From Mon Apr 1 10:30:13 2002
Date: Sun, 31 Mar 2002 12:44:41 -0600 (CST)
From: SEJUP <>
Subject: News from Brazil, No. 466
Article: 135720
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Violence in Brazil

By Heidi Cerneka, News from Brazil, No.466, 29 March 2002

Brazil is living in a situation of war, a Social War, according to United Nations special advisor Jean Ziegler. It's as if France, Germany and Somalia were living in the same country! Ziegler continued, And while police are important for security, they are not the solution to the problems of hunger, lack of health care, lack of schools and lack of citizenship. In a country with such a striking disparity between rich and poor, Ziegler comments, the temptation to steal is understandable when one has absolutely nothing. Despite the fact that one Brazilian authority called this declaration irresponsible and ridiculous, the facts are hard to dispute. According to UN guidelines, a country with over 25,000 assassinations per year is considered in a state of war, and last year, according to the Ministry of Justice, Brazil registered well over 40,000 assassinations.

In the metropolitan area of Sco Paulo, whose population is estimated between 17–20 million, residents are afraid to go out at night. The number of kidnapings has increased 400%. From 1985–1997, homicides have increased 76%, unemployment has risen 18.6% and the number of people living in precarious or totally inadequate housing (or the streets) has grown 50%. Three neighborhood health posts in the city of Sco Paulo closed their doors last week after receiving anonymous phone calls threatening the clinics. Even without the alarming number of assassinations, this data indicates at minimum, a social crisis, if not the social war that Ziegler describes.

The Map of Inclusion/Exclusion of the city of Sco Paulo, a comprehensive study collecting information from governmental and university sources addressing social inclusion and exclusion, violence, health, education, housing, children and adolescents, hunger work, unemployment and the informal economy, speaks to the epidemic of violence. Violence is not only an effect, but also a cause of the increase in tension and inequality in the city. The population lives in constant fear, and the tension caused by the police only augments this fear.

Almost one-third of all residents in the city of Sco Paulo now believe that violence is the greatest problem in the country today. This public perception of violence has a strong psychological impact on the population. Public space, in other words, is identified more and more with violence, danger and abandonment.

Exacerbating the dramatic increase in violence is a continued complete lack of confidence in public security and government officials. A recent study by the newspaper Folha of Sco Paulo revealed that 59% of the residents of this city of Sco Paulo have more fear than trust in the police and security forces. Controlling violence and restoring a sense of public security is practically impossible when daily headlines show the narcotics police (DeNarc) commandeering the drug traffic in a part of the city known as Crack-land (so called for the quantity of crack cocaine that passes through this area) or the military police being indicted for protecting drug lords and helping identify potential victims to kidnap.

The governor himself publicly declared, there are only 2 places for criminals- jail or the grave, and while the public security budget (which includes the police forces) has increased 107%, violence, if anything, has also increased. In the month of January, the police in Sco Paulo officially killed 84 people—as if the words of the governor freed them to shoot more indiscriminately.

Seeing as the budget continues to skyrocket, the violence only increases, one questions if anyone is thinking beyond traditional means. It is way past time to think creatively. Human beings have the capacity to split atoms, write operas, sculpt a David, and yet, in the face of increasing violence, the only response is to build more jails. In business, when one sees that her/his product has a 30-40% success rate, one closes the factory. And yet, society not only accepts this rate from the prison industry and police forces, it offers more money to produce more of the same product.

Violence is neither a necessary evil nor an inevitable part of urban life. However, as long as the principal solution is to pour more money into what already does not work, the system will continue to do no more than band-aid an already desperate situation. Alternatives to prison sentencing like probation and community service must be utilized, and with the money not spent on housing and controlling that inmate, budgets for daycare, education, health and job training can be increased. Literacy courses, secondary education and job skills training must be a part of every sentenced inmate's options for a chance at a different life after release. Laws against torture, domestic violence and political impunity must be applied As a model of citizenship, the police forces, both military and civil, must be held accountable and corruption and violence within the police forces must be eradicated. Clearly, more training, more ongoing support and continuing education are a means to this end. Only then, will they earn the trust of the general population. Finally, making the education and formation of today4s children a first priority will open the possibility of a different future for them... of a different future for all of society.