Law and Order Assurance Operations: A Challenge for the Brazilian Armed Forces

Law and Order Assurance Operations: A Challenge for the Brazilian Armed Forces

By André Luís Woloszyn*
May 22, 2017

Law and Order Assurance Operations (GLO, per its Portuguese acronym) conducted by the Brazilian Armed Forces in the favelas, or shanty towns of Rio de Janeiro, are a huge challenge for Brazilian service members. From the standpoint of institutional policy, this is an extremely complex and delicate activity in view of the factors in that area of operation because of the great offensive power that criminal organizations have established there, and because of the constant risk of collateral damage — such as negative publicity — especially in the event of casualties among local residents, or even among members of criminal factions. Unlike counterinsurgency operations, defined in U.S. military doctrine as a prolonged, organized, political and military struggle meant to debilitate the control and legitimacy of an established government, an occupying force, or some other political authority, and regulated under the internal conflict provisions of international law, GLO Operations aimed at stabilizing an area dominated by organized crime factions, linked mainly to drug trafficking, adhere to national legal norms, the democratic rule of law, and especially human rights concerns. For a better understanding by the reader, we turn to an evaluation of three conditional factors for this situation. First, the area of operations. Take, for instance, the Alemão favela complex, located in the northern part of Rio de Janeiro, where 400,000 people live in an area of just over 1,000 square meters that is controlled by a gang known as Comando Vermelho (Red Command). Inside the complex, military service members work blindly due to few observation posts looking out over the features of the high terrain and the buildings. Many areas can be accessed only by foot soldiers on roads that are actually stairways between buildings, dug into the ground, measuring about one to 1.5 meters wide. Such conditions prevent the use of heavy vehicles and support vehicles and make it possible for criminals to mount a rapid and unidentifiable counteroffensive, breaking into houses and coercing residents in their attempt to use their homes as a refuge, and as control points and observation posts. Second, the faction has an arsenal at its disposal, including a range of weapons, from pistols and revolvers to rifles and machine guns of various calibers and origins. A substantial number of grenades, .380 caliber, 9 mm, and 40 mm pistols, as well as HK-G3, AK-47, Uzi, and AR-15 rifles, and even a copious amount of commercially prohibited munitions that are reserved exclusively for use by the Brazilian Armed Forces have already been seized there. Third, in terms of collateral damage, there is the constant risk of casualties on both sides, as well as targeting errors since there is no way of distinguishing between criminals and non-criminals or even whether the fire from the opposing force is coming from a child or an adolescent. Given this context, the use of military force is limited to a lower intensity than what is applied by the members of these factions, who act without any legal or ethical criteria, but under the watchful eye of the international media and human rights organizations. This is a low-level, asymmetrical conflict that is unique in its kind. It is not a counterinsurgency, or acounterterrorism or counterguerilla group operation; it is aimed against an armed and hierarchical criminal organization that uses a guerilla or terrorist modus operandi in its fight for dominion over drug trafficking turf and the attainment of riches. In this sense, for the Armed Forces to be more effective in GLO Operations, special legislation is needed to provide more legal backing to military and intelligence operations that must go beyond the existing norms of the Brazilian legal system, as these operations are characterized by their exceptional nature, employed as a last resort after exhausting all other available means in the area of public safety at the state level. *André Luís Woloszyn, LL.M., a graduate of Strategic Intelligence at the Brazilian War College, is an intelligence analyst specialized in criminology.
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