Rio de Janeiro’s far-right governor Wilson Witzel on Tuesday compared drug dealers to the Lebanese Shiite terror group Hezbollah and warned police would respond like Israel by showing no leniency to “terrorists.”
Defending his hardline security strategy, which has fueled a surge in police killings this year, Witzel said criminals in Rio’s poorer neighborhoods known as favelas “raped children, killed innocent people and used the areas to sell drugs.”
“What do they do differently to Hezbollah? Nothing,” the tough-talking Witzel told foreign journalists at a rare briefing.
“Are we going to be tolerant with Hezbollah when they use missiles and bombs against the population of Israel? No,” he added. “What is done in Israel will be done in Rio de Janeiro. We are not going to be lenient with anyone who has a gun.
“You don’t want to die? Don’t go on the street with a gun. Police are facing (criminals) without fear of killing.”
Witzel, a former federal judge, was elected in large part due to his support for the tough anti-crime policy of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who also came to power in January.
He has presided over a sharp increase in the number of police killings, with 731 people dying during “police interventions” in the first five months of this year — a 19.1 percent increase from the same period in 2018, the most recent official figures show.
Witzel has previously sparked outcry among activists for advocating the use of a “missile” to blow up criminals in favelas, and applauding the deployment of police snipers to take out suspects from long distances.
He created further controversy in May after posting a video on Twitter of himself in a police helicopter as officers fired toward a favela below.
But Witzel accused the media on Tuesday of biased reporting of the incident in particular, and police operations against gangs more generally.
“If we were looking at the Second World War it would be like ignoring the Nazis and only looking at Britain bombing Dresden and Berlin,” Witzel said.
“The media is showing the police side, but not the side of terrorism.”
Reducing crime would help boost the number of visitors to the tourist hot-spot and revitalize the state’s economy, he added.
“We want tourists to feel good in Rio de Janeiro.”
Describing himself as “honest, decent,” Witzel also said he was interested in becoming president one day.
“It’s only a question of time,” he said smiling.