Força Nacional: Brazil's New Praetorian Guard?

Força Nacional: Brazil's New Praetorian Guard?

Published on: Fri May 2, 2014
Author: Cirro Barros
Source: A Pública

Força: Brazil’s new praetorian guard?

by Ciro Barros

This article was published by LAB partner A Pública and translated by Mike Gatehouse & Sue Branford. The original, in Portuguese, can be read here.

Força Nacional, (Brazil’s Special Patrol Group), is being trained to go into action during the World Cup as a federal government force. FN invited journalists to take part in its riot control training programme.

“I bet this is the first time you’ve been alongside a motorcycle cop without being under arrest,” jokes a photographer behind me, turning to a colleague beside him in the bus.

Everyone laughs until the driver brakes sharply. The bus, driven by a military policeman in camouflage uniform, is flanked by a Força Nacional escort to get us through the traffic. All 40 or so passengers are journalists, from different states, invited to take part in a seminar ‘Reporting Public Security Activities’, organised by the Ministry of Justice and the National Public Security Force (FSN). For two days, March 28-29, we will be staying at the FSN base at Gama in the Federal District (Brasilia). The aim, according to the official invitation from the Ministry of Justice, is to “promote the exchange of information between professionals in media communications and those in public security concerning aspects of their modus operandi”.

Força members formed up to confront the staged demonstration. A policeman was injured in the exercise. (Photo: Ciro Barros)

At the base, which houses military police contingents from various states, we get our first briefing: “We want you to go out there and carry out your work in the usual way, ladies and gentlemen,” they tell us. So we go out to cover a staged ‘demonstration’, with policemen playing both the police and the masked demonstrators, who stand behind a barricade, covered by a cloud of black smoke.

The rehearsal, taken very seriously, ends with a real injury: one of the ‘demonstrators’ threw a brick which struck one of his uniformed colleagues full on the mouth. The policeman had to undergo surgery to insert stitches in his upper lip. A routine occurrence, we were told several times during the course.

On a regular basis, FSN holds 3-week training courses for military police, firemen, civil police and detectives linked to the public order bureaux of the states taking part. When they return to their states, those ranked ‘Very Good’ in the tests join the FSN. According to an FSN Bulletin in 2013, the force is now made up of more than 10,000 men; and 142 operations in 23 federal units have been carried out since 2004.

This year, the FSN is preparing to go into action during the World Cup in 12 states. The federal government can send in its men whenever it wants to, from the moment it decides that it confronts an emergency situation. The deployment must be principally made up of military police. In Natal, for example, it has already been decided that 300 FSN members will reinforce the local military police. According to decree 394 of March 4 2008, reinforcement of police by the FSN can be authorised in six types of situation, including containment in areas of ‘significant disturbance of public order’, blockades of highways and in major public events with international repercussions. Almost all the demonstrations likely during the World Cup could be deemed to meet these criteria.

Just what is the Força Nacional?

Set up by Decree 5,289 in 2004, the Força Nacional de Segurança Pública forms part of a programme of federal co-operation with the states to deal with public security emergencies. A recent example of this type of emergency was last week’s strike by military police in Bahia. Without military police to maintain a visible police presence, in accordance with Article 44 of the Constitution, the Bahia governor Jaques Wagner of the PT submitted a request for Força Nacional support to the federal government, which sent a detachment.

“What we do is to optimise use of resources. If the is a crisis in one state, we can check to see which other states can send men to contain that crisis,” says the Rio Grande do Sul colonel, Alexandre Augusto Aragón, Director of the FSN. In addition to their regular salaries which are paid by the state security bureaux, FSN member receive daily payments from the federal government while they are on active service.

Força Nacional was created in 2004. Now a constitutional amendment has turned it into a wecurity force. (Photo: Ciro Barros)

Initially, FSN deployments were restricted to reinforcing visible policing undertaken by the military police of the states concerned. Now, ten years after its creation, the FSN is a department of the National Public Security Bureau of the Ministry of Justice, and its forces include military firemen, civil police, and criminal investigation detectives. Some of its activities come under the remit of the Federal Police, such as protection of witnesses and human rights defenders, border patrols and the fight against environmental crime.

Until last year the FSN acted only in response to explicit requests from state governors. But this requirement has now been changed, by Decree 7,957 of March 12 2013 which, among other things, inserted four crucial words into the original decree establishing the Force.

A Pretorian Guard?

“This was a very sneaky amendment. The decree talks at length about the question of action by the Armed Forces in Amazonia, about the Environmental Squad of the Força Nacional, and then comes an amendment to the original decree which established the Force. This change went unnoticed in the midst of all the other matters,” says João Rafael Diniz, a lawyer who belongs to the group Tortura Nunca Mais (Torture Never Again) in São Paulo.

The amendment he is referring to affects Article 4 of the 2004 decree, which lays down that Força Nacional may take action anywhere within the country’s borders following a request from the governor of a state or of the Federal District. The 2013 amendment includes ministers in the national government in the list of those who can request action by the Force, without the requirement for a request by a governor.

“This is serious because it de facto creates a military force controlled by the president of the republic, which is separate from the Armed Forces. Article 144 of the Constitution lays down that it is for the states to be in charge of the police forces which maintain public order. That is part of the federation agreement, and Brazil’s federal state depends upon this division of responsibilities. Imagine a military public order force in the hands of the federal government, and a conflict somewhere to which you deploy two types of troops, answerable to two different levels of the executive, with overlapping responsibilities. Who takes the decisions?” he asks.

In an article written for the website of Repórter Brasil, João Rafael Diniz compares the Força Nacional to the Pretorian Guard of the Roman Empire, “A military special force, separate from the regular Roman legions, which served the personal interests of the emperors and the security of their families. It was formed by men of experience, recruited from the legionaries of the Roman army, selected for their greater ability and intelligence on the battle-field. During its more than three centuries of existence, the Praetorian Guard became well-known for guaranteeing the internal stability of the various imperial regimes, repressing popular uprisings and carrying out assassinations in the name of maintaining imperial government.

Use of Força Nacional steadily widens

“The decree conveys the impression that deployment of the Força Nacional is reserved for exceptional situations, but that is not actually laid down there. And if you take a look, since then, at the times when use of Força Nacional was requested, the situations have become less and less exceptional. In the beginning, for instance, it was used when the police were on strike, or in Luziânia, near Brasilia, when it was the most violent city in Brazil. Força Nacional went there because the local police weren’t up to the job. But today you have a Força Nacional base in Belo Monte [where a large hydroelectric dam is being built], to protect a site belonging to a private consortium,” argues João Rafael Diniz.

Força members on the training exercse. (Photo: Ciro Barros)

In the training course for journalists, Força agents stated that their actions were were always subject to co-ordination by the state security bureaux but, as Diniz confirms, on March 21 2013, Edison Lobão, minister in the Bureau of Mines and Energy, requested the deployment of Força Nacional to a building site belonging to the Norte Energia consortium, in Belo Monte, which had been occupied by 60  peasant farmers and members of riverside and indigenous communities, belonging to the Juruna, Xipais and Canela tribes. The day after the minister made his request, 25 military police and three civil police were despatched by the Força to evict the protesters from the work site.

In April 2013, the federal deputy Ivan Valente and senator Randolfe Rodrigues, both members of the PSOL [left-wing political party], tabled bills in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate respectively, to put a halt to the changes brought by Decree 7,957 which conferred on the federal executive the power to invoke deployment of Força Nacional. Since June 2013 the bill in the Senate has been waiting for the Committee for Human Rights and Legislative Participation to vote on it. The senator responsible for preparing the case in the Commission is Ricardo Ferraço of PMDB-ES [centre-right party]. In the Chamber, the bill has been stuck since February this year in the Foreign Relations and National Defence Committee, where the deputy responsible is Antonio Carlos Mendes Thame (PSDB-SP).

During the Confederations Cup last year, five of the six host cities, excepting only Recife, requested reinforcements from Força Nacional to contain the June demonstrations. In December last year, Força troops also took action, under the co-operation agreement, to police the draw for the World Cup games in Suípe on the coast in the state of Bahia. For the World Cup, the Federal Traffic Police (PRF) has already requested assistance and patrols on federal roads in Curitiba, Cuiabá, Porto Alegre, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte will be reinforced by personnel from Força Nacional.

A constitutional amendment to transform Força Nacional into a new national security force

Presented in July 20122 by the federal Deputy Vanderlei Siraque (PT-SP), PEC (Consitutional Amendment) 195 proposes changing the status of Força Nacional and Article 144 of Brazil’s constitution.

If this amendment were passed, Força would become an established career institution maintained by the federal government and would no longer depend on an agreement for co-operation between the states. It would be an independent force, trained and maintained by the federal government to act in crisis situations.

The Ministry of Justice training course was held at the FSN base at Gama, in the Federal Districti  (Photo: Ciro Barros)

“Reveille!” The cry of the Força men was the same. It was four in the morning and there was a general bustle in the air-conditioned huts supplied by the Ministry of Justice as dormitories for the journalists. In minutes we were all lined up to receive our police kit: shield, helmet, breast and leg armour. We donned our equipment and were summoned to a parade-ground below the square . In a line we once again confronted a staged demonstration and this time we were playing the role of policemen. The order was to stand still, in line and resist the pushes, kicks and punches and any attempts to grab the riot shields we were holding.

We also watched a series of theory classes explaining the adoption by the Força Nacional of UN protocols such as the “Basic Principles for the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officers”, adopted by the 8th Congress of the UN for the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders, held in Havana, Cuba, from August 27 to September 7 1999; and Inter-Ministerial Protocol 4226, of 2010, which defines directives for the use of force by public security officials. It remains to be seen whether, in the heat of crises and demonstrations, these protocols will be followed to the letter.

The blog Copa Pública (World Cup) is an initiative of citizen journalism which aims to show how the Brazilian population is being affected by the preparations for the 2014 World Cup —and how it is organizing itself to ensure that it is not being left out.


Stay in touch