I never really liked Brazil's largest city - São Paulo - but now I have a reason to stay the hell away. Last week my wife and I booked a return trip to Brazil. We are spending a week in Rio de Janeiro and another in Fortaleza.
As usual when I begin planning a trip to my former home, I begin following the news there more closely, and as a result I have been shocked by the situation in the city of São Paulo, where people cannot find safety in their own homes.
Just last week, both dailies O Estado de S Paulo (www.estadao.com.br) and Rio's O Globo (www.oglobo.globo.com)Â reported that several gangs of thieves invaded three separate residential buildings in an expensive part of the city to steal cash, jewelry and other valuable objects (many wealthy Brazilians stubbornly keep valuables at home instead of renting a safe box).
The trick is that they will corner someone coming into the building in their car and then force them - at gunpoint - to give access to the building.
These criminals are so organized that in one case, they told a pregnant woman not to panic, because they were not amateur robbers, but skilled professionals (seriously, this quote was pulled from O Globo newspaper).
A Brazilian couple that goes to church with me was recently a victim of one of those invasions, as their apartment building in São Paulo (they are permanentÂ residents in New Jersey) was targeted by one of these organized gangs - luckily, no one then was seriously hurt, but the shock remains.
In a recent conversation, they said that they have considered selling their property there - it's simply not worth risking your life going back anymore.
São Paulo has always had a high criminal rate - as one of the biggest cities in the world (over 29 million people live and work there and in the so-called Extended Metropolitan Complex), poverty is rampant in the outskirts of town - also, with not enough police officers to enforce the law (and the fact that they are underpaid), it is hard to enforce the law in those parts.Â
But something must be done to restore the quality of life of those who live there - at least when they are supposed to be safe at home.