The Dark Side of Brazil

Sitting on a beach in Rio, the sun on your back, cold beer in hand, and beautiful people to your left and right it is hard to imagine the other side of Brazil. Beyond the tourist, brochures lies a very different Brazil and it isn’t pretty. Death squads run by moonlighting state police, bonded slavery, endemic poverty, human rights abuses, and corruption all exist in 21st-century Brazil.

A holiday is much more enjoyable without thinking about why the child selling soft drinks isn’t at school or pausing to ponder the daily existence of those that live in the favela under Christo’s shadow. This page is not about claiming the moral high ground and it is beyond the scope of this website to campaign against all of the injustices in Brazil however, to merely present all the wonders of Brazil and not acknowledge the negatives, in even the smallest of ways, would be turning a blind eye to reality.

Amnesty International’s 2005 report “They come in shooting”: Policing socially excluded communities provides a startling insight into some of the more unpalatable practices of the police in Brazil. The full report is over 30 pages in length but the quotes below should be sufficient to get the message across.

“On 31 March 2005, 29 people were killed in the Baixada Fluminense district of Rio de Janeiro. The killings were attributed to a group, believed to consist of military police officers, who drove through the Baixada Fluminense between 8.30 and 11pm, shooting randomly at passers by. Fourteen-year-old schoolboy Douglas Brasil de Paula was playing pinball in a bar when he was killed. Elizabeth Soares de Oliveira was working in her husband’s bar when she was shot. João da Costa Magalhães was sitting at the door of his house when the gunmen fired on him, while Rafael da Silva Couto, a 17-year-old schoolboy, was cycling along the Via Dutra when he was shot dead….”

“Excessive use of force, extrajudicial executions, torture and corruption have become standard practices among certain elements within the police, sustained by impunity for the perpetrators. In socially excluded communities this has destroyed the credibility of the state as protector of human rights among those most in need of protection….”

“Death squads”, groups of active and off-duty police officers involved in killings, continue to proliferate around the country. The then Special Secretariat for Human Rights of the federal government informed Amnesty International in July 2003 that it had identified “death squad” activity in 15 of the country’s 27 states, in an investigation prior to the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions….”

Early “death squads” were mainly made up of off-duty police officers hired to “eliminate” criminal suspects by small business owners. As such, there appeared to be an attempt by elements within the business community and the middle classes to “control” or “cleanse” unwanted sectors of society, ostensibly “criminal elements” but also invariably those most economically and socially marginalised….

From a different perspective, Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index ranks Brazil at number 62 in the world with a score of only 3.7/10. To quote Transparency International,

“CPI Score relates to perceptions of the degree of corruption as seen by business people and country analysts and ranges between 10 (highly clean) and 0 (highly corrupt).”

Lastly, inequality of income distribution is severe in Brazil. It is the 5th most populous country in the world with the 9th largest economy yet there are 40 million Brazilians living in poverty on less than $2 USD/day. The richest 10% of the population controls almost 50% of the wealth whilst the poorest 20% control only 2.5%.

The South East of Brazil has higher income levels than the North East which is most affected by poverty. Inequality amongst races is also strong with the black population having significantly lower income levels compared the white Brazilians.
Source: Department for International Development (2004) – The Development Challenge for Brazil

The Gini coefficient is one of the most widely used tools to determine income inequality. A score of 0 indicates total equality whilst 1 indicates severe inequality. By this measure, Brazil is ranked an appalling 117th out of 124 countries. Brazil is twice as inequitable as Indonesia and ranks well below India and the few listed below Brazil are mainly war-torn African countries.
Source: United Nations 2005 Development Programme Report


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