Rio de Janeiro - Criminal gangs made up of corrupt ex-cops tripled their presence in Rio de Janeiro's shantytowns between 2005 and 2010, according to a study released in Brazil Wednesday.
The so-called militias, which also included off-duty police officers, prison guards and firefighters, already control 454 of Rio's estimated 1 000 favelas (or 45 percent), according to the survey conducted by the University of Rio and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz).
Over the years, the militias have muscled in to oust many drug gangs and installed their own brand of extortion in sectors such as private security, transports or cable television sales.
The study showed that in 2005, 100 000 people were under the sway of these militias, which operated like the “death squads” active during the 1964-1985 military dictatorship.
Five years later, that figure jumped to 300 000.
The survey also found that 370 slums (37 percent) are still controled by drug traffickers, while 174 (18 percent) have been brought under police control as part of an official drive to restore security ahead of next year's World Cup and the 2016 summer Olympics.
That campaign has also included a cleanup of police ranks that led to the expulsion of 1,580 officers for misconduct.
To date, 38 so-called police pacification units (UPPs) have been deployed in key favelas, notably in the tourist southern zone, following the eviction of drug gangs.
“In 2009, militias were more signficant than the 'Red Command' (a leading organized crime syndicate) in the favelas,” said anthropologist Alba Zaluar, one of the authors of the study.
“The militias are the only group with a political platform to elect their own candidates, municipal councillors, lawmakers,” she added.
“This shows that a lot still remains to be done,” she said.
“The major conflict in the future will be between the UPPs and the militias,” said Fiocruz researcher Cristovam Barcellos.
Nearly two million people, or a third of the city's population, live in shantytowns.