Foreign Policy Blogs

A history of Brazilian violence

With the possible exceptions of soccer and samba, Brazil’s global reputation is shaped more by its high rates of violent crime than anything else. Romanticized in popular films and culture, the country’s favelas are the most visible symbol of the issue. But according to the Map of Violence 2010, a new report from the São Paulo-based Sangari Institute, Brazil’s slums are only part of the problem.

The good news is that the country’s overall murder rate is dropping. But while major cities with historically high crime rates like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have seen a decline in homicides, the interior of Brazil is increasingly dangerous. The authors point out that despite the “interiorization of violence,” you’re still more likely to meet a violent end in Recife than you are in Porto Velho. However, it’s tough to dispute that more than ever criminal activity is based in the country’s interior, a fact which raises a series of difficult questions about policing, internal migration and, more broadly, the rapid economic development of those regions.

Another troubling theme revealed in the report concerns the drastic rise in homicides among youth aged 15 – 24. The study also shows that black Brazilians are more at risk of violent crime than whites. In 2002 the per capita murder victim rate among blacks was 46% higher than whites. This disparity has become even more marked in the years since, reaching 108% in 2007.

The 151-page report – or its tidier executive summary – is well worth a skim for those who read Portuguese. The website also includes links to the past “maps”; taken together, these reports offer as complete a historical survey of violence in the country as you’ll find.