BrazilCrime
Beach marauders assail beachgoers in Rio, early 2014.

Holiday travelers were virtually taken hostage on their return from the Brazilian coastline this past weekend, as traffic slowed to a crawl and then stopped on the main roads back into Sao Paulo from the Littoral (coastline).

Stuck in their cars, these travelers were cherry-picking for gangs of thieves who rode their motorcycles up and down the line of traffic robbing people at gunpoint. Nothing anyone could do about it.

In Brazil, guns are outlawed for the common man and woman. Police and military have guns, as do other law enforcement personnel, as well as lawyers, doctors, and some rare other exceptions. Those with the most guns are the criminal class, who know that the police tell people not to resist, to give thieves whatever they demand–without hesitation. Hesitation will get you killed.

It’s the age of the Highway Men, from Merry Olde England, only the incidents are much higher in number. And deadly.

According to reports, Brazil follows Venezuela and Colombia on the list of the world’s most murders committed. Next comes Guyana, which has three times the murder rate of the United States. That should put things in perspective. (Though, I have to admit, I find it hard to believe that Brazil ranks above some of the Middle East nations that are having such violent uprisings. But, perhaps those deaths aren’t termed murders…)

Here in Brazil, we’re beginning to read a lot more about the 2016 Olympics, and the preparations underway (or lack of preparation, depending on which news source you read). All indicators are that Brazil will/won’t be ready, that the money exists/was spent that was needed for the construction of facilities, and that crime is/isn’t under control before the advent of the world’s sports fans.

My guess: won’t be ready, money is gone, and crime won’t be controlled. How can crime be controlled when the police tell people to give up all they have upon demand? Hell, if I were a crook, I’d be packing my bags for Brazil!

Criminals appear to be able to obtain weapons with ease, despite the arduous licensing requirements for the average person in Brazil to own firearms. Handguns, knives, machetes, or cutlasses tend to be the weapons of choice. Criminals may act brazenly, and are increasingly willing to resort to violence while committing all types of crimes: burning alive a doctor who didn’t have enough money in her bank account to satisfy the thieves; shooting to death a school custodian who had just been paid his salary that was three months in arrears; killing a tourist who didn’t understand the demands of his roadside assailants; and the list goes on.

These are not the stories you read about when researching the Olympics, but Brazil isn’t the same as England, where civility reigns despite crime, or Qatar, where criminals will be immediately dealt with severely.

During the holidays in Rio, marauding gangs of youths descended from the favelas to rob beachgoers with impunity in broad daylight. No one had the means to fight back, faced with guns and knives and a shocking lack of human compassion.

It’s like any tide…the police come in and drive away the criminals, the number of crimes ebbs for a moment, and then the criminal tide comes washing back in. This time, more powerfully than ever before.

Two years ago, 50,108 people were murdered in Brazil. In 2013, that number was 53,646. Violent crime is reportedly declining in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Brazilian police tactics are notoriously aggressive; nationwide Brazil’s police forces kill nearly 2,000 people a year. But targeted pacification programs in Rio de Janeiro and elsewhere, which put police officers in the favelas once the areas are retaken from drug gangs, were beginning to curb the rampant violence of the urban slums. Some analysts now question whether the tide is now turning, as more-violent criminal elements fight for turf.

As we approach Carnival 2015, I wonder what stories the news outlets will carry regarding crime in Rio and Sao Paulo. With the great disparity in economic status, and the seeming lack of hope among the masses, I suspect crime numbers will increase exponentially.

It’s for these reasons that Tom and I don’t travel as much in Brazil as we had hoped. Robbed in Buenos Aires, we have become much more careful on our outings. We don’t live in fear, but we accept the fact that what we have, others will want. We go out with nothing we’re not willing to lose. Fortunately, our dogs are not purebreds, so they aren’t a target for dognapping. Yes, it’s a thing here. And people die or are beaten trying to save their dogs.

Brazil is such a contrast: glorious geography and wonderful people. But the criminal element is ruining many aspects of life here. This is not pessimism. Realism.