberal Party, Rio de Janeiro) and his radically conservative agenda defending the former military dictatorship (1964-1985) and citing torture as a legitimate practice.[12] On June 28, 2018, the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics disclosed that, without Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva (former President of Brazil from the Worker’s Party, 2003-2010) running as a candidate, Bolsonaro is expected to be the leading candidate in the first round with a margin of 17 percent points.[13] Lula has been in prison since April 7, 2018, accused of passive corruption and money laundering in the Triplex Case (bribes to Petrobras, the state’s oil company, through the purchase of the apartment/triplex). The Worker’s Party is looking toward various judicial avenues to confirm Lula’s detention as unconstitutional and is reinforcing the idea of him participating in the upcoming elections (or nominate an ally/ substitute).[14]

Other factors that fuel the popular approval of the federal intervention include recent cases of corruption in Rio, involving high political positions and state bankruptcy. Such misconduct highlights the idea that the Armed Forces are not corrupted by regional crime and thus would be able to “solve the problem.”[15] This context is also problematic in the field of constitutionality: according to Eloísa Machado, professor of Constitutional Law at Getulio Vargas Foundation/Sao Paulo, the military nature of Rio’s Interventor who only responds to Temer, is unconstitutional because such a “position of Interventor is imminently civil.”[16] Moreover, albeit restricted to the area of public security, Braga Netto has the power to sanction governmental action; however, according to Eloísa, the Constitution of 1988, that marked the re-democratization of Brazil, such governmental action should only be civil and non-military.

Thus, we see the end of the war in its “classical” sense, with a significant nebulosity of actors and interests. We also observe the end of peace with a full-functioning political system of security and intervention enacted by Temer in February, which has historically proven important in Rio for regulating and perpetuating intrastate violence. Finally, beyond pondering the morality of the violence—both those in classical terms during the 1500s by the great powers that colonized Latin America, and cases of contemporary violence across the world—States of Violence: An Essay on the End of War proposes a systematic analysis of how violence is articulated nowadays, intertwined with narratives and sometimes seemingly too complex for a quick understanding. In this sense, such systematization of social and political phenomena can be translated from its initially global terms to national or even state contexts. This transferability ultimately strengthens the social function of International Relations by recognizing the complexity, potential scope and sociopolitical contribution of its studies.


About the Author

Vitória Alves is from São José dos Campos, Brazil. Currently in her fourth year, she is an undergraduate student of International Relations at the University of São Paulo. International Politics and Law are her main areas of interest, even before going to university, given her personal experience of four years living in East Timor, at the time, facing post-independence tension. Recently, she’s been focusing on the analysis of Brazilian politics, nevertheless, bringing her International Studies’ background.


Endnotes

[1]Mauro Pimentel (Agence France-Presse) in Felipe Betim (El País). 2018.

[2] Frédéric Gros, Estados de violência: ensaio sobre o fim da guerra [States of Violence: An Essay on the End of War] (São Paulo: Ideias e Letras, 2009), 254.

[3]Information about the author’s current academic position was found in É Realizações (Editora, Espaço Cultural e Livraria – Publisher, Cultural Space and Bookshop – author’s translation).

[4] Michel Temer et al, “Decree No. 9.288,” February 16th 2018, accessed May 3, 2018, http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/_ato2015-2018/2018/decreto/D9288.htm.

[5]João Paulo Charleaux, “Intervenção federal no Rio: as justificativas e as contestações [Federal intervention in Rio: justifications and contestations],” Nexo newspaper, February 16, 2018, accessed May 3, 2018, https://www.nexojornal.com.br/expresso/2018/02/16/Intervenção-federal-no-Rio-as-justificativas-e-as-contestações.

[6] Brazil. Constituição da República Federativa do Brasil de 1988 [Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil of 1988], 1988, accessed May 3, 2018, http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/constituicao/constituicao.htm

[7] Michel Temer and Raul Jungmann, “Law No. 13.491, October 13th 2017,” accessed May 3, 2018, http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/_ato2015-2018/2017/lei/L13491.htm.

[8] Silvia Ramos, À deriva: sem programa, sem resultado, sem rumo [Adrift: no program, no result, aimless] (Rio de Janeiro: Observatory of the Intervention, Center for Studies of Security and Citizenship of the Candido Mendes University, 2018), https://www.ucamcesec.com.br/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Relatório-01-Observatório-da-Intervenção_final.pdf.

[9] André Cabette Fábio, “A situação do Rio após dois meses de intervenção, segundo este relatório [The situation of Rio after two months of intervention, according to this report],” Nexo newspaper, April 27, 2018, accessed May 3, 2018, https://www.nexojornal.com.br/expresso/2018/04/27/A-situação-do-Rio-após-dois-meses-de-intervenção-segundo-este-relatório.

[10] Silvia Ramos, Cinco Meses de Intervenção Federal: Muito Tiroteio, Pouca Inteligência [Five Months of Federal Intervention: Too Much Shooting, Little Intelligence] (Rio de Janeiro: Observatory of the Intervention and Center for Studies of Security and Citizenship of the Candido Mendes University, 2018), http://observatoriodaintervencao.com.br/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/CINCO-MESES.pdf

[11] Ibid.

[12] “Perfil: Jair Bolsonaro, deputado federal, PSL [Profile: Jair Bolsonaro, Federal Deputy, PSL],” Gazeta do Povo, accessed in May 3, 2018, http://especiais.gazetadopovo.com.br/eleicoes/2018/candidatos/presidente/jair-bolsonaro/.

Content in English about Bolsonaro can be found in: Tom Phillips. “Trump of the tropics: the ‘dangerous’ candidate leading Brazil’s presidential race”, The Guardian, April 19, 2018, accessed July 28, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/19/jair-bolsonaro-brazil-presidential-candidate-trump-parallels

[13] Alessandra Modzeleski. “Lula tem 33%, Bolsonaro, 15%, Marina, 7%, e Ciro, 4%, aponta pesquisa Ibope [Lula has 33%, Bolsonaro, 15%, Marina, 7%, and Ciro, 4%, Ibope research points out],”  G1 Globo, June 28, 2018, accessed July 18, 2018, https://g1.globo.com/politica/eleicoes/2018/noticia/lula-tem-33-bolsonaro-15-marina-7-e-ciro-4-aponta-pesquisa-ibope.ghtml

[14] Conrado Corsalette and Olívia Fraga. “Por que um desembargador mandou soltar Lula agora. E por que ele continua preso [Why an appeals court judge ordered Lula to be released now. And why is he still in prison?],” Nexo newspaper, July 8, 2018, accessed July 18, 2018, https://www.nexojornal.com.br/expresso/2018/07/08/Por-que-um-desembargador-mandou-soltar-Lula-agora.-E-por-que-ele-continua-preso

[15] André Cabette Fábio, “A situação do Rio após dois meses de intervenção, segundo este relatório [The situation of Rio after two months of intervention, according to this report].” Nexo newspaper. April 27, 2018. Accessed May 3, 2018. https://www.nexojornal.com.br/expresso/2018/04/27/A-situação-do-Rio-após-dois-meses-de-intervenção-segundo-este-relatório.

[16] João Paulo Charleaux, “Intervenção federal no Rio: as justificativas e as contestações [Federal intervention in Rio: justifications and contestations],” Nexo newspaper, February 16, 2018, accessed May 3, 2018, https://www.nexojornal.com.br/expresso/2018/02/16/Intervenção-federal-no-Rio-as-justificativas-e-as-contestações.


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Mauro Pimentel (Agence France-Presse). Photo found in Felipe Betim (El País). Exército começa a sair da ‘favela teste’ Vila Kennedy após um mês de intervenção e poucos resultados (Army begins to leave the ‘test favela’ Vila Kennedy after a month of intervention and few results – author’s translation). 3/20/18. Available in: <https://brasil.elpais.com/brasil/2018/03/20/politica/1521576120_595895.html>. Access in: May 5th 2018.

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Temer, Michel, and Raul Jungmann. “Law No. 13.491, October 13th 2017.” Accessed May 3, 2018. http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/_ato2015-2018/2017/lei/L13491.htm.Tom Phillips. “Trump of the tropics: the ‘dangerous’ candidate leading Brazil’s presidential race”, The Guardian, April 19, 2018, accessed July 28, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/19/jair-bolsonaro-brazil-presidential-candidate-trump-parallels

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