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Brazil – terror in Bahia

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Young black men are targeted by extermination groups in Bahia*

By Lena Azevedo**

Gleidson and Luciano are two black boys who grew up together in Jaguaribe, a district within a large area called Cajazeiras that, with over 700,000 low-income residents, is almost another city within Salvador, the capital of Bahia.

20 youngsters, almost all of them black, are killled each weekGleidson, 20, wanted to be a lathe operator, had already taken a technical course and wanted to do another. To earn his living he sold cable TV. According to his aunt, Gleidson’s ambition was to have a good job so that he could support the family he planned to have one day. Luciano, 21, also described by relatives as hardworking and disciplined, was an Ogan de Oxossi (a kind of priest in Candomblé) in the temple led by his father, the babalorixá.

Two months ago, on May 13, ironically the date that officially celebrates the end of slavery in Brazil, the two friends were kidnapped on a street near their home by masked men who got out of two cars, one black and one silver, and were thrown in the boot of one of the cars. Around 10.30pm, residents near the Old Airport Road, a few miles away, heard gunshot near a place used by death squads to dump bodies. It took seven shots in each of the boys – and little more than a line in a news story in a newspaper – for them to become part of the statistics of about 20 young people killed each weekend in Salvador.

The bodies of Luciano and Gleidson were taken to the morgue in the early hours of Tuesday, May 14, and in the morning members of the family began to arrive. The family felt great pain and anger, and you could tell that they expected the killers to get off scot-free. It seems that they were right:  it has already taken four months for the autopsy report to be completed..

No one in the family wanted to talk to strangers, for, like other families of victims, they were fearful and suspicious. Luciano’s aunt’s husband was succinct: “I do not know how it happened. I just know that I lost my nephew, I lost someone I loved very much.” Luciano’s mother just said that her son worked hard and was a “good boy”.

On the day they were killed, the two officials at the Nina Rodrigues Morgue said they could not register the deaths of two young men, as they hadn’t got all the necessary documentation. They only work to 4pm and on that day a fire alert meant they left even earlier. So the families were not allowed to take the boys’ bodies home with them.

The Nina Rodrigues Morgue is named in honour of a doctor who followed the ideas of Cesare Lombroso, renowned in Latin America for his notorious statement that the negro brain is inferior to the white. Nina Rodrigues also advocated sterilization as a means of preventing crime and improving the human species.

It was only two days later, on Wednesday afternoon, that the family was able to pick up Gleidson’s body and take it  to Bosque da Paz, the cemetery in his neighbourhood. Luciano’s family had to wait until Thursday to carry out his funeral, because there was no room in the local cemetery – the Municipal Cemetery of Delicioso.

After so much waiting, Luciano’s funeral was short, only lasting half an hour. There are many funerals every day and the chapel is tiny. The intermittent rain contributed to the tense atmosphere. A child’s funeral had taken place just before so the family had to wait under the only tree in the cemetery, which is so overgrown that it almost seems like an abandoned thicket.

Outside, police with rifles were stopping cars and motorbikes in a blitz. A group smoking crack in the back of the cemetery decided it was best to leave. An old lady, too, left, saying that she couldn’t wait any longer as she needed to earn some money so she could eat that night.

Luciano’s cousins, friends and fellow Candomblé believers stood there, clenching their fists. They were angry with what was going on yet they knew they must remain silent to protect the dignity of the victims. This dignity was threatened by the unsaid accusation that floated in the air – there is no smoke without fire, the young men must have done something to have been killed on this way.

The gravestone, without a name, of 21-year-old LucianoAccording to the holy laws of Candomblé decree, Luicano’s body  had to go back to the ground, the land lent by Oxalá to give life to man. He could not be buried in one of the vertical cemeteries, with drawers, that stand above the ground. Songs of ritual farewell in Yoruba, used only when a Candomblé believer is buried, were heard outside the tiny chapel.

As the procession moved towards  the grave, Luciano’s younger sister and his mother could not control their grief. Flowers and a crown made of paper and plastic, along with a Catholic prayer, adorned the coffin as it was lowered into the earth, again accompanied by songs to the Orishas, especially Oxossi, the guardian of the young. They were singing for his soul to find a path of peace, despite the brutality of his death.

So Luciano’s story came to an end in an unmarked grave, identified only as C. 48 QE in the Cemetery of Delicioso.

Over 80% of victims are of African descent

Between 2009 and 2012, 6,483 people were murdered in Salvador – with most of the victims 19 to 24 years old. Another survey carried by the Community Forum to Combat Violence (FCCV) found that, of the 6,308 people murdered in Salvador between 1998 and 2004, 5,852 were black or brown. That is 92.7%, while at the time those of African descent made up 85% of the population. The police say that they do not know how many of these murders were at the hands of death squads, but studies carried out by civil society organizations and researchers from the Federal University of Bahia between 1996 and 1999 (“A Outra Face da Moeda”, 2000 CJP), found that, of the 3,369 people killed in Salvador, 10.8% were carried out by death squads – with 46% of those accused of the crimes identified as members of the police force.

The existence of crimes with characteristics of extermination in Salvador was publicly admitted by the authorities during the strike of the Military Police, from January 31 to February 11, 2012. At the time, the policeman, Arthur Gallas, Director of the Department if Homicide and Protection of Persons (DHPP), stated that 45 murders, out of the 187 which occurred in these 12 days, had characteristics of extermination: the victims, most of them homeless, “were handcuffed or had their hands tied, and were hit on the head by masked assassins, who arrived on the scene in cars with false number plates and armed with large caliber ammunition”.

However, only seven murders and two attempted murders, committed in two massacres that involved the death of 32 people on the night of February 3, the most violent episode during the strike, were referred to the courts. The men suspected of these two killings, the military policemen Donato Ribeiro Lima, Bahia Willen Carvalho, Samuel Oliveira Menezes, and Jair Alexandre dos Santos, were arrested, but were back on the streets months later, freed by the court on condition of not approaching relatives of the victims and with the obligation of appearing in court four times a year, in accordance with Resolution No. 0533/2012, published in the Official Gazette of October 4, 2012.

There has also been an increase in the number of homicides carried out by members of the police force on active duty. Data from the Internal Affairs Division of the Secretariat of Public Security show that between 2011 and 2012, deaths that occurred in so-called ‘acts of resistance’ (with suspects allegedly resisting arrest) increased from 97 to 151, with 124 of these carried by members of the military police, 27 by the civilian police force, and the remaining 22 in joint actions of the two police forces

This violence is disproportionately targeted on black men, as shown in the Map of Violence 2012: for each white man murdered in the capital, 15 black men are killed. The town of Simões Filho in the metropolitan region of Salvador was shown in the same study to be the most dangerous place in Brazil for young black men, with 400 per 100,000 inhabitants being killed. In the capital; the most vulnerable places for young black men to be are those that make up the Suburbio Ferroviario (22 districts and 600 000 inhabitants) and the Miola de Salvador (41 districts and 800,000 inhabitants) located between the BR 324 road and Avenida Paralela, on the border with the towns of Simões Filho and Lauro de Freitas.

According to several reports, including the Parliamentary Enquiry into Extermination in the Northeast (2003-2005), these same regions are the districts with the highest activity of death squads in Salvador: Boiadeiro, Lobato, Platform, Paripe, Perivale, Coutos ( Suburbio Ferroviario), Bairro da Paz, Itapuã, São Caetano, Pirajá Cajazeiras XI, Landings, Villa Canaria, Sete de Abril, Liberty, Old Mill Federation, Valley of Rhinestones, Valeria, Palestine and Northeast Amaralina, and Simões Filho .

Time passes, but the way these groups behave remains unchanged. Hooded men (called Brucutu) kidnap young people during the night and early morning, using cars with false number plates. The victims are removed and the bodies are left in known dumping areas near the site of the kidnapping.

Police chief, accused of taking part in the exterminations, heads enquiry

Based on information revealed in the Map of Violence, the state government, headed by Jaques Police chief Adan Filho Wagner, has created two enquiries in the town of Simões Filho – one to investigate murders and the other to investigate the places where corpses are dumped. However, the coordinator of both fronts is the town’s police chief, Adan Filho, identified by a Parliamentary Inquest Commission into the Extermination in the Northeast (2005) as a member of one of these groups. According to some members of parliament, the police chief has, in fact, carried out 30 crimes, including torture and murder (see box).

The statistics presented by Adan Filho do not add up. According to him, 77 of the 184 people murdered in Simões Filho last year (the official statistics from the State Public Security Department recorded 151 murders in the same period) were found in a dumping place widely used by death squads. In other words, 41.8% of the victims were almost certainly executed by these groups, which include members of both the civil and military police forces, private security guards and shop owners from the outskirts of Salvador’s metropolitan area.

An impressive total, but, if we believe other information given by the same police chief, the real figure is even higher. He says that, until October of last year, four bodies were being deposited every week in the dumping place. If this figure is true, 192 people would have been dumped by these groups over a year, not the 77 that were recorded; this would be eight more than the total number of homicides (184) that he said occurred.

He also says that, with the installation of video monitoring cameras and with the police raids that began in October 2012, the number of corpses deposited in this dumping place has fallen by half. “Naturally, other nearby towns have had an increase, for the groups started to dump bodies in Itinga (a neighbourhood in the town of Lauro de Freitas), Mata de São João and Camaçari”, he states.

If this is true, it means that, instead of going the 7.5 miles to Simões Filho, the extermination groups mainly established in Subúrbio Ferroviário are travelling  from 15 miles (Lauro de Freitas) to 28 miles (Camaçari) without being intercepted by police.

The State Public Prosecution Service accuses the police of failing to investigate 80% of homicides in Salvador and its surrounding metropolitan area. According to prosecutor Ariomar Figueiredo, the coordinator of the Special Action Group Against Criminal Organizations and of Criminal Investigations (Gaeco) of the Bahia State Public Prosecution Service, inquests were not carried out into 1,340 of the 1,659 murders registered in 2012.

“I am being extremely generous when I say that, of the total homicides in a year, only 20% of the investigations make it into the Public Prosecution Service. In practice, the percentage is well below this”, states Figueiredo. Although the number of executions is high, not more than two extermination groups are charged each year, he says, because the investigations needed to start legal proceedings are not carried out.

Of the cases that end up in the courts, most of them do not contain a technical-legal expertise report and have to be returned for further investigations, or are closed because of inconsistencies. “The police says it conducts examinations in all cases but it never submits the results of these examinations in its reports”, says Figueiredo.

The public prosecutor also explains that the autopsy report, important for undertaking a prosecution, takes a long time to be issued by the Forensic Medicine Institute (IML) – between three to four months, as in Gleidson and Luciano’s case. “It is important for us to have the report in our hands within 48 hours at most, but it is never ready then because police officers insist on asking for tests into alcohol levels and toxicology. I am not saying that these are unnecessary but they are secondary. The main thing for us is to know the number of shots that were fired, the type of weapon that was used, and to have the sketches of the body with the point of entry and the point of exit of the shots, the expert report, and the photographs”.

Even when cases involving police officers make it to court, they often lead nowhere, says the public prosecutor. “Today sentences are tougher when the findings indicate that the crime has been carried out by an extermination group, but these sentences are not effectively enforced. When a crime has been committed by a military police officer, for example, we spend an hour and a half giving evidence to the jury, showing that the individual is being prosecuted for another three or four crimes, and proving that the witnesses have been threatened, but then the members of the jury feel afraid themselves. The result is that these guys are often acquitted and even readmitted into the police force”, reports the public prosecutor.

According to him, the death squads usually act in the poorer areas of Salvador, where most of the population is black. “These groups are seen as ‘cleansers’, as gunmen who eliminate from the area those who represent a threat to local businesses, usually in the  outskirts of the city. They act with their own logic, deciding who needs to be eliminated. The victims are invariably young and black, with or without a criminal record. The slowness of the justice system, the feeling among part of the public that criminals are going unpunished, and the backing of a certain sector of society for these crimes help explain the increase in homicides”, details the public prosecutor Ana Rita Cerqueira Nascimento, a member of the National Council of the Public Prosecution Service who wrote the reports which resulted in the conviction for various homicides of five military police officers and one civil police officer, all of them members of an extermination group in Santo Antonio about 93 miles from Salvador.

She adds that over the last few years, public prosecutors have noticed a change in these organisations’ profile. “Today, these groups act like militias and associated with combatting drug trafficking”, she says, confirming what Figueiredo has said. “Who is killed is very fluid. We have cases of people connected to the crime  who have reported civil police officers who initially started as ‘partners’ in the drug trafficking business and then, with an eye on the profits, ended up killing the drug dealer and afterwards started to eliminate their own colleagues”, she says. “That is why it does not matter much to me whether it is an extermination group made up of either civilian or military police officers or of private security guards or whether it is a group of drug dealers, who are responsible for the killings, the fact is that it always comes to the same thing: the death of a human being”, the public prosecutor concludes.

More on Adan Filho

The police chief Adailton Adan Filho, appointed to investigate the dumping points used by the extermination groups and to the way homicides are carried out in Simões Filho, has been identified by the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry into Exterminations in the Northeast (2005) as a member of these groups. The MPs says that 30 crimes are attributed to the police chief, with torture and homicides among them.

In the Bahia Court of Justice there are several criminal lawsuits in towns located in the interior of Bahia and in the capital city in which Adan appears as defendant. There are three court cases in Feira de Santana (two in criminal courts and another, brought by the State Public Prosecution Service, in the Public Treasury court) and another in Itaberaba, in which the police chief and another ten people, including both civil and military police officers, are charged with torturing 19 people.

In Juazeiro, Adan faces four criminal charges and, in Salvador, another two, one of them for torture. In this last case, the charge against Adan and the other nine (it does not specifies whether they are civil police officers), made by the State Public Prosecution Service, is that they carried out torture in the town of Candeias, in the area of Greater Salvador.

Sometimes the prosecutions end in convictions but even this does not necessarily mean that Adan goes to jail. For instance, in one of the cases in Feira de Santana he was sentenced on 3 April 2003 to six months imprisonment and to a 60-day suspension from his job in the police, with loss of salary and benefits, for the crimes of ‘bodily harm’ and ‘abuse of power’. In 2006 Adan appealed to the High Court, and his appeal was only considered on 11 February 2008 by Minister Laurita Vaz. The minister then determined that his sentence should be annulled because it was by then ‘statute-barred’ (that is, it had not been carried out within two years, which is the maximum gap permitted between a sentence being decreed and its implementation).

* The article was translated from the Portuguese for LAB by Andréa Castellano Mostaço and Sue Branford. The orignal article can be found in Publica

** Lena Azevedo has been an investigative journalist for 32 years. She has worked in newspapers in Campinas and in Vitória, where she helped found Notícia Agora. She has been investigating organised crime and human rights since 2003.