Guest author: Militarization of public policy and security in Brazil: a challenge for the progressive movement

The progressive movement needs to put forth in a concrete, objective and viable manner, what is expected of the police and of justice and prison systems and propose ways to address the population’s fear and their demand for order.


By Carolina Ricardo


The debate on militarization in Brazil during Jair Bolsonaro’s government can be divided into two main issues: the militarization of civilian government and the militarization of public security. Regarding the former, it must be noted that electing Bolsonaro as president reinforced the interconnection of the Armed Forces with civilian power in Brazil. When he took office, Bolsonaro appointed eight officers of the Armed Forces as ministers, more than the main presidents of the military periods in the 1960s and 1970s. In addition, the presence of Armed Forces representatives in the federal administration went from 370 in 2013 to 1,085 in 2021 and, in Bolsonaro’s administration alone, there was a 70% increase.

This strong presence of Armed Forces representatives creates a militarization of the government that is not desirable under any circumstances, especially in a country whose history is marked by strict military dictatorships. The political turmoil that Brazil is experiencing today is largely due to the polarization of the division between the right and the left, added to the frequent attempts promoted by Bolsonaro to delegitimize the electoral process and electronic ballot boxes. Military representatives of the government and from outside it have adhered to this attack on the electronic ballot boxes and on institutions, questioning the Superior Electoral Court and calling for an increased (and undesirable) military participation in the electoral process.

The militarization of public security encompasses a number of characteristics[1]. The presence of military members in strategic government positions and the police under the command of the Armed Forces are two examples. But the most obvious feature has been the use of military forces for security activities in everyday life in cities.

This transfer of the functions of the Armed Forces is a problem for several reasons. First, the mission of the Armed Forces is to guarantee national defense, whereas public security seeks to protect citizens and guarantee their lives and freedom. These are very different missions that require different and even opposite forms of action. While the concept of national defense has a lot in common with the concept of war and fighting the enemy, the aim of public security should be that of maintaining order and managing conflicts, preventing crime and violence, and enforcing the law. Training, procedures, chains of command and decision-making are all very different in each of these fields.

By trivializing these tasks, the logic of war is brought into daily public security, causing serious human rights violations, inefficiency in public security activities and harm to the Armed Forces, who are employed in activities for which they are not prepared.

This entails negative consequences, exemplified in the Brazilian case of April 2019, when a musician called Eduardo and a waste-picker called Luciano were killed in Rio de Janeiro by more than 200 bullets that an army garrison fired against the vehicle in which the musician and his family were travelling, under the allegation that the vehicle had avoided a roadblock[2].

Another important aspect is the militarization of police forces. Even civilian police end up reproducing military features that are harmful to human rights and to public security itself. The increase in police violence through lethal police violence, the practice of torture and other types of violence during interaction with the public, concepts like ‘taking the law into one’s own hands’ and ‘stopping the enemy’, are largely responsible for this militarization of the security forces. It is also very common that within police forces, the most valued departments are the specialized troops, those deployed to act in specific situations, which demand special training and procedures, generally linked to the warrior ethos, including uniforms that evoke an exacerbated militarism. These police forces are much more highly valued than the everyday patrolling police officer who interacts with citizens, mostly without making use of any weapon. This excessive regard plays an important role in the militarization of the security forces.

Operation Exceptis is a good example of this militarization of the security forces. It was carried out by the Civil Police of Rio de Janeiro in the Jacazerinho favela and left 28 dead following the incursion of around 200 police officers armed for ‘a war’. This happened even after the Federal Supreme Court had suspended police operations of this nature in Rio’s slums during the pandemic. In conjunction with this, an attempt promoted by Bolsonaro’s government to approve an ‘exception of illegality’ in the National Court has gained strength and legitimized all the deaths caused by police officers in confrontations.

These are significant challenges for the future president of Brazil and especially for the progressive movement[3]. To face them, it is necessary to consider public security as a priority agenda for the state and for society as a whole, proposing efficient paths that respect democracy. The appropriation of the public security issue by representatives of the security forces and the extreme right should not be acceptable.

The progressive movement needs to put forth in a concrete, objective and viable manner, what is expected of the police and of justice and prison systems and propose ways to address the population’s fear and their demand for order, without abandoning agendas to confront racism and police violence. In order to reform the police and the judicial system it is essential to engage with the institutions themselves as well as constantly defending constitutional values and calling for accountability and responsibility. The search for dialogue with police, justice and prison systems must be permanent, while these institutions need to be open to conversation. Finally, it is necessary to take back civilian control of the government. The armed forces should return to their original function in the context of a cordial and republican relationship. This is not easy, but it is possible.


About the Author

Carolina Ricardo is a lawyer and sociologist. Executive Director of the Sou da Paz Institute.




[1] Discussion about the militarization of security taken from the text: RICARDO, Carolina.  Militarización de la Seguridad Pública. In: revista Por la Paz, May 2022, nº 40. Available at: https://www.icip.cat/perlapau/es/articulo/militarizacion-de-la-seguridad-publica/

[2] This case is emblematic for many reasons. The most recent is that, for the first time, the members of the army were tried and convicted in the first degree by military justice.

[3] Discussion about challenges for the progressive movement taken from the text: RICARDO, Carolina. Da Insegurança ao Autoritarismo In: Quatro Cinco Um Magazine, nov/2021, available at: https://quatrocincoum.folha.uol.com.br/br/artigos/laut/da-inseguranca-ao-autoritarismo



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