December 18, 2013
LATIN AMERICAMonday, November 4, 2013
Brazil: 5 people die a day at hands of police
Report finds number of killings ‘unacceptable’ as landmark case puts abuses under scrutiny
BRASILIA — A total of 1,890 people died in Brazil during 2012 as a consequence of police actions, an average of five people a day, a report released yesterday said.
The study by the Public Security Brazilian Forum was based on data provided by 23 out of the 27 Brazilian states and published by O Globo newspaper. According to the report, 89 police officers were also killed while at their jobs during 2012.
After comparing the statistics to those of other countries, the institute concluded that the number of people killed by police in Brazil is excessively high.
“The number is unacceptable. In the United States, with a population 60 percent higher than Brazil’s, there were 410 people killed during violent incidents with police in 2012. Even in Mexico, which has murder rates that are close to those of Brazil, the police kills less,” Samira Bueno, the forum’s executive-secretary, told O Globo.
The report says 1,652 people were killed in Mexico during 2012 as a result of police action, while 704 were killed in Venezuela and 268 were killed in the Dominican Republic.
While these countries registered a lower number of killings by police in absolute terms, their ratios are actually higher than Brazil’s when compared to each of these countries’ populations. With 204 million inhabitants, the ratio in Brazil is 0.97 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. In Mexico, the ratio is 1.38, while in the Dominican Republic it’s 2.68 and in Venezuela 2.59.
A landmark case
In Rio, the murder of 42-year-old construction worker Amarildo Dias de Souza has brought renewed scrutiny of human rights abuses by the police. A total of 25 police officers were charged last month in a case which prosecutors say involved the abduction, torture and slaying of De Souza, who police believed had information about drugs and weapons in the Rio slum of Rocinha.
Just as Rio prepares to host games in next year’s World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympics, the charges illustrate how far officials have yet to go in reforming local police.
During recent decades of soaring crime and dominance by drug gangs across huge swathes of Rio, Brazil’s second biggest city, some police adopted vigilante-style tactics to pursue extrajudicial cleanups. Death squads targeted criminals, and corrupt officers waged violent turf wars.
Local authorities in recent years have successfully pushed drug gangs out of some favelas, as the slums are known, especially those in wealthier parts of the city and near venues for the World Cup and Olympics. But favela residents and human rights activists say police still mete out summary justice.
De Souza's body is still missing after he vanished from Rocinha, a massive hillside favela near Rio's wealthy shore.
Among the accused is the former commander of the police force there, who was fired from his post after the abduction and is in custody, facing charges including torture and the hiding of a corpse. Prosecutors say the former commander ordered subordinates to detain and question De Souza and, after the torture killed him, hide his body.
Brazil, in the spotlight
The arrival of the world’s biggest sporting events is putting violence in Brazil under the world’s microscope.
President Dilma Rousseff said yesterday that she would deploy troops in Rio and São Paulo to prevent the supply of weapons to criminal gangs that have supposedly increased their activities ahead of next year’s World Cup.
Authorities in São Paulo, Brazil's largest city, said on October 16 they were tracking a criminal gang threatening to target the sporting event.
Nationwide protests against political corruption, failing health and education systems, as well as excessive public spending on sports, have also added to the violence. The riots erupted in June and show little sign of abating.
“Police don’t know who is being good and who is being bad and start going willy-nilly with deployment of gas, flash-bang devices, pepper weapons, and then everyone becomes a victim,” said Eduardo Jany, a security consultant who has worked with forces across Brazil. “There needs to be a pretty dramatic change in terms of doctrine, equipping and preparing.”
Rio's Public Safety Secretariat, which has overall control of security in the state, is improving training for officers and adding new equipment, said Roberto Alzir, deputy secretary for major events in the organization.
The state’s investment in security more than doubled since 2008, according to the secretariat.
“There’s never been such satisfactory conditions of professionalism, command and respect in recent history,” Alzir said in an interview. The World Cup brings “more visibility, more reporters, and more foreign visitors. It’s a better environment for certain groups to propagate their causes, which will demand a greater effort of planning.”
Fifty-five military police officers have been injured since protests began, and the use of rubber bullets was suspended on September 3, the Brazilian force’s press department said in an email.
About US$3.5 billion in public spending is going towards World Cup stadiums built to exact specifications demanded by FIFA, the Switzerland-based body that governs soccer.
That, and a further US$10 billion being spent on infrastructure work related to the event has stoked tensions in a country where schools ranked below Mexico, Russia and Mongolia in the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Human Capital Index.
The country relaxed immigration rules to allow more doctors in — as many as 4,000 from Cuba — to combat what the government says is a shortage of 168,000 physicians.
Inflation has remained above five percent in all but two months over the past three years, crimping purchasing power.
Until June, large-scale public demonstrations had been rare in South America’s most-populous country. As protests raged, a nationwide poll by Datafolha found 26 percent of people opposed Brazil hosting the World Cup, up from 10 percent in a 2008 survey.
Herald with Télam, Reuters, Washington Post