Web Site Charts 3 Months of Violence
In the beginning of 2007, more precisely on Jan. 31, a month after Rio de Janeiro went through one of its most violent episodes, a Web site (in Portuguese and some English) was created out of sheer outrage by a few "cariocas" -- born in Rio -- who simply couldn't stand the situation anymore.
The "Rio Body Count" Web site, inspired by the world famous "Iraq Body Count," is dedicated to scrutinizing the daily flow of news in the Brazilian media and counting the number of people who are killed and wounded through violence in the state of Rio de Janeiro -- even though it stays mostly within the city of Rio de Janeiro.
When created, the Web site attracted some attention from the media and NGOs, which applauded the idea, and praised the initiative that would allow city dwellers to be aware of the number of people killed in the same place where they live.
Since then, we've seen many more police incursions in the infamous "favelas," or Brazilian slums. There have been gangs of drug dealers going "down the hill," as people say in Rio when they leave the favelas, for shootings and takeovers of other slums. In the last two weeks, we've seen the children of the Rio state governor's personal bodyguard shot to death inside his car. There was a shooting between two rival gangs, and later the police, that ended with 10 dead and one of the main freeways being closed in the middle of a weekday, and which lead to a confrontation between cops and gang members inside a favela that ended with six dead a couple of days later.
That was only on the "ground level" of crime, if one can put it this way. On the upper levels, one more scandal exploded recently in Rio de Janeiro as a scheme involving bicheiros -- basically, Brazilian gambling mobsters involved with a traditional Brazilian game, considered illegal, and more recently with illegal slot machines and drug trafficking -- and a wide array of police officers, police chiefs, judges and chief magistrates that were all on the mobsters' payroll. The scandal follows the infamous rumors of an alliance between drug-dealing gangs to protect their favelas from the once praised and now scorned "militias," formed mostly by police officers. In this alliance, gangs would "lend" members to one another depending on the necessity in each favela.
The bottom line: Almost three months after the launch of Rio Body Count, nothing has changed, except that the number of victims went from 6 dead and 3 wounded to 730 dead and 398 wounded. That's an average of 243 violent deaths per month, in Brazil's second largest city of 5 million people. By comparison, Boston, in the United States, a city of a little more than 4 million, had 75 deaths for the whole of 2005, a ten-year high.
These numbers reflect how violence has encroached on the daily lives of those who live in Rio. On any given morning, when a carioca picks up the newspaper, chances are the first thing he or she will read about is a murder, a shooting or some important expressway being close because of a police -- or gang -- raid.
The police officers on the ground in Rio, the civil and military police force and the Federal Police (the Brazilian FBI), still struggle internally with the overwhelming number of crooked officers who take bribes to overlook a gang's drug selling, ruin entire investigations by tipping off suspects or otherwise spy for the criminals.
But the police are also the most unfairly treated actors in this tragedy. Poorly paid, when their salaries are not postponed, and poorly equipped, they are haunted by a good part of the media and human rights groups. The good cops suffer every time the latest Amnesty International report comes out detailing the rottenness of law enforcement organizations. Some of them have taken to blogging online or writing books to document the daily struggle of Rio officers. There's even police version of Rio Body Count, "Rio's Police Body Count" (in Portuguese). According to the Web site, 41 have been officers murdered since Feb. 1.
To escape the ravishes of what is increasingly being called a civil war, those who can afford it move into condo complexes that look more like tiny, civil versions of the Green Zone in Baghdad, with surveillance cameras, increasingly higher walls armed security guards patrolling the perimeter. Formed by a group of few buildings each, they now come with gyms, beauty salons, resort-like swimming pools and even cinemas, to make the adventure of leaving more and more unnecessary. Those who live in these fortresses -- especially the children -- rarely go outside, forming most of their social lives inside the walls. The ultimate luxury in Rio today is to say that you live far away from a favela.
Those who can't afford to live in one of these fortresses dream of moving out of town. A few do make it. The rest form that part of the population you can see out in the streets, walking bravely -- for sheer necessity -- on the sidewalks and going out at night to Rio's bars. Yes, there's still an active nightlife in the city, as unlikely as it seems. But they are all on guard, ready to flee at the first sign of violence.
Meanwhile, the body count continues to rise.
Tags: Brazil , Violence , Rio , Police
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 License.