Law and Order and The World Cup
Brazil is hosting the World Cup next year but is it safe for travelling fans? The country has made remarkable progress in the last ten years and is now the world’s seventh largest economy. It is a country of contrasts and in the capital, Rio de Janerio, of its 6.3 million people 1.4 million live in “favelas”, violent enclaves in the city dominated by drug gangs called “traficantes”, or by syndicates of corrupt police known as the “militias”. Their presence has a devastating impact on society and more people are murdered in Brazil than in almost any other country in the world. In 2010 there were nearly forty one thousand murders i.e. 21 per 100,000 inhabitants compared to a global rate of 6.9. The highest number of murders are in India but it is six times bigger than Brazil so its murder rate is 3.4 per 100,000. Four Brazilian cities have a murder rate of 100 per 100,000. An inefficient and corrupt police force leads to only between 5 and 8 per cent of murders being solved, compared to 65 per cent in America and 90 per cent in the UK. The homicide rate shaves seven years off the life expectancy of a Rio slum dweller.
In Rio there are 630 “favelas” containing more than one thousand distinguishable neighbourhoods or communities in which the rule of law is unknown. These areas are often in control of one of the three main gangs, “the Red Command”, the “Third Command” or the “Friends of Friends”. Charged with the task of holding the World Cup and the Olympics, the Government aims to pacify forty of these favelas before next year in a high profile attempt to assure visitors they will be safe. Up to now thirty of the largest have been wrestled from the control of drugs gangs or militias. Under the pacification programme elite police often backed by the army and even the navy invade a favela and stay for up to three months. When possible they withdraw and give control to local police and local government officials who are tasked with bringing services to the inhabitants such as electricity, clean water, schools and garbage collection. Often they will not target the gang-leaders as killing them often leaves a vacuum, and a scramble for power and money that leads to more anarchy. Instead their activities are semi-legalised and allowed to continue without guns and anyone claiming to be “King of the Hill”.
In areas where no agreement can be made there is often open war. Often the drug gangs are better armed than the police. During the invasion of Alemao, a large and dangerous favela in Rio, in eight days the police found 500 guns, 106 carbines, rocket launchers, bazookas and 39 Browning anti-aircraft guns. Every year some fifty cops and 1,500 gang members are killed. Last year over 100 police were killed in Sao Paulo and the police retaliated by trying to “kill five bad guys for every cop killed”. The threat posed by heavy weaponry and anti-aircraft guns creates areas where the police cannot enter by land or air.
Nowhere is the presence of the gangs more visible than during the “Biale Funk”, huge street parties in the favelas. Often buses will be hijacked to block off an area and a giant wall of loud speakers set up to boom out music all night. Teenagers walk about with AK47’s, drug use is endemic and cocaine is sold from large plastic bags openly in the street. During these parties the forces of law and order are generally absent. All the music played salutes the gangs and praises violence and drugs. The music is known as “Baille Funk Proibidao” or illegal music and its cultural influence worries the government. Denying the drug dealers the right to do what they want to make money and influence the culture of Brazil is the aim of pacification and it is going to be a huge task. Some even say Rio is a model for what is going to happen to mega-cities all over the world. Enjoy the football.