Women with a Shot in Brazil
nothing is known about females who are murdered at the hand
of Brazil's insidious death squads. Part of a comprehensive investigation
of the entire universe of such victims in Brazil, over the past 50 years,
Female Death-Squad Victims in the States of Rio de Janeiro and
São Paulo" looks at these women in an exploratory study.
It is not uncommon
these days to read or hear about groups who've taken it upon themselves
to cleanse crime from Brazilian streets. Graft, the slowness of the courts,
and overcrowding in the prison system are frequently cited as the justifications
for such ventures.
For many years this
kind of vigilantism has been an unpleasant part of the Brazilian cultural
mosaic. Generically referred to as operations of the "death squads,"
modern-day extermination groups were, in fact, invented in Brazil and
not in one of the Central American republics. This is not to say that
the term, or one of its synonyms, and the disposition to employ it, was
anything novel in Brazilian history. Since colonial times, the first line
of defense of the Brazilian elite was an exercise in the use of and reliance
on excessive violence through sub-elites.1
Brazil's early ruling classes were often splintered, as befitted the degrees
of power retention and aspirations of each member, it is erroneous to
believe that this was perpetually the case on all topics of concern to
them. One of the unifying factors that brought this privileged group together
perhaps better than anything short of war, was the civil war it waged
unremittingly against the lower stratum of society.
The watchwords of
the rich during these contests were that "order had to be kept"
(read: "keep the povão, or multitude, in its place").
This common denominator, at times open, at times hidden, but understood
by all, united countless generations of higher-rank Brazilians whenever
they unmasked proletarian threats to their own statuses or to some sought-after
goal. Such was the case with the initial Portuguese, the generations of
slave owners who followed, and the nearly all-white elite of our own times.
In 1958, the moral
structure was thus in place when federal police chief and army General
Amauri Kruel approved a proposal made by Cecil de Macedo Borer.2
Borer had been an interrogator at the Central Police Station during the
late 1930s and 40s. He began his career in 1932 when he was selected to
be one of the infamous "Tomato Heads" (the Polícia Especial
or Special Police) of Euzébio de Queiroz Filho. Later, he was made
a part of the Quadro Móvel (Mobile Squad), the semi-secret unit
directly responsible to the chief of police, Filinto Müller.3
By 1958, Borer had been moved upstairs to chair the uniformed Polícia
Civil transit section that patrolled the capital's streets on motorcycles.4
His suggestion to Kruel, in that year, resulted in the creation of the
Grupo de Diligências Especiais or Special Diligence Group.
A 33-year police veteran,
and former member of Brazil's World War II era fascist party, Eurípedes
Malta de Sá, headed the novel unit.5 The rest of the
Special Diligence Group was made up of Itagiba José de Oliveira,
João de Deus Dorneles, and Salvador Correia de Oliveira. Although
they were small in number, the squad had the green light on eliminating
each and every delinquent circulating in the city. There were to be no
questions, no paper work, and no prisoners taken. When it was decided
to go after a specific criminal, the individual's death had already been
If his whereabouts
was known, Eurípedes, who was nearly 6'5" in height, simply
gathered up a large shopping bag he kept in the station house. Inside,
he carried a machine gun. He would then call his men together and they
would drive away to do in the unwanted soul. Bodies were invariably dumped
in outlying working-class districts. Now and again, reporters were let
in on what was about to happen. Sometimes they even followed Eurípedes
and his men.
But however they found
out, from wherever they got their information, the next day Rio's newspapers
would announce that another bandit was out of circulation. The warning
was understood by the povão: if you transgress the rules,
you could be next. Note that this kind of social control rarely if ever
was directed against the upper classes. That is, a wealthy person being
killed and left on the swank streets of Ipanema or Leblon.
There are but a handful
of academics serious interested in vigilantism in South America's largest
country. It is a dangerous topic,6 one that has led other investigators
simply to plug into events taking place in today's Brazil. The statistics
cited by these efforts, accordingly, have often been inadequate and even
incorrect.7 Yet such a numerical undertaking is still a central
issue if we are to understand who is at risk.
Dimenstein and Barcellos
carried out perhaps the most noteworthy recent attempts in this area in
Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.8 The first dealt with
children and the death squads, the second looked into ROTA, Rondas Ostensivas
Tobias de Aguiar (or the Tobias de Aguiar Patrol), the city of São
Paulo's most blatant crop of killers in police uniforms. Neither of these
admirable works, on the other hand, nor the guesses made by scholars,
looks at the total size and composition of the totality of victims. No
one, that is, has actually counted the cases as they occurreduntil
This article is part
of a twenty-year project that has uncovered 32,675 suspected victims to
the end of 1999 in the states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
Some cases occurred as far back as the early 1950s during the tumultuous
times of Grupo de Diligências Especiais. All instances are presented
and analyzed in much more detail in a book that is now at the publishers
entitled The Unpast.9
Here, I will look
at an abnormality in the material uncovered for these victims. For while
it was expected that their numbers would be modest, it was not anticipated
that the quantity of female fatalities would be so small. As such, this
analysis of females victims is offered as one interesting avenue in our
conceptualization of the larger Brazil-wide phenomenon.
The kind of data necessary
for an analysis of the deaths by extermination groups is obviously not
available in official Brazilian statistics. For this reason, a list of
killings fulfilling a death-squad modus operandi was determined from prior
cases and faithfully applied to homicides published in two crime-specialty
newspapers. A journalistic accounting was chosen because Brazilian reporters
perform a daily check of police stationsindeed, many correspondents
are assigned to hang around stationhousesfor boletins de ocorrência,
or Notices of An Incident.
required police paper work. When a boletim is issued for a murder,
it is instantly followed up by the journalists and included in the next
day's edition. Instances that fail to make the boletins include
those where an individual is killed and buried secretly, or when they
have their bodies disposed of in such a manner or at such a distance,
that their deaths go unnoticed by the long nose of the press. As one example,
albeit in the state of Bahia, an officer of the law, known only as "França,"
regularly took common criminals from the city of Salvador, bound and or
handcuffed, out to sea in a ship. They were then thrown into the Atlantic
The tabloid selected
to enumerate crimes in Rio de Janeiro was O Dia. Its counterpart
for São Paulo was Notícias Populares. O Dia
began publication as a six-day per week newspaper on June 5, 1951. It
did not come out on Mondays until June 11, 1979. Notícias Populares
began as a complete daily newspaper at the outset. Its initial issue hit
the newsstands on October 15, 1963.
Where possible, each
case was recorded for several variables: 1) date; 2) sequential order
on date; 3) weekday, 4) page(s) in newspaper; 5) sex; 6) race; 7) age;
8) profession; 9) type of profession; 10) social class; 11) crime(s) accused
of; 12) suburb of residence; 13) suburb where the body was found;12
14) zone of residence; 15) zone where the body was found;13
16) group responsible for the killing; and 17) whether or not a gunfight
The female cases included
in the database begin in 1960 in Rio de Janeiro and in 1966 for São
Paulo. The total number of female victims was 1,415 (or 4.33% of the 32,675
total). Of these, 783 were recorded for Rio and the remaining 632 in São
There were more extermination
group type killings in Rio than in São Paulo, for virtually all
years except 1975, 1976, and 1979. What with São Paulo's larger
population, we might envisage that the number of women murdered by eradication
squads would also be more prevalent than in Rio de Janeiro. But such is
not the case. Moreover, beginning by about 1980, death squads in Rio have
slain substantially more women than their counterparts in São Paulo.
When available the
ages within the sample are likewise of interest. Once again the women
from Rio de Janeiro are in the forefront: they are older. In fact, they
are one year and four months older, on average, than their sisters in
São Paulo. The mean age for both groups of females was 25.3 vs.
23.9 years at the time of their deaths. The youngest female in both states
were 3 month-old babies and the oldest were 70 in Rio and 75 in São
Paulo. It is commonly assumed that most victims of both sexes are adolescents.
The results of this project point in a different direction, at least for
Race was recorded
as one of five alternatives: Black, Brown, Red, White, Yellow, and unknown.
While there were no Red or Yellow women in this sample, the largest proportion
of female victims were Brown or of mixed race backgrounds. And if taken
together, all non-White women far surpassed the White women by a ratio
of over 2 to 1 in Rio de Janeiro and 1.8 to 1 in São Paulo.
In actual numbers,
there were 78 Black females in Rio and 33 in São Paulo, 128 Brown
females in Rio and 101 in São Paulo, and 93 White females in Rio
as opposed to 80 in São Paulo. Note that the numbers of Black women
are the smallest racial group of all. This runs counter to common thinking
reinforced by the mass media.
were greatly over represented in terms of social class. There were no
victims from Social Class I, but there were 16 for Rio, and just 3 in
São Paulo for Social Class II. The largest category of female victims
was from Social Class III, the poorest class, with 332 from Rio and 105
from São Paulo.
What were these women
being assassinated for? While in some news reports the alleged crimes
of victims were not reported, in others it was, and in still others, women
were said to have committed various offenses. Lumping the women from both
states together there were 164 accusations of narcotics violations, 60
of assault and robbery, and 32 of prostitution. That might not seem dramatically
different from what would be predicted. What was different, however, was
that a total of 163 women were killed because they were family members
of the intended target, and 654 were killed because they happened to be
together with this individual at the time of his murder.
The number of females
who were slain while in the company of a male is arguably the most startling
discovery of this analysis. Both bodies were found together. In Rio de
Janeiro, this amounted to 52.2 percent of the time. In São Paulo,
38.8 percent of all women assassinated in death-squad type situations
were discovered together with a male victim. While being in the company
of a man is not itself an offense, the females in question seemingly fell
victim to that poignant Brazilian expression of queimando o arquivo
("burning the archive").
In other words, extermination
groups getting rid of anyone who could testify against them. The conclusion
to be drawn is that over half of the Rio women, and a good third of the
females from the state of São Paulo, were destroyed simply to cover
the tracks of the assassins. Additionally, an unknown number of the instances
where females were killed because they were family members of intended
victim could well have been further cases of queimando o arquivo.
The actual combined percent of females so purged with could be as high
as two-thirds of the total.
Residence and Body
likewise provided revealing material. Turning first to Rio and the areas
in which victims lived, a rank ordering would suggest that for female
victims in the state of Rio de Janeiro, little variance exists between
where the victims resided and where the victim's corpse was discovered.
In order of most numerous, female executions took place in the Northern
Zone, then Nova Iguaçu, the Western Zone, and Duque de Caxias.
These results for women modify the position that most victims live in
the Baixada Fluminense, the district of working-class communities made
up of Duque de Caxias, Nilópolis, Nova Iguaçu, and São
João de Meriti immediately above and to the north of the Northern
In São Paulo,
the residence of female victims and the location of the their bodies quite
convincingly shows that Santo Amaro, a region in the southwestern part
of metropolitan São Paulo, was far and away the leader in both
categories. Or, more exactly, there were 43 women who resided in Santo
Amaro prior to their executions, and 90 who had their bodies discovered
there. Only two additional locals had high figures. Next to Santo Amaro,
and second on the list of residence vs. body location numbers was Capela
do Socorro with 29 inhabitants and 56 fatalities. Last of the São
Paulo big three was the region to the northeast around the international
airport, Guarulhos, with 26 residents and 50 victims. Clearly, however,
the combined Santo Amaro-Capela do Socorro area should be considered as
one vast cauldron of potential sufferers and one huge dumping ground for
Some comment is likewise
in order on those responsible for this butchery. While the larger study
has identified eighty-six different hit teams, there were only eleven
such groups in Rio de Janeiro and nine in São Paulo when the victims
were female. In Rio, every group was a police unit, combination of units,
or had at least one member who was from the police. In São Paulo,
this scenario was identical except that irate citizens entirely made up
one group. In both states, the Polícia Militaror main uniformed
civilian police entity - not a part of the armed forces' policewere
the main villains. In Rio, this amounted to 69 percent of the cases. In
São Paulo, this group assassinated 63 percent of the victims.
This initial report
for females who fell prey to the assassination crews in two Brazilian
states were far fewer than anticipated. They were older in Rio de Janeiro
but generally of mixed-racial backgrounds and decidedly from the lower
classes in both states. The chances are high that each was murdered just
because she was with the intended male target. These victims probably
came from the same districts in which they lived.
In Rio, this was the
Northern and Western Zones of the larger city plus parts of the Baixada
Fluminese. If she was from the state of São Paulo, she could well
have lived her entire short life in two parallel killing fields: Santo
Amaro and Capela do Socorro. And lastly, it didn't matter in which state
she lived; her executioners likely wore the uniform of the Polícia
Indeed, as former
São Paulo prosecutor Hélio Bicudo has stated, "the
death squads usually have a connection with the police"14
In focusing our attention on women, it would appear that they are a negligible
factor in the macho sub-culture of the Brazilian police vis-à-vis
the alleged perpetrators of crime where the men of law and order look
in the first instance at other males. Anyone caught in the crossfire,
including women; but also children and the aged will be eliminated by
a corrupt police force simply to protect their own skins.
At the level of contact
with the public, the Brazilian police have long been noted for their involvement
with narcotics, weapon smuggling, and a numbers racket called jogo
do bicho (or game of the animals). Seen in this overall context, the
female victims of police connected extermination groups in the Wild West
of Brazil were, and will continue to be, dead victims rather than live
ideas first put forward by Marie Kolabinska, La circulation des élites
en France, Lausanne: F. Rouge, 1912), p. 6, which were reaffirmed
by Vilfredo Pareto, The Mind and Society, A. Bongiorno and A. Livingston
(trans.), A. Livingston (ed.) (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1935), vol.
Iii, pp. 1423-25, on governing elites and non-governing elites, have been
expanded here to include this new category of individuals. For this study,
I characterized sub-elites as being situational and transitory muscle
providers. Examples would include the police, guards, bodyguards, and
all types of bullies in the employ of some higher authority. Note that
the Brazilian lower classesincluding trustworthy non-whiteswere
and are easily fitted into the fleeting roles of sub-elites.
Eduardo Barbosa, "As 1200 mortes do Esquadrão da Morte,"
Violência (cited in Ettore Biocca, Estratégia do
terror: a face oculta e repressiva do Brasil, Maria de Carvalho [trans.]
[Lisbon: Iniciativas, (n.d.)]), p. 213.
Political Police Archives, Rio de Janeiro [hereafter PPARJ], miscellaneous
documents, "Sindicância para apurar como o jornal O Mundo
obteve fotografias idênticas do prontuário de Cecil Borer,"
1947,administração/pasta 1e; Cecil Borer, interviews, Rio
de Janeiro: May 28, 1998 and April 10, 2000; Salomão Malina, interview,
São Paulo, July 28, 1994; Roio, Jose Luiz del Roio, telephone interview,
Rio de Janeiro/São Paulo, July 31, 1994; and Thomé Amado,
interview, Rio de Janeiro, August 21, 1994. It has been incorrectly stated
in the press (Jornal do Brasil [Rio de Janeiro] April 11, 1994,
p. 7) that Müller introduced the death squad phenomenon to Brazil.
Kruel had another reason, a morbid one, for paying attention to the plan
by Cecil Borer. Kruel's brother Riograndino Kruel had been one of Borer's
colleagues in torture/questioning at the Central Police Station back in
the 1930s and 40s.
4. In 1960,
when the federal capital was moved to Brasília, this section of
the Polícia Civil, or detective bureau, along with the uniforms
was done away with. Runtonio Santa Ana, interview, Rio de Janeiro, September
letter, "Chefe do setor [unsigned] to D.P.S.," relação
de investigadores nsº 1 a 87, July 31, 1947, administração/pasta
it is. One of the victims discussed below was a female sociologist who
was trying to get a little too close, a little too fast, to the hit groups
7. As an
example, in the edited work by Martha K. Huggins, Martha K., Vigilantism
and the State in Modern Latin America: Essays on Extralegal Violence
(New York: Praeger, 1991), civil-rights advocate Paul G. Chevigny presents
as Chapter 12: "Police Deadly Force, as Social Control: Jamaica,
Brazil, and Argentina." As for that part of Chevigny's article that
dealt with the city of São Paulo, he provided statistical information
on the total number of civilians killed by the Polícia Militar
(see text: Groups Responsible for definition of the Polícia
Militar) from 1982 to 1987:
cites Paulo Sérgio Pinheiros' Núcleo de Estudos da Violência
as the source of his figures. But the real origin of his material is the
Polícia Militar themselves. They periodically release data, which
newspapers like Folha de S. Paulo, and groups such as Paulo Sérgio's,
publish. We object to using Polícia Militar statistics as a measure
of the number of killings that they commit; seeing that their members
are often the diverse tentacles of the various death squads, including
the ones in São Paulo. There is no safeguard against information
being under reported by them. The data from our own research would support
the position that all of the above figures from 1985 on should be dramatically
Dimenstein, Gilberto, A guerra dos meninos (São Paulo: Brasiliense,
1990); and Caco Barcellos, ROTA 66: a história da polícia
que mata (São Paulo: Globo, 1992).
Rose, The Unpast: Elite Violence and Social Control in Brazil, 1954-2000
(Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, [late 2003]).
Santa Ana, interview, Rio de Janeiro, November 6, 1999.
that there is also, in varying degrees relative to the type of offense,
a filtering effect at work. A study by Tulio Kahn, Veja (São
Paulo), April 19, 2000, p. 30, reported that for every 100 crimes of all
types in São Paulo, thirty-three are registered in boletins
de ocorrência, six are investigated by the police, and only
two result in prison sentences. The majority of the infractions failing
to make the boletins are probably instances unknown to the police.
On the other hand, the data presented here may well represent the tip
of the death-squad iceberg.
is, larger metropolitan areas such as the Baixada Fluminense in Rio de
Janeiro or the ABC paulista in São Paulo.
also above, 5n.
Bicudo, interview, São Paulo, February 8, 1993. Bicudo became famous
in 1969 by being the first prosecutor to stand up against local death
squads. See in this regard his 1976 classic, Meu depoimento sobre o
esquadrão da morte (São Paulo: Pontifícia Comissão
de Justiça e Paz de São Paulo, 1976).
R.S. Rose took
his doctorate from the Sociology Institute at the University of Stockholm.
He is the author of the celebrated Uma das coisas esquecidas: Getúlio
Vargas e controle social no Brasil, 1930-1954 (São Paulo:
Companhia das Letras, 2001). He can be reached at: email@example.com