Julio Jacobo Waiselfisz is a sociologist who has been the principal author of the annual Brazil’s Map of Violence, published by the Instituto Sangari, for 15 years. Jacobo, as he is known, says that the experience of writing and doing extensive research on the subject for so many years has led him to believe that violence is pandemic in Brazil.
“An epidemic is an eventual outbreak, a pandemic is a structural problem and more difficult to deal with. You can say that violence has been incorporated into Brazilian life,” says Jacobo, adding: “Brazil is now as violent as any other Latin American country.”
That runs counter to the famous image of the Brazilian as a cordial man (“homem cordial”) as outlined in a seminal work: The Roots of Brazil (Raízes do Brasil) by Sergio Buarque de Holanda (1902-82) published in 1936.
Conventional wisdom takes the expression literally: Brazilians are characterized by their gentleness and understanding. Jacobo says he has failed to identify those personal attributes in the data he collects for the Map of Violence.
“What you have in Brazil and the rest of Latin America is the devaluation of the other. Elsewhere conflicts are resolved through negotiations,” says Jacobo, who was born in Argentina.
Buarque describes his cordial man as someone moved into action more by emotion than reason. Jacobo calls that cultural factor, along with all the weapons easily available in Brazil, “an explosive mix.”
He says that with the onslaught of privatized violence that thrives beyond state control in the form of legal security firms (paid for by people living in fear) and illegal militias (substituting an absent government), not to mention off-duty policemen and death squads, the violence just keeps getting worse.
“You do not reach this point without pervasive corruption at many levels of governance,” sentences Jacobo.
Jacobo’s studies are available at the Domínio Público portal at the site of the Ministry of Education. His last report, Novos Padrões da Violência Homicida no Brasil (New Patterns of Homicidal Violence in Brazil), is also on the web.