Small Wars Journal

Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 37: Rio de Janeiro Gang and Militia Extortion and Control of Telecommunications Towers  

Fri, 05/28/2021 - 1:07pm

Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 37: Rio de Janeiro Gang and Militia Extortion and Control of Telecommunications Towers  

John P. Sullivan, José de Arimatéia da Cruz, and Robert J. Bunker

Criminal Factions (Facções criminosas) in Rio de Janeiro (RJ) are extorting telecommunications and utility operators and attacking telecommunications infrastructure to bolster criminal protection rackets. The rackets obstruct free access to telephone, internet, cable, television, natural gas, and electricity. The criminal exploitation extends beyond the favelas throughout the region. Theft, vandalism, and sabotage, as well as threats to infrastructure personnel, impede service provision.

RioTowers

Telecom antennas in Rio’s mountains with statue of Christ the Redeemer.

Public Domain, Creative Commons CC0

Key Information: Dermot O’Sullivan, “Criminals control Rio communications towers in 72 neighborhoods; blackmail operators.” The Rio Times. 12 May 2021, https://riotimesonline.com/brazil-news/rio-de-janeiro/criminals-control-rio-communications-masts-in-72-neighborhoods-blackmail-operators/:

The gangs refuse entry to communications workers and have blocked the access routes to some of these areas with barricades and say they will only allow access if a fee is paid to them.

Organized crime has taken control of another aspect of public life in Rio de Janeiro, with up to 26 telecommunications tower masts across the city in the control of criminal organizations.

These masts and antennae are located in various neighborhoods in the municipality of Rio de Janeiro, including Barra de Tijuca, Campo Grande, Madureira, and Vila Isabel. In total, these cases occur in 72 neighborhoods in the capital. Outside the capital the problem occurs in suburban Niterói, São Gonçalo and Itaboraí.  

Key Information: “Crime organizado controla parte de antenas de internet e telefonia no RJ.” Diaro do Rio.com. 2 May 2021, https://diariodorio.com/crime-organizado-controla-parte-de-antenas-de-internet-e-telefonia-no-rj/:

“As operadoras já gravaram mensagens prontas quando se liga para a reclamação dizendo que em função da segurança pública não é possível restabelecer o sistema uma vez que seus profissionais sofrem ameaças de morte com relação à prestação dos serviços feita por bandidos do local”, diz um morador de uma área afetada pela situação.

Além disso, os moradores relatam que os bandidos impõem seu próprio serviço. ”Eles obrigam o cidadão de bem a fazer um consumo de um produto clandestino, de má qualidade e de roubo, que é o que eles fazem”, disse um.[1]

Key Information: “No Rio, bandidos tomam o controle de antenas de telefonia e internet.” O Sul. 2 May 2021, https://www.osul.com.br/no-rio-bandidos-tomam-o-controle-de-antenas-de-telefonia-e-internet/:

Facções criminosas do Rio de Janeiro estão avançando no domínio de mais um serviço essencial para população. Bandidos tomaram o controle de antenas de telefonia e internet em vários bairros da região metropolitana.

O homem é um ladrão de wi-fi – e de sinal de celular também – de milhares de brasileiros. Ele tenta se esconder da câmera de segurança ao entrar nas instalações das antenas das operadoras de telefonia. Mas não se intimida ao anunciar aos técnicos das empresas mais uma modalidade do crime no Rio de Janeiro: o sequestro dessas antenas.

“Tem bandidos armados, criminosos ou então algum representante desse crime organizado que diz: ‘Olha, eu tenho um recado aqui para vocês. Essa antena está sob a nossa responsabilidade agora. Eu quero receber alguma coisa por isso’”, conta uma pessoa que não quis se identificar.[2]

Key Information: Paulo Renato Soares and Edvaldo Santos, “Facções criminosas sequestram antenas de telefonia e internet no RJ.” G1 (Globo). 1 May 2021, https://g1.globo.com/rj/rio-de-janeiro/noticia/2021/05/01/faccoes-criminosas-sequestram-antenas-de-telefonia-e-internet-no-rj.ghtml:

Facções criminosas do Rio de Janeiro estão avançando no domínio de mais um serviço essencial pra população.  

Bandidos tomaram o controle de antenas de telefonia e internet em vários bairros da região metropolitana.  

Segundo as operadoras, já são 26 antenas sob o controle dos criminosos, o que afeta 158 mil pessoas em 72 bairros na capital e em mais 3 cidadesda Região Metropolitana: São Gonçalo, Niterói e Itaboraí.  

Na capital, entre as áreas afetadas estão Barra da Tijuca, Vila Isabel, Madureira e Campo Grande.[3]

Key Information: Chico Alves, “Inteligência do Exército: avanço da milícia no Rio impede acesso a serviços.” Noticias UOL. 16 February 2021, https://noticias.uol.com.br/colunas/chico-alves/2021/02/16/inteligencia-do-exercito-avanco-da-milicia-no-rio-impede-acesso-a-servicos.htm:

Furtos e vandalismo na rede

Segundo a Oi, "em virtude da ação de criminosos, a empresa vem sendo constantemente vítima de furtos e vandalismo na sua infraestrutura de telecomunicações e equipes técnicas têm sido impedidas de acessar equipamentos e operar a rede, o que impacta na manutenção e disponibilidade dos serviços de telecomunicações, tão importantes para garantir a continuidade dos serviços prestados à sociedade.

O serviço de inteligência do Exército cita também a Vivo Fibra, que está às voltas com sérios problemas em sua expansão, com grande número de ataques a sua rede de fibra ótica na cidade do Rio.

"Bairros como Vila Isabel, Engenho Novo, Riachuelo, Engenho de Dentro, já são considerados territórios perdidos, em virtude do grande número de (atos de) vandalismo, tudo a mando do tráfico e da milícia", diz o informe militar.

Sessões de tortura e espancamento

A associação de milícia e tráfico também prejudica o acesso de parte dos cariocas a serviços como gás encanado e energia elétrica.

De acordo com o documento do CIE [Centro de Informações do Exército], a Naturgy, distribuidora de gás, "vem enfrentando problemas em virtude de pedágios que o tráfico ou milícias cobram para que reparos sejam feitos em sua rede de distribuição". O problema já afeta 2 milhões de pessoas. "Bairros inteiros estão sem gás encanado, para obrigar os moradores a comprarem botijões de gás da Milícia ou tráfico por até 120 reais", destaca o texto.[4]

Third Generation Gangs Analysis

Facções criminosas (criminal factions) have been targeting telecommunications towers and other infrastructure in Rio de Janeiro (RJ). Organized crime globally have long pursued extortion and protection rackets—‘street taxes’ as a means of raising funds and exerting control.[5] This situation in RJ exemplifies the growing power of milícias (militias).[6][7] In Rio, gangues (gangs) and milícias compete for control of the criminal economy and for relative power and criminal governance.[8]  

In addition, militias have a history of extortion targeting, for example petroleum infrastructure such as Petrobras.[9] Milícias and gangues have also been involved in resource extraction and fuel theft in Brazil. As described in Third Generation Strategic Gangs Note No. 20 (2019):

The participation the milícias raises the specter of corruption since they have strong connections to the state. They evolved for citizen-led vigilante groups to become powerful mafias in their own right. The state-militia nexus amplifies criminal competition for control yielding a hybrid form of criminal-political violence.[10]

A Brazilian Centro de Informações do Exército (army intelligence center) report, cited by UOL Noticias, highlights the scope of the threat. According to that report, the power company Light placed the extent of stolen energy from the RJ power grid at 72% of its total distribution within 230 risk areas mapped between October 2019 and September 2020. The area involved contained 676 thousand customers (or 15.6%) of the utilities total customer base.[11] The same report noted that mobile phone towers are also under attack with each operator paying drug traffickers or militias a ‘street tax’ (protection fee) R$ 30,000 per week.[12]

The Secretaria de Polícia Civil (Civil Police Secretariat) established a task force to address the threat in October 2020. Since the start of task force operations over 20 clandestine internet and cable TV providers were banned and over 600 milícia members have been arrested. Losses to the illicit economy were estimated at near R$ 1.1 billion.[13]

The gangs/militias demand payment for the operators. If the ‘street tax’ isn’t paid, the operators are denied access to the sites. In the case of telecom towers if they are not regularly maintained they malfunction denying service to 4,000 customers per non-functioning mast. Current estimates suggest that over 150,000 people have been denied service.[14]  This classic extortion racket demonstrates the growing influence of corruption, violence, and criminal governance in Rio de Janeiro.[15][16]

Sources

Chico Alves, “Inteligência do Exército: avanço da milícia no Rio impede acesso a serviços.” Noticias UOL. 16 February 2021, https://noticias.uol.com.br/colunas/chico-alves/2021/02/16/inteligencia-do-exercito-avanco-da-milicia-no-rio-impede-acesso-a-servicos.htm.

“Crime organizado controla parte de antenas de internet e telefonia no RJ.” Diaro do Rio.com. 2 May 2021, https://diariodorio.com/crime-organizado-controla-parte-de-antenas-de-internet-e-telefonia-no-rj/.

“No Rio, bandidos tomam o controle de antenas de telefonia e internet.” O Sul. 2 May 2021, https://www.osul.com.br/no-rio-bandidos-tomam-o-controle-de-antenas-de-telefonia-e-internet/.

Paulo Renato Soares and Edvaldo Santos, “Facções criminosas sequestram antenas de telefonia e internet no RJ.” G1 (Globo). 1 May 2021, https://g1.globo.com/rj/rio-de-janeiro/noticia/2021/05/01/faccoes-criminosas-sequestram-antenas-de-telefonia-e-internet-no-rj.ghtml.

Dermot O’Sullivan, “Criminals control Rio communications towers in 72 neighborhoods; blackmail operators.” The Rio Times. 12 May 2021, https://riotimesonline.com/brazil-news/rio-de-janeiro/criminals-control-rio-communications-masts-in-72-neighborhoods-blackmail-operators/.

Endnotes

[1] In English, the title reads: “Organized crime controls part of internet and telephony antennas in RJ.” The text reads: “Operators have already recorded ready messages when they call the complaint saying that due to public security, it is not possible to reestablish the system since their professionals suffer death threats in relation to the provision of services by local criminals," says one resident of an area affected by the situation.” … “In addition, residents report that the bandits impose their own service. ‘They force the good citizen to consume a clandestine product, of poor quality and theft, which is what they do,’ said one.”

[2] In English, the title reads: “In Rio, bandits take control of telephone and internet antennas.” The text reads: “Criminal factions in Rio de Janeiro are advancing in the domain of yet another essential service for the population. Bandits have taken control of telephone and internet antennas in several neighborhoods in the metropolitan region.”… “The man is a thief of wi-fi—and of cellular signal too—of thousands of Brazilians. He tries to hide from the security camera when he enters the antenna installations of the telephone operators. But he is not intimidated by announcing to the technicians of the companies another type of crime in Rio de Janeiro: the hijacking of these antennas.” … “‘There are armed bandits, criminals or some representative of this organized crime that says: ‘Look, I have a message here for you. This antenna is under our responsibility now. I want to receive something for that’,’ says a person who did not want to identify himself’.”

[3] In English, the title reads: “Criminal factions hijack telephone and internet antennas in RJ.” The text reads: “Criminal factions in Rio de Janeiro are advancing in the domain of yet another essential service for the population.” … “Bandits have taken control of telephone and internet antennas in several neighborhoods in the metropolitan region.” … “According to the operators, there are already 26 antennas under the control of criminals, which affects 158 thousand people in 72 neighborhoods in the capital and in 3 more cities in the Metropolitan Region: São Gonçalo, Niterói and Itaboraí.” … “In the capital [of RJ State], among the affected areas are Barra da Tijuca, Vila Isabel, Madureira and Campo Grande.”

[4] In English, the title reads: “Army intelligence: militia advance in Rio prevents access to services.”  The text reads: “Theft and vandalism on the network” … “According to Oi [a telecom provider], ‘due to the action of criminals, the company has constantly been the victim of theft and vandalism in its telecommunications infrastructure, and technical teams have been prevented from accessing equipment and operating the network, which impacts on the maintenance and availability of services telecommunications, which are so important to guarantee the continuity of services provided to society’.” … “The Army’s intelligence service also cites Vivo Fibra, which is facing serious problems in its expansion, with a large number of attacks on its fiber optic network in the city of Rio.” …  “‘Neighborhoods like Vila Isabel, Engenho Novo, Riachuelo, Engenho de Dentro, are already considered lost territories, due to the large number of (acts of) vandalism, all at the behest of the traffic and the militia,’ says the military report.” … “Torture and beatings sessions” … “The association of militia and trafficking also impairs the access of part of Cariocas to services such as piped gas and electricity.” …  “According to the CIE [Centro de Informações do Exército/Army Intelligence Center] document, Naturgy, a gas distributor, ‘has been facing problems due to tolls that traffic or militias charge for repairs to be made to its distribution network.’ The problem already affects 2 million people. ‘Entire neighborhoods are without piped gas, to force residents to buy militia gas cylinders or traffic for up to 120 reais.’ the text highlights.”

[5] See Federico Varese, “Protection and Extortion,” Chapter 17 in Letizia Paoli, Ed. The Oxford Handbook of Organized Crime, pp. 343–358. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019. For a historical overview of protection rackets (in the context of statemaking), see, Vadim Vokov, “The Political Economy of Protection Rackets in the Past and the Present.” Social Research. Vol. 67, no. 3. 2000: pp. 709–44, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4097140. In Latin America, there has been a recent recognition of the corrosive potentials of extortion and protection rackets.  See, for example, the Extortion in Central America Initiative at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, https://globalinitiative.net/initiatives/extortion-in-central-america/.  

[6] See Bruce Douglas and Sabrina Valle, “Extortion by Rogue Police Gangs Is Booming in Bolsonaro’s Brazil.” Bloomberg. 23 April 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-04-23/extortion-by-rogue-police-gangs-is-booming-in-bolsonaro-s-brazil.

[7] See John P. Sullivan, José de Arimatéia da Cruz, and Robert J. Bunker, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 32: Militias (Milícias) Surpass Gangs (Gangues) in Territorial Control in Rio de Janeiro.” Small Wars Journal. 26 October 2020, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/third-generation-gangs-strategic-note-no-32-militias-milicias-surpass-gangs-gangues.  

[8] See Enrique Desmond Arias and Nicolas Barnes, “Crime and plural orders in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.” Current Sociology. Vol., no. 3, 2017: pp. 448-465,  https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0011392116667165.

[9] Graham Slattery and Rodrigo Viga Gaier, “Dozens arrested in Rio for murder, extortion of Petrobras contractors.” Reuters. 4 July 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-militia-petrobras/dozens-arrested-in-rio-for-murder-extortion-of-petrobras-contractors-idUSKCN1TZ1CD.

[10] John P. Sullivan, José de Arimatéia da Cruz, and Robert J. Bunker, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 20: Fuel Theft in Brazil—Gangs and Militias Target Petrobras.” Small Wars Journal. 16 October 2019, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/third-generation-gangs-strategic-note-no-20-fuel-theft-brazil-gangs-and-militias-target.

[11] Chico Alves, “Inteligência do Exército: avanço da milícia no Rio impede acesso a serviços.” Noticias UOL. 16 February 2021, https://noticias.uol.com.br/colunas/chico-alves/2021/02/16/inteligencia-do-exercito-avanco-da-milicia-no-rio-impede-acesso-a-servicos.htm.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Dermot O’Sullivan, “Criminals control Rio communications towers in 72 neighborhoods; blackmail operators.” The Rio Times. 12 May 2021, https://riotimesonline.com/brazil-news/rio-de-janeiro/criminals-control-rio-communications-masts-in-72-neighborhoods-blackmail-operators/.

[15] Mariana Simões, “‘In Rio de Janeiro, the Militia Isn’t a Parallel Power. It’s the Government.’” [INTERVIEW].” RioOnWatch. 12 March 2019, https://rioonwatch.org/?p=51031.

[16] The cartels in Mexico have a different orientation to cell phone towers given their higher levels of organizational sophistication and more advanced relationship to the illicit economy. In addition to extorting the owners of the towers the cartels place their own communication equipment (‘parasite antennas’) on them for C2 purposes. The C2 value for the cartels is far more important than the extortion monies that could be gained. See Julia Love, “Special Report: Drug cartel ‘narco-antennas’ make life dangerous for Mexico’s cell tower repairmen.” Reuters. 25 July 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mexico-telecoms-cartels-specialreport/special-report-drug-cartel-narco-antennas-make-life-dangerous-for-mexicos-cell-tower-repairmen-idUSKCN24G1DN.

For Additional Reading

John P. Sullivan, José de Arimatéia da Cruz, and Robert J. Bunker, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 32: Militias (Milícias) Surpass Gangs (Gangues) in Territorial Control in Rio de Janeiro.” Small Wars Journal. 26 October 2020.  

John P. Sullivan, José de Arimatéia da Cruz, and Robert J. Bunker, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 20: Fuel Theft in Brazil—Gangs and Militias Target Petrobras.” Small Wars Journal. 16 October 2019.

John P. Sullivan, “The Challenges of Territorial Gangs: Civil Strife, Criminal Insurgencies and Crime Wars.” Revista do Ministério Público Militar (Brazil), Edição n. 31, November 2019.

 

Categories: El Centro

About the Author(s)

Dr. John P. Sullivan was a career police officer. He is an honorably retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, specializing in emergency operations, transit policing, counterterrorism, and intelligence. He is currently an Instructor in the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California. Sullivan received a lifetime achievement award from the National Fusion Center Association in November 2018 for his contributions to the national network of intelligence fusion centers. He completed the CREATE Executive Program in Counter-Terrorism at the University of Southern California and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from the College of William and Mary, a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs and Policy Analysis from the New School for Social Research, and a PhD from the Open University of Catalonia (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya). His doctoral thesis was “Mexico’s Drug War: Cartels, Gangs, Sovereignty and the Network State.” He can be reached at jpsullivan@smallwarsjournal.com.

Dr. José de Arimatéia da Cruz is a Professor of International Relations and International Studies at Georgia Southern University, Savannah, GA. He also is a Research Fellow of the Brazil Research Unit at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, DC.

Dr. Robert J. Bunker is Director of Research and Analysis, C/O Futures, LLC, and an Instructor at the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy. He holds university degrees in political science, government, social science, anthropology-geography, behavioral science, and history and has undertaken hundreds of hours of counterterrorism training. Past professional associations include Minerva Chair at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College and Futurist in Residence, Training and Development Division, Behavioral Science Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy, Quantico. Dr. Bunker has well over 500 publications—including about 40 books as co-author, editor, and co-editor—and can be reached at docbunker@smallwarsjournal.com.