Violence caused by elites, their governments, and their public policies devoid of basic rights, causing economic and social exclusion, has truly left Brazil in a state of dissolution. Some even say a state of war. Not a conventional war, formally declared with all sides neatly defined, organized armies, and politically and publicly defined objectives. But a brutal war, nonetheless, with just as many victims. The number of murders in the cities and countryside, the crimes committed by the police force, the deaths related to malnutrition, curable diseases, lack of medical attention and government neglect are too alarming for this country to be considered in a state of peace.
Two reports recently released, one by the CPT (The Brazilian Catholic Church's Pastoral Land Commission) and the other by the University of São Paulo's Violence Research Centerboth regarding violence in the countryalarming in themselves, only touch the surface of the reality with which we live. Besides these reports, another released by Representative Nilmario Miranda and the Human Rights Commission reveals yet another drama being played out in the country: in the last three years 2,500 people were murdered by so-called death squads.
Brazil is the 10th largest economy in the world, but it has one of the poorest income distributions and is in 79th place in the UN's ranking of quality of life. On average a Brazilian is worse off than any of his/her neighbors in the Mercosul countries, and even worse off than those who live in Colombia, a country which has had armed conflict for 30 years.
According to studies done by Fluminense Federal University in 1999, violence was the biggest factor which has reduced life expectancy in Brazil: on average, each Brazilian loses 2.71 years due exclusively to violence. This is not counting the violence camouflaged by political and economic structures that are directly responsible for the hunger and misery which causes so much death. Such violence and death is rarely attributed to governmental decisions and choices.
Currently Brazil is third in the world in terms of absolute numbers unemployed. With nearly 8 million people without jobs, the country is third only to Russia and India in unemployment. Part of the responsibility for this kind of violence must be laid at the door of BNDES (the National Development Bank), which uses public monies for loans given to national and foreign companies even when such companies do not generate jobs. Various studies have already proven that in a country like Brazil where there is no system of social protection and where 40 million live below the poverty line, unemployment is a major cause for unequal distribution of wealth, benefits and social services.
Such disparities grew rapidly in the 90's after the elites of the country bought into programs of neoliberalism and globalization as promulgated by rich nations. Such programs have brought on dependency and controversy around payment of external debt. In short, they have caused more and more violence. The distance between the minority rich and majority poor, in terms of opportunities and possessions, is so great that when the two meet there is generally conflict if for no other reason than lack of a language for effective communication.
Further, the privatization of many public services, from education and health to public transportation, electricity and telephone services, has squeezed out a great part of the population further augmenting the distance between the rich and the poor. One can see evidence of this in the national scholastic exam: the average scores of the rich students are twice as high as those of students from poor families.
In a report released by Unicef recently, Brazil ranked 105th in the world in infant mortality with 42 per 1,000 live births. The principal cause is lack of basic sanitation for more than 30 percent of the Brazilian urban population. In rural areas, the situation is worse. Further, INESC (the Institute of Socio-Economic Studies) revealed that only 6.19 percent of the $358 million in the government's budget for sanitation was released that year.
The violence contained in fictitious budgets, like those of so many of the social programs, is not normally reported in the media, but the effects are just as noxious as the genocide in Bosnia, Cambodia or the practices of Nazi Germany. How many adults or children died or had their health permanently damaged in the dry Northeast during the drought of 1999 after the federal government stopped distributing food and delayed payment to workers for more than five months?
In an interview with Adunicamp, journalist Aloysious Biondi commented "It is the first time that I've seen a government that has the audacity to swindle drought victims out of money." This violence, deliberate and calculated, certainly is not counted on the list of other violations committed by the state. Nonetheless, it exists and is practiced every day. Just as the police use a revolver to repress people searching for food or occupying land and abandoned buildings, so a golden pen somewhere is being used to sign documents which bring on just as much violence.
In the capital of São Paulo this month, two million youths had to stop their studies because of lack of money. These same youths were not able to find jobs. Without an occupation or hopes of one, they usually become entrenched in urban violence fed by organized crime, contraband and drug trafficking. Statistics from the São Paulo police department show that 51 percent of victims of police violence were between 18 and 25 years old. Eleven percent were younger than 18, the age group that should be in school.
According to official statistics, in November of last year, the metropolitan area of São Paulo had an all time record of homicides, with 505, an average of 16.8 deaths per day. From January to December of last year another record was broken: the number of people shot and killed by São Paulo police at 593 deaths.
Already in January of this year there have been 10 shootouts with a total of 38 deaths. This type of crime has been increasing in the main capitals of the country and usually happen among gangs and vigilante groups, the latter of whom are generally made up of off-duty police officers and paid by businesses.
The police force, which ought to be looking out for the good of society, has served to protect properties, owners, to defend privileges, and to control low-income populations. In fact the major battles that have occurred in São Paulo and other urban centers have been between the police and street vendors, tax drivers without permits, the homeless, and other such groups who are struggling to eke out an existence.
In the countryside conflicts related to the struggle for land continue to increase, demonstrating that the current government is not effectively handling agrarian reform. It seems that agrarian reform only happens when there are illegal occupations of land.
All of these facts suggest that if the state, institutions and organized sectors of society do not immediately create bridges between the rich and the poor, policies of income distribution, investments in public services, and plans to promote social solidarity, then it will become more and more difficult to create a climate of peace for the next generations.
This article was originally published in Revista Sem Terra