The Military Police of Bahia

Image: Mikhail Nilov


Did PT policy lead us to the current public security crisis?

The public security crisis in Salvador already has its historical-political meaning in dispute. On cell phones in favelas in the center, such as Engenho Velho de Brotas to the extremes of the periphery such as São Cristóvão, in the north zone, and Pirajá, in the west zone, videos and messages about the “Urban War that took over Brazil” under the PT government are widespread.

And the great asset, of what PT-BA will soon call “fake news”, is that the narrative put on screen, “With the PT, violence increased”, is a half-truth whose aspects that give it a partially feasible profile are precisely those corresponding to the accumulation of errors by the PT-BA in its policy in relation to the military police and, therefore, in a more comprehensive framework, to all issues directly or indirectly related to the state of public security in Bahia.

If we look carefully, in just a few pages, at the recent history of police violence in Bahia, we will certainly find as a historical landmark, of the position that has been maintained by the state government in recent years, the following statement on February 06, 2015 of the then governor Rui Costa (PT-BA), today, ironically of PT's internal conciliation at the federal level, Minister of the Civil House: “The PM that I imagine and want to build in the state is a PM that respects the citizen and always acts within legality. The police, as required by the Constitution and the law, have to define each moment and it is not always easy to do so. Have the coolness and calm necessary to make the right decision. It's like a goalscorer in front of the goal who tries to decide, in a few seconds, how he's going to put the ball in the goal, to score the goal, he compared. After the play ends, if it was a great goal, all the fans in the stands will clap and the scene will be repeated several times on television. If the goal is missed, the striker will be condemned, because if he had kicked that way or played that way, the ball would have gone in. We defend, like a good goalscorer, hitting more than making mistakes. And you will always have a governor willing to spare no effort, to defend everyone from the enlisted man to the officer, who acts with the necessary energy, but within the law.”

From its premises, that is, from its most basic ideas, to the central argument and derived conclusions, the speeches of the then governor Rui Costa in no way differ from those maintained by Bolsonarism cadres throughout Brazil to this day. This statement, as well as others, can serve as evidence to the reader, from the most attentive to the most naive, that both top political figures, such as former governor Rui Costa, and those linked to other extreme right-wing parties and from the center, share the same hegemonic discursive place regarding the situation of the police forces.

Nesse topos rhetorical, disseminated and instrumentalized nationally by the extreme right in recent years, the police officer always appears as a mixed figure, both hero and victim, when facing the precarious conditions of his work with homicidal brutality. In this Manichaean perspective, the role of the villain falls to the criminal whose apparatus progressively and mysteriously grows, leaving the police officer, a traditional family man, eager to return to his home, in a dilemma that is politically incorrect, but morally ennobling, something classic in the hero's manual: violate the law by behaving as judge and executioner or not violate the law and be killed by the irredeemable, and increasingly powerful, bandit, who has nothing to lose?

If this hero archetype seems to be similar to those in the movies blockbusters that today sediment the political imagination of the masses, especially the youth of the middle and popular classes for whom this product is tailor-made, we should not take this idea with scorn or cynicism, as it proves to be fundamental to understanding both the relationship between the police and the government, as well as their positions in the public security crisis today.

Returning to the recent history of the Bahia government's relationship with the military police, on January 13, 2021, Rui Costa, already in his second term and aiming to solidify one of his main political bases, spoke alongside the General Command of the Military Police of Bahia : “In a polarized and conflicted country, strengthening our institutions is what will make Brazil better and more fair. I wish you, Paulo Coutinho, the best of luck in your work, integrated with the Civil Police, and get ready because we will have to accelerate the pace during this period. It will be a year of many challenges”, said Rui. No other government has done as much for this corporation as we have. There were several promotions in the Military Police of Bahia, something that had never happened before. In addition to psychological and social assistance, we carried out awareness-raising work among the troops as a whole. I want to complete, by the end of the year, the restructuring of our units,” he added. By February I hope to finalize the bidding for the entire technological apparatus in 70 cities in Bahia. We will incorporate existing centers and cameras, with person and license plate recognition. Let's use technology to ensure crime prevention and conviction of criminals. We are primed and ready. In the first phase, health and public safety groups, in addition to people over 75 years of age, will be a priority. We are just waiting for Anvisa to give emergency authorization for us to start vaccination in 10 days.”

Based on the best, or worst, of PT bureaucratism, former governor Rui Costa treated the police, and therefore public security, as a question of a primarily technical-administrative nature. Based on this premise, what is up to the State government, a major manager of services and not the political interests and social needs of the population, is to expand the apparatus, without of course putting into question the suitability of the public security agent, after all executions, bribes and other actions that violate the protocol, in this approach, do not exist. The problem thus appears as a mere matter of improving the repressive apparatus of the military police, as the police officer must have better weapons to carry out his duty, that is, to kill.

Therefore, it must be equipped with better means of land and air transport to better patrol, that is, kill. He must be in better psychological and physical condition to kill. But without, obviously, in this last aspect, having a significant increase in your salary or any other economic support that offers better prospects for your career in the police force. In objective terms, the police officer as a hero in uniform, and not as a worker dependent on a salary, does not need a reform of his office, his institution or any other action that could remove public security agents from their current profile, their role in the political and economic field, of its social function in the exclusionary order of which he, I and you, the reader, are part. In the end, it is up to the police officer in the liberal bourgeois dictatorship to be a killer of peace in his life and that of all other citizens of subordinate social classes.

However, what is the political rationale behind this position taken by the State government? Isn't the PT the workers' party? Why did former governor Rui Costa adopt this political line with the police? And finally, how did this relationship impact the position of the state government and the police in the public security crisis that Bahia faces today?

Answering these questions within the limits proposed in this brief text, we can say that PT pragmatism sees, with some degree of coherence, the dispute over police support as something essential, which is why it is so expensive to defend it and provide support. logistically, advocate in the public debate in defense of your modus operandi, even when it proves to be ineffective. After all, the image of efficiency is almost always more politically effective among the electorate than a social reality punctuated by truly feasible social policies. The PT governors, in their electoral pragmatics, in fact need transit, even if limited, in the police barracks, a minimum support space with the officialdom that allows them a uniformed backdrop for their brave and fearless speeches in front of the press.

In fact, this strategy, at the electoral level, was extremely effective. In times of Bolsonarism and crisis of the democratic political pact established with the 1988 citizen constitution, the PT, an establishment party, one of those that best embodies the regime that followed the Military Dictatorship, achieved electoral victories in the countryside with the support of Rui Costa regional, ensuring its continuity in the Bahian government, and in the federal government, where the support of the Bahian people was extremely important for the 2022 presidential victory, it is no surprise that Rui Costa, then governor of Bahia, was presented with a ministerial portfolio.

In other words, the PT, through politicians such as the former governor of Bahia, knew how to capitalize on the interpretative tendencies of Bolsonarism in its favor, bringing the discourse of the heroic police officer as a brand that gave political identity to the State administration. And this exercise was so effective that the administration of former governor Rui Costa, from the popular perspective, is still synonymous with public security, for better and for worse. Yet, where is this public safety today? Did the PT-BA government deliver what it promised to the people of Bahia? The answer to this question is more complex than “yes” and “no”.

The Rui Costa government in fact made an effort to expand the Military Police apparatus, in order to treat the issue of public security as a purely technical-administrative matter. However, in a pandemic scenario and with a federal government, at the time, a Bolsonarist, the former governor was unable to maintain the budget necessary for this “revitalization” of the PM-BA. Last year, more precisely in the second half of the year, when the current public security crisis was already beginning to reach its most acute point, with Bahia having “twice the number of murders compared to São Paulo (2.954 cases), Minas Gerais (2.385 ) and Rio de Janeiro (2.673) in 2021”, the government of Bahia had to retreat from its political calculation, coincidentally on the eve of the second round of the presidential election.

Reducing the PM-BA budget, which was 3,09 billion reais in 2015, to the 2,28 billion mark, a decrease of 810 million. Accompanied by the budget decrease, there was also, in this “urban war” scenario that was emerging, an increase in the number of inactive people in the Public Security Secretariat of Bahia, going from 14 thousand to 21 thousand. What happened to the warrior police, well equipped, well armed and expanded ranks? Where did they end up? What did they do to fight crime? Wasn't that what would solve Bahia's public security problems?

This change was immediately portrayed by the right-wing opposition to the PT, led in Bahia by União Brasil, descendants of the anything-missing, and enemy of the Bahian people, PFL of Antônio Carlos Magalhães, a party whose governments are marked with iron and blood in the memory of the Bahian backlands until today. Below is a statement, in no way composed, by André Régis, leader of the opposition in the Legislative Assembly of Bahia, in an article in Correio do Bahia that strongly criticized the PT policy regarding public security in that context: “This shows that the PT never treated security with responsibility. On the contrary, the numbers make it clear that they did not prioritize this area, even with the wave of violence that spread across the state. The governor prefers to say that drug trafficking provides jobs and the secretary of public security says that his friends smoke marijuana to relax.”

In this way, even with a right-wing opposition so well prepared to criticize the state government's program, the PT emerged victorious in the elections for the state government. With the transfer of power from Rui Costa to Jerônimo Rodrigues, a black man from the field of education, the government had the opportunity to continue changing the direction of its relationship with the PM-BA. During the campaign, more precisely in a direct clash with ACM Neto, the Carlist who thought he would inherit Bahia like inheriting land, Jerônimo Rodrigues, with bureaucratic competence that is not strange to him, aligned the political demands for monitoring police action with the old policy to increase the lethality of the PM-BA. Sound confusing? Yes, but in the electoral pragmatics that guided his rhetoric during the campaign, and today too, it makes perfect sense. After all, this way, everyone, from conservatives fascistized by Bolsonarism to progressives on the left, would be satisfied.

Here is the vision of paradise presented by the one who is now governor of Bahia: “Federal action is needed to control borders and combat the illegal trade in weapons and ammunition. The public security policy will have three main guidelines: more investment in technology and intelligence; investment in professionals, through modern equipment, salary enhancement policy and continued training, in fact, our police force is one of the best in Brazil; and finally, the control of arms and ammunition. (...) There will be no chance in my government, any action of criminal groups. I will bring it to my table, together with the State Secretariat of Public Security, including in partnership with the Federal Government, so that we can establish a great Public Security plan for the state to invest in intelligence, in technology. I will hold a public competition so that staff are guaranteed for the Military Police, Civil Police and I will not give a respite at any time to criminal actions, drug trafficking and weapons trafficking. Along with security action, I will create a great articulation of public security with human rights, so that we can create a future of peace, including education, including concrete actions so that Bahia feels safe in relation to public security. (…) We will have cameras in armored vehicles. With the cameras, where the vehicle passes, it records and monitors the communities, helping with the intelligence of the Public Security Secretariat. (…) Create a housing financing program for public servants with priority for public security professionals, in partnership with the federal government. (…) Expand the permanent training and qualification plan for police forces, with emphasis on partnerships with institutions of the justice system (Public Ministry, Judiciary and Public Defender), universities and members of social movements, focusing on issues related to human rights , confronting racism, sexism, violence against the LGBTQIAPN+ population and other historically excluded social groups”.

Promising a police force for everyone during the election, Jerônimo Rodrigues forgot, or skillfully did not address with his conciliatory speech the elephant in the room: the partiality and political agency of the PM-BA itself, an institution that, although it aspires in its militaristic ideology to be above of political parties in civil society, is not, and will never be, inhibited from taking a political position, beyond that which the legislation grants it, in the matter of public security.

Therefore, although Jerônimo Rodrigues, obeying electoral pragmatics, made the political choice to ignore this element in the police problem, there is more to the action of the military police than the speech of the hero police officer and the technical-administrative problems. After all, behaving as a judge and executioner is also a political choice, based on a fascist ideological bias in which crime is a social problem that must always be treated in absolute terms: order or disorder, good or evil, kill or die.

When the first black governor, from the blackest state in the Brazilian republic, is emptied, due to the alliances that his party demands in the campaign, from making a critical interpretation of the role of the Bahian military police in combating crime, the position that he What remains in the exercise of its long-awaited mandate is to ask civil society to “respect the Military Police”, even though this same police force is the most lethal in Brazil.

Last month, on August 06, under pressure from the Minister of Human Rights and Citizenship in Brazil, Sílvio de Almeida, the governor of Bahia declared on Twitter: “Yesterday, we spoke especially with Minister Silvio Almeida about the actions we are taking in preventing violence, and reducing police lethality, and on our willingness to work in partnership with the federal government on several fronts. (…) Our commitment is to investigate cases of possible excess on the part of any public servant, permanent qualification of police action to ensure more efficient action, respect for legislation and preservation of life”.

Persisting in the contradictory thesis of defending the efficiency of the PM combined with the expansion of police monitoring, Jerônimo Rodrigues declared, just eleven days later, this time pressured by the repercussion of the program's report Profession Reporter da TV Globo, where the PM-BA was accused of being the most lethal in Brazil: “I want to ask those who keep sending wrong messages. Respect our military police, what you are doing to the military police is irresponsible. What we saw, like television coming here to do [reporting], it seemed like it was an order, it was an order”, highlighted the governor, without mentioning names”.

Finally, this contradictory position brings us back to our starting point: the narrative “With the PT, violence increased” on cell phones in Salvador’s favelas. Without a doubt, if we turn to the relationship between the Rui Costa x PM-BA government, we will find plenty of evidence for this narrative, as support for the military police was a strategic action by the PT government to politically capitalize on the interpretative tendencies of Bolsonarism on public security, highly disseminated to the Brazilian population since 2014.

Therefore, still in this sense, what will be taken as fake news by the current PT administration of Jerônimo Rodrigues is also partially true, because the governor unfortunately persists, erroneously, in the contradictory thesis of defending police efficiency while arguing for the monitoring of police forces through cameras.

It is necessary for the governor of the State of Bahia to define a position, because if the Bahian military police need monitoring it is precisely because of their inefficiency, because of a fascist modus operandi based on protocol violations, disrespect for human rights and the citizenship of the population that police forces, ideally, should serve and protect.

If he persists in this bet, Jerônimo Rodrigues puts the possibility of a second term at risk, considering that the historical conditions of polarization, which led Rui Costa to success in 2022, will not be repeated in exactly the same way in the next state and presidential election. As for the municipal election, next year, the PT-BA will already enter the dispute weakened, as the opposition led by União Brasil is already seeking to capitalize politically on the public security crisis in Salvador, skillfully transferring, through the press subordinate to its interests, the responsibility for all chaos and violence in Salvador lies with the State government.

In the end, we are left to persistently ask: what will the Bahian left do in this situation?

*Juan Michel Montezuma Dos Santos He is a professor of history and a doctoral candidate in sociology at USP.


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