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Crime in Brazil

There are few reliable statistics on the incidence of crime in Brazil. The United States Department of State, in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1995 , concluded that "A high crime rate, a failure to apprehend most criminals, and an inept criminal justice system all contribute to public acquiescence in police brutality and killings of criminal suspects. Acts of intimidation, including death threats against witnesses, prosecutors, judges, and human rights monitors, often hindered investigation into these incidents." Intimidation seems to be most prevalent in the rural areas of the North and Northeast, where large landowners often threaten police, judges, lawyers, and reporters.

The skewed distribution of income in Brazil (one of the most unequal in the world) may be partially responsible for an endemic and increasing problem of nonpolitical crime. Since returning to civilian government, Brazil has experienced a dramatic increase in the level of crime. In 1992 Brazil's homicide rate of 37.5 per 100,000 residents surpassed that of the United States, with 22.76 per 100,000. Rio de Janeiro registered 4,253 murders in 1993, up from 3,545 in 1992. Rio de Janeiro had seventy-two murders per 100,000 residents in 1993, compared with thirty per 100,000 in New York City. Meanwhile, Rio de Janeiro State spending on security dropped from 15 percent of the state budget in 1984 to 8 percent in 1994.

As discussed earlier in this chapter, the rapid increase in the level of drug trafficking in Brazil raises numerous security issues. One has to do with the very control of national territory, as drug traffickers operate in the vast expanses of the Amazon and other regions. Indeed the threat of drug trafficking was used to justify the costly Sivam (Amazon Region Surveillance System) project. A second issue has to do with state control of entire favelas in Rio de Janeiro and possibly in other cities, where drug traffickers have a virtual monopoly over force. A third issue is that of potential corruption of the security forces, at all levels.

The shortcomings of the judicial system lead the public to tolerate vigilantism, in the form of lynching of suspected criminals. In Bahia State, for example, eighty-four documented cases of lynching occurred in 1993. In at least one case, the lynching occurred while the police watched.

Data as of April 1997



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The Military Role in Society and Government

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