It’s War

Best-seller Books, Plays and Movies

According to the United Nations, a country with more than 50 murders a year per 100,000 inhabitants is in a state of war. That is what’s happening in several big cities in Brazil. The increasing presence of drugs is the main reason for this situation.

Behind the organized crime that controls the distribution of drugs in the nation are the very same people paid to protect the citizens against criminality: police officers, House representatives, judges, and even state ministers. This time, however, the population is not taking it lightly and society is up on arms in a Brazilian-style “operation clean hands”.

According to estimates by the MNDH (Movimento Nacional de Direitos Humanos—National Movement for Human Rights) there will be 37,000 murders in Brazil this year, against 34,250 in 1998 and 33,664 in 1997. The current Brazilian scenario has been likened to a relentless war. While 16 months of combat resulted in 10,000 deaths in the recent Kosovo conflict, Brazil is fighting close to four Kosovo wars a year. If we compare the American losses in Vietnam with the dead from the Brazilian killing fields, we’ll find out that it took almost eight years of American deaths to measure up to one year of murders in Brazil.

This war has been particularly cruel to the young. A UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) study released at the end of 1998 shows that half of the youngsters who die in the country’s metropolitan areas are murdered. According to the UNESCO paper, Brazil only loses to Venezuela (facing guerrillas) and Colombia (involved in drug wars) as far as the number of 15 to 24-year-old kids killed is concerned.

When measured proportionally to the country’s population of 165 million inhabitants, Brazil’s criminality doesn’t seem that serious, though. As a whole, the nation has 25 murders for every 100,000 people annually, a number comparable to Northern Ireland. In the US, the rate of occurrences is 7.4 for every 100,000. However, if we take into consideration the United Nations’ criteria, which regard any country with more than 50 murders for a group of 100,000 to be in a state of war, Brazilian metropolises are true slaughterhouses. In Rio, for example, there are 50 murders per 100,000 people; in São Paulo, 59. The situation is even worse in Vitória (capital of Espírito Santo, which is known as the Violence Capital of the nation) with 64 murders per 100,000 people.

And in Diadema, a town just 10 miles from downtown São Paulo, the number of homicides has reached 140 per 100,000. While it may seem too remote for an individual to be killed in São Paulo—a chance of 0.06 percent —, the possibility of having a family member murdered in that city is much scarier. Depending on the size of the family, the odds may jump to around 75%. As an added incentive to the law of the jungle, impunity is almost certain for murderers in Brazil. Only two percent of all the assassins end up in jail.

Brasília’s daily Correio Braziliense heard several scholars on the subject of violence. Most experts seemed to agree that the main reason for Brazil’s high criminality indexes is the huge gap between the rich few and the poor majority.

“A 17-year-old boy who lives in a shantytown, without perspectives, rebels against a youth who has a new car, goes to private school, can buy at a shopping mall, and is always well dressed,” said professor David Duarte Lima, from Universidade de Brasília’s (UnB) Department of Collective Health, who has studied the causes of murders in São Paulo.

Economic disparities are not enough to explain everything, though. The coordinator of Clave (Centro Latinoamericano de Estudos da Violência—Latin American Center for the Studies of Violence), Edinilza de Souza, believes that it is necessary a concerted effort to solve the problem: “The situation is very complex, with several causes, and isolated actions will not solve it. It is not enough to increase security. You need to deal with health, with education, with the whole social scenario.”

According to Mireya Suárez, professor of UnB’s Nucleus of Studies of Violence, “It’s not the people who are violent or pacific; the institutions are. Brazil has a great deal of violent institutions, and there is also a cultural tradition that does induce many Brazilians to solve problems through violence.”

While some newspapers may be counting down the days leading to the year 2000, or estimating the death toll following a devastating earthquake or hurricane, the São Paulo press has been keeping close tally of the massacres in the region. In 1996 and 1997 there were 47 mass murders in the Greater São Paulo, but these occurrences almost doubled in 1998, with 89 massacres and a total of 308 deaths. The pace is just slightly slower this year. For several papers around the country, the reporting of the weekend massacres on their Monday editions has become a routine. However, people no longer seem to care if the number of victims was three, five or six. The vast majority of these crimes are linked to drug trafficking in suburban areas, and everyone just goes on with their lives.

But the routine became big news on November 3, when a medical student from a rich family from Bahia opened fire on a mall’s movie multiplex in São Paulo, killing three people. The 24-year old killer, Mateus da Costa Meira, who was just a few weeks short of getting his diploma, had paid $2500 for the submachine gun he used. In his bedroom, police found a piece of paper on which he had written: “Media, reality, hypocrite society.” For the killing he chose the screening room showing the American movie Fight Club. The slaughter started soon after a similar scene was shown on the screen. A woman who was in the theater told reporters: “He would look at us, look at the film and tum, tum…” “I didn’t know what to shoot… if the screen, the walls or the public,” the assassin himself declared, adding: “I was going to buy a grenade, but thought a machine gun would cause more impact in the media.” Meira was under the effect of drugs.

Crime has spiraled in São Paulo since 1996. Robbery has increased by 75% when comparing the first semester of 1996 to the same period in 1998. There was also a 73 percent increase in car thefts, 43 percent in other types of thefts and an 8 percent rise in homicides. To deal with the increase in robbery, banks have limited to $50 the amount of cash people can withdraw from automatic cashiers after 10 PM.

There were 5,157 murders in São Paulo last year, the immense majority of them in the city’s poorer neighborhoods. In the Jardins area of the capital, a tree-lined neighborhood preferred by the well-to-do, there was not even one homicide in 1998. Richer Paulistanos (residents of São Paulo) have retreated into gated communities with around-the-clock armed security. São Paulo State has a police force of 120,000 police officers, but an army of 400,000 private security guards. In Rio and São Paulo, running a red light at night is no longer considered an infraction and the police will not give tickets for that. People do it for security reasons, to avoid being mugged at the intersections.

A recent study by InfoEstado, the research branch of daily O Estado de São Paulo, showed that 57 percent of the São Paulo population has already thought about leaving the city due to its violence. Another 55 percent said they have been forced to either change their routine or give up doing something they usually like to do, also for fear. The same study, published in October, revealed that drug trafficking and homicides are the two most feared crimes by Paulistanos, pointed by 24 percent of the respondents. Rape and robbery, each chosen by 18% of the population, follow as their worst fears.

A little overwhelmed by the situation, the São Paulo Secretariat for Public Security has elected crack cocaine as its public enemy number 1. Public Security secretary, Marco Vinício Petrelluzzi, thinks that crack, directly or indirectly, is responsible for many of the crimes.

In Rio, governor Anthony Garotinho boasted recently that Rio’s criminality index was lower than New York’s, even after the Great Apple’s adoption of its much touted zero tolerance policy. “We have 7.5 homicides per 100,000 people, against 8.5 in New York,” Garotinho gloated. But he was talking about Rio’s south zone. In reality, the number of murders in Rio is more than six times higher than in New York. For the whole of 1998 Rio had 50.1 murders for every 100,000 residents.

Using a popular expression to convey that every crime will be punished, and to remind that his police force will be tough with criminals, the governor said: “Escreveu nao leu, o pau comeu” (literally, “you wrote and you didn’t read, you got the stick.”). On the other hand, São Paulo governor, Mário Covas, seems resigned to the violence. “There is no solution to the violence increase as long as the unemployment index continues at the present level, and this shameful poverty persists. When I took office, the police was arresting 2,000 people a month; today this number has increased to 4,500.”

While the number of murders in São Paulo’s central areas has decreased in recent months, it has increased in suburban areas. Official data for 1998 show that police solved 57 percent of murder cases in the capital, against only 24.2 percent in the neighboring areas. According to sociologist Guaracy Mingardi, coordinator of the state’s Sector of Criminal Information Analyses, the more urbanized an area, the lower the incidence of crimes. As an example, he cites a region in downtown São Paulo, known as Cracolândia, where there is a concentration of trafficking and consumption of drugs. “While there is a fair amount of massacres linked to drug trafficking in São Paulo, there are no massacres in Cracolândia, because the region’s urbanization makes impunity less likely there.”

In Rio, only 15 percent of all crimes are ever solved. The ICCE (Instituto de Criminalística Carlos Éboli) that is in charge of technical reports and analyses has had a chronic lack of personnel and material resources, even though the institute has moved to a new and modern building a little more than a year ago. The situation has been deteriorating for a decade. Currently, there are 120,000 processes waiting in line to be examined, about 100,000 of them for ballistic tests.

There is no lack of plans. One of them calls for an initial investment of $5 million, and would unite several departments under the CUPTEC (Centro Unificado de Polícia Técnico-Científica—Unified Center of Technical-Scientific Police). The new center would have state-of-the-art equipment and the best professionals in the area.

But the police have been so impotent that four years ago, Rio’s foremost authority on police matters, Security Secretary Josias Quintal, had his apartment raided by robbers. They took his money and his personal revolver. For lack of equipment, the technical police was never able to collect fingerprints in the apartment. And nobody was ever indicted for the case, even though there was a suspect. A few weeks ago, former Rio’s governor, Marcello Alencar, had his house robbed as well.

The Carioca (from Rio) police receive 100 new requests for forensic tests daily. Cases that make headlines in the media get priority treatment. The others get in line and wait. There are more than 8,000 handwritten reports waiting to be typed right now. Ten people were hired for the job, but they only have three computers to work with. At the same time, kits for drug analyses imported from the US are often used long past their expiration dates

In an interview with Jornal do Brasil, Luís Eduardo Soares, coordinator of the security area declared, “Unfortunately, our technical police represent the worst there is in the profession: it is decentralized and lacks organization. We need to create ways to make our work more agile.”

If corruption is rampant in the police forces across the country, the salaries they get may help to explain the phenomenon. In Rio, a police technician, who has gone through all possible promotions, is able to make a mere $600 a month. Someone just starting in the career does not make more than $350. The situation is a little better in Brasília (the federal capital) and in the northeastern state of Sergipe, where the starting salary is $1,500. Conversely, a youngster who sells drugs can make $1,000 a month, or about 20 times more than the $50 he would be able to earn in a regular job.

While in the US crime costs represent 4 percent of the GDP, or $330 billion, in Brazil, with a homicide rate four times bigger, crime costs reach $80 billion, or 10 percent of the country’s yearly production of goods. Americans spend $25,000 a year for each prisoner it maintains in jail, four times more than Brazil, which spends $3,000 with every inmate.

Steven Levitt, economy professor from the University of Chicago, who has been studying criminality in Brazil, believes that there is no direct causal relationship between poverty and violent crime. Comparing New York and São Paulo, he commented that corruption was acute among the New York police during the ’70s. Only after a clean up of the ranks things started working. While there was a 65% decline in the number of homicides in New York in the last ten years, São Paulo went in the opposite direction, with murder cases increasing by 35 percent during the same period.

His recipe for a solution is imprisonment, harsh sentences and fighting police corruption. Talking to Época, Levitt defended the idea that it is better to have no police at all than to have a corrupt force, as it is the case in Rio: “It is absurd that there are policemen in Brazil who moonlight for the drug cartels. How can we expect to combat violence if the police work for criminals who, in addition, guarantee them more decent salaries than those the State pays them?”

This new awareness about rampant crime has convinced many Brazilians that it is time to get tougher with crime. Despite the opposition to the death penalty by both politicians and authorities, there has been a shift among the population in favor of capital punishment. A just-released study by São Paulo polling company Instituto Brasmarket revealed that 38.6 percent of the population favors the death penalty, against 27.8 percent against it. The Brasmarket research also revealed an almost unanimous popular backing of a law that would lower criminal responsibility from 18 to 16 years of age. While 6.8 percent want to maintain the present law, 91.4 percent would like to change it. The lopsided result seems to be in response to a series of well-publicized rebellions by minors at São Paulo’s FEBEM, the federal institution in charge of reeducating delinquent minors.

Enough is Enough

“It is time to clean up the police!” The appeal came recently from the highest source, Justice Minister José Carlos Dias. The President, politicians, judges, media, the population and the police themselves seem to agree that such a clean up is overdue. And never in recent memory so many people got together to do just that. Joining the fray, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso promised a “crusade against impunity” and a fight against organized crime and drug trafficking. “As far as drug trafficking goes”, he said, “the roots have grown much deeper than anyone of us could imagine. This problem affects political and governmental sectors. Luckily, they haven’t yet reached the high spheres of the legislative, executive, and judiciary powers.”

And the President went on to say: “If we don’t act forcefully against impunity, we will see the growth of violence to levels that are incompatible with democracy… There is no Brazilian man or woman who is not afraid of the insecurity and not revolted with the impunity. And this has been happening in such a crescendo that the country cannot take it anymore. We need to take effective measures to put a stop to this situation.” Cardoso has also created a new body to help the CPI’s work. It is the Group to Fight Impunity, which is formed by federal police officers, a sheriff and a former Justice prosecutor.

Dias, who has been in his post as Justice Minister less than six months, has already provoked several controversies, besides angering some politicians. His main goal is to change the Penal Code, build more prisons, and integrate the efforts of the state and federal police. In a growing problem for the jail system there are almost twice as much inmates than cells to house them. While there is only room for 107,049 prisoners, the current inmate population is 197,975. This situation has caused a series of mutinies and jailbreaks around the country.

The minister also wants to do without the notion of “crime hediondo” (hideous crime), a classification introduced by the 1988 constitution to punish kidnapping, torture, and rape. As these crimes have become unbailable, those accused of such offenses remain incarcerated while their case is being judged. Dias’s argument is that “No crime is adorable. Crime is crime. There is no reason for one being hideous and the other not.” He also wants the introduction of alternative penalties like community service for white-collar and other lesser crimes, thus creating prison vacancies for more serious criminals. In the same context, drug users would have lighter penalties than drug dealers.

In an interview with weekly newsmagazine Época, the minister talked about his mission: “We have to answer the following question: do we want to be civilized or not? Do we want to stay in the wild world of revenge or do we want to evolve? This is the debate I propose. Statistics show that tough penalties or death penalty, as in the case of the United States, don’t inhibit crime. The adoption of the minimum penal right will allow us to protect the citizens’ fundamental rights. This has nothing to do with siding with the criminal. Crimes that are considered hideous today will continue to be punished with severity. Crimes considered less grave will be punished with alternative sentences, fines or suspension of rights.”

While applauding the Minister and the President, assemblyman Hélio Luz, Rio’s former Secretary of Public Security, cast some doubts about the feasibility of the clean up operation: “This is a good start, but we still have to see if the Brazilian state, the executive, legislative, and judiciary powers are able to live without a corrupt police.” Luz defends the thesis that, from its creation, Brazil’s police force was intended to serve the government and not the citizenry.

The national commotion has resulted in several middle-level suspects being jailed. In two days in November, for example, police detained 18 people at favela Beira-Mar in the neighborhood of Duque de Caxias. That’s the headquarters of drug dealer Luiz Fernando da Costa, better known as Fernandinho Beira-Mar. According to police, one of the suspects, 25-year old Marcelo Vieira Mariano, was arrested in a bakery carrying 81 packs of cocaine.

The Brazilian “operation clean hands”, inspired by similar work in Italy, has implicated all kinds of authorities and community leaders who should be above any suspicion. One of the people being investigated is retired judge Valdeci Lopes Pinheiro. The judge is believed to be part of a fraudulent Social Security scheme that yielded her close to $70,000 in the past.

On November 10, Rio’s daily Jornal do Brasil, in an editorial entitled “The Last Straw”, applauded President Fernando Henrique Cardoso for asking that congressmen involved with organized crime have their mandate revoked. “The quality of the parliamentary representation,” wrote the liberal paper, “deteriorated in recent years proportionally to the indiscriminate ascent to power of manipulators from several sectors, from civil construction to drug trafficking, including police officers and former police officers linked to organized crime e extermination groups. Whole “powder” caucuses from northern states ended up becoming folklore, which contributed to demoralize parliamentary representation as a whole”… “Obviously these people are intent on obtaining mandates in order to protect themselves behind the skirts of parliamentary immunity. For years on end Congress has refused requests by the Supreme Court to prosecute House representatives and senators accused of common crimes, making them untouchables. Well, parliamentary immunity was created in the 17th century, in England, to protect the right of opinion, not to turn the Parliament into a cover for criminals, smugglers, drug traffickers and other categories ready, today, to join forces as a cartel under the coat of organized crime.”

Cases of criminals who have been elected to Congress and to other important official positions are abundant. The media has been revealing new stories almost on a daily basis. Every State seems to have several skeletons in its closet. One of the most notorious cases was that of Congressman Hildebrando Pascoal, from the state of Acre, a former policeman with a violent past and a criminal history. Pascoal was finally expelled from Congress and sent to prison.

The CPI do Narcotráfico (Committee for Congressional Investigation on Drug Trafficking) created by Congress has been going on for months. However, only recently it became big news and started to get the interest it needs to encourage more people to testify against corruption and police intimidation. Early in November, the whole nation was following the efforts of the CPI to arrest Fernandinho Beira-Mar, who is believed to have fled to Paraguay. According to the Federal Police, Beira-Mar is responsible for 30 percent of all cocaine consumed in Rio, the largest market for the drug. Beira-Mar said no to a proposal in which he would provide the CPI with information in exchange for partial immunity.

In recent weeks, the CPI has focused its attention in Rio. The presence of the committee’s members in the city showed how powerful and threatening is the organized crime there. In one incident, the CPI group was examining Guanabara Bay’s security aboard a Federal Police boat, when all of a sudden they had to interrupt their tour. The federal police suspected that they were being followed and might be shot by the drug gang that controls the Caju favela.

All of the 19 House representatives who are part of the CPI have received bulletproof vests after getting death threats. “I have received telephone calls with the recommendation to forget the investigation,” Rio’s representative, Paulo César Baltazar, revealed. Baltazar, who is an evangelical, said he was not afraid, though. He won’t wear his protective vest, and explains: “Like David, who didn’t need a shield to defeat Goliath, I also refuse to wear the vest.” But other members of the CPI are not taking chances. Representative Laura Carneiro, for example, revealed that she has asked police to search hers and her husband’s phone lines for possible tapping.

Vague Data

Police reports show that most of the drugs and weapons smuggled into Rio come both through the Volta Redonda airport and Rodovia Presidente Dutra—also known as Via Dutra—, Rio’s main road connection to the rest of the country. By the end of October more than 800 kilos (nearly a ton) of several drugs had been apprehended at Via Dutra, in its stretch close to Rio.

Those reports, prepared by Cisp (Centro de Inteligência da Secretaria de Segurança Pública—Secretariat of Public Security’s Intelligence Center), also reveal that Brazil has become one of the world’s ten most important markets for drug money laundering. By September of this year five tons of marijuana and two tons of cocaine had been apprehended, while Rio’s police had detained 13,864 people for being involved with drugs.

The document equally details how the drugs get to Rio, coming from several cities in the states of Acre, Amazonas, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Paraná and Rondônia. There are five main areas in Rio controlled by druglords. These are places police are afraid to go to. They are the Alemão complex, the Jacarezinho favela (shantytown) and the Dendê, Providência, and Mangueira morros (hills).

The report also details the drug trafficking hierarchy, which is divided in three levels. The top level belongs to the bosses, none of whom is identified. These capi use legal companies as fronts for their work. Under them there are the matutos (hillbillies) who are in charge of distributing the product. They work with a battalion of helpers, including accountants and lawyers. Fernandinho Beira-Mar is one of these second-level executives cited by the police.

Third in rank are a series of mid and low-level aides with different names and attributions: aviões (literally airplanes, the middlemen), vapores (steam boats, the person who takes the drug directly to the consumer), olheiros (scouts), leaders, managers, security men, and soldiers. These people get a salary for their work and are also involved in the riskier and dirtier jobs, such as bank robberies, car thefts and kidnappings. The involvement of minors in this third level has increased fivefold since 1994. While 11 percent of the 2,200 children detained by police in 1994 were working with drugs, this number had increased to 55 percent of 4,000 children apprehended in 1998.

House representative Moroni Torgan, the CPI’s reporter, believes that drug trafficking mobilizes more than 200,000 people in the country, a contingent bigger than that of the Brazilian Army. He believes Brazil would have become a new Colombia in five years if the ongoing clean up process hadn’t been started.

According to the Military Police, the commerce of drugs employs more than 10,000 people, 35 percent of them children and teens who work as aviões and informers. This little army is believed to count with the help of 300 lawyers, who work as liaison between the workers in the field and the incarcerated leaders. The MP has mapped 606 drug-selling spots, which are served by 1,500 scouts and more than 5,000 security men. For those who show service and get managerial positions salaries can be as high as $15,000 a month. By comparison, the best salary paid by the government is $6,500, which is the salary paid judges of the Electoral Supreme Court. The President himself earns $4,250 a month.

The CPI work has been hindered by a lack of precise data about drug trafficking in the country. Often, different departments present different numbers for the same situation. As pointed by São Paulo House representative Robson Tuma, “This is a very serious problem, figures can be drastically different from an institution to another and this has to be checked.”

While the CISP report stresses that Rio has become the main center for heroine consumption, another report prepared by Rio’s military police entirely ignores the problem, stating that marijuana represents 65 percent of the market and cocaine the remainder 35 percent. In another example, the civilian police report that Rio commercializes 7 to 8 tons of marijuana and 3 to 4 tons of cocaine every month, while the federal police says that the volume of cocaine sold a month is 600 kilos, or just a little over half a ton.

Just half an hour from downtown Rio, the west side suburb of Campo Grande has been considered the most secure neighborhood in Rio, according to a study prepared by Databrasil, the research branch of Universidade Cândido Mendes. However, in order to create an air of interior the community has joined hands and businesses have been helping the local police financially. They even contribute to the maintenance of the police fleet.

Tough Act to Follow

Congressman Magno Malta, the CPI’s president, criticized the Central Bank for taking too long to release information on bank accounts that were used for money laundering. Malta also made a passionate appeal to everyone to be brave and denounce cases of drug trafficking. He praised Rio’s governor Anthony Garotinho for his “courageous attitude” in delivering a dossier on drugs in his state, risking his own security.

On the other hand, Malta lamented that no one has stepped up in Espírito Santo, his home state, to depose against those involved in drugs. “We know the problem exists, but no one blows the whistle, no one has the courage to speak up. If we have been successful in Piauí, Acre, Rio, and Maranhão it’s because people there has had the courage to go ahead, stick their neck out and offer to testify to the CPI.”

Renowned jurist Miguel Reale Júnior, who is drafting a new Penal Code, was asked by Justice minister José Carlos Dias to include an article on organized crime in it. The proposal, which was dubbed the Anti-Mafia Law, is a way to give the judicial power legal instruments to punish criminal organizations and its members. The present code does not talk about organized crime, even though it mentions the formation of gangs and criminal groups as a crime.

Presidente Cardoso is also sending congress a bill that forbids the possession and carrying of a firearm by all civilians, with the exception of gun clubs, collectors, and those who live in the wild and need a weapon to protect themselves against nature’s predators. Nine out of 10 murders in Brazil are committed with a firearm. The original bill, sent to legislators on the first semester of this year, was even more stringent, limiting the use of arms to police, armed forces and duly authorized security companies. The proposal, however, was shot down by the arms lobby and was criticized even by parties belonging to the coalition that backs the government. The original text had so many changes that the Cardoso administration preferred to submit a less-tough new proposal.

Joint Operation

The CPI on organized crime has been working since March. It is investigating the connections of organized crime in at least 14 states and in Brasília, the nation’s capital. More than 40 hotshots have been arrested so far, including doleiro (someone who buys and sells dollars) Khaled Nawaf Aragi. The creation of the Núcleo de Combate à Impunidade (Nucleus for Fighting Impunity) is an attempt to adopt in Brazil the same tactics of Operation Clean Hands, which were used successfully against the Mafia in Italy.

Not everybody is impressed with the government effort, though. Federal prosecutor Luiz Francisco Fernandes Souza, in charge of the investigations in the state of Acre, criticizes the lack of resources to do an effective work: “The combat to organized crime announced by the Justice Minister is a publicity stunt. A real combat against organized crime would not allow that only 32 Federal Police agents would have to patrol the frontier with Peru and Bolivia, in Acre. Any action would also need the backing of a program to protect witnesses. The Brazilian program never left the normative phase because it needs money to be structured.”

The CPI has already found out that in the states of Acre, Alagoas, and Piauí, military police colonels are bosses of criminal organizations. In Acre, it is believed that a death squad led by former House representative Hildebrando Pascoal has already killed 150 people in recent years. Pascoal was also commander of Acre’s military police. He is accused of protecting traffickers and hit men, and of using his farm in the frontier with Bolivia to stash cocaine. Pascoal and 33 other people connected with him are in jail.

In Alagoas, lawlessness seems to be the norm. Alagoas’s Colonel Manuel Cavalcante was finally arrested in 1998, but before that he had been acting with impunity at the helm of a band that killed people and robbed banks. Cavalcante is a suspect in the murder of police chief Ricardo Lessa, the brother of Alagoas governor Ronaldo Lessa. In June, police chief Antônio Camilo de Carvalho got a 69-year prison sentence for leading a death squad in the state.

In Teresina, capital of Piauí, colonel José Viriato Correia Lima is in jail, apparently with enough evidence to keep him there for a long time. Correia Lima is accused of being the head of a scheme to swindle and defraud mayors from the interior of the State. The band led by Correia Lima had several illustrious citizens, including police chiefs, judges, businessmen and attorneys. A telephone tapping by police revealed negotiations the colonel had with a hit man to kill a police chief.

In the state of Espírito Santo, José Carlos Gratz, the state assembly’s president, is the main suspect of running the illegal jogo do bicho (animal lottery) and taking part in a death squad. In Maranhão, assemblyman José Gerardo de Abreu has a lot to explain about his connections with drug trafficking and truckload theft. Also involved in this scheme are mayors and judges from small towns. Their work was to facilitate the transportation of the stolen trucks and goods. Gerardo is accused of having paid $100,000 to a hit man to kill, in May 1997, police chief Stênio Mendonça, who was on the trail of the gang.

Some of the gangs have become very sophisticated and are spread throughout several states. In Mato Grosso, judge Leopoldino do Amaral has prepared a dossier against 16 state court of appeal judges. They are accused of several kinds of frauds, including the sale of sentences and involvement with drug trafficking. The revelations came to light in July. Two months later Amaral was found dead with two bullets in his head.

There are suspects in the highest levels of the government. Defense Minister Élcio Álvares, a former governor of Espírito Santo, has being accused by police chief Francisco Badenes of too much coziness with his home state’s mafia. It has been pointed that Álvares, during his term as a senator and leader of the government in the congress, was the main force behind the push to defeat a bill that would extinguish the military police and transfer its members to the civilian police. With roughly half of the senators being also former governors with ties to their home states’ military police, it has been hard to pass any law that will go against the interests of the military police lobbies.

The economy may be stagnant, with unemployment reaching record highs, but these are boom times at least for one sector, that of bullet proofing cars. About 20 armoring-car companies who do business in the country have been very busy lately. The São Paulo office of O’Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt Armoring Co., for example, has seen its business increase threefold since last year. The Fairfield, Ohio-based company has been shielding 90 cars a month this year, against 30 in 1998. The armoring-car market revenues are expected to reach $70 million in 1999, a 60 percent increase from last year.

The cost of armoring a single car can run from $20,000 to $35,000, depending on the material used. The addition of imported bulletproof glass makes the job even more expensive. These prices do not include items like walkie-talkies, anti-explosive gas tanks, or sirens. Protecting the car against powerful automatic weapons is especially costly. Some experts believe that armoring a car is more a show of status than an adequate response to a real threat.

Send your
comments to

You May Also Like

Brazil’s Gem Industry Doesn’t Need the US Anymore to Certify Its Stones

Brazil’s gem, real and costume jewelry industry has had an important technological boost as ...

A Virtual Market of Eco-Friendly Amazon Products

Through the National Forest Program, Brazil’s Ministry of Environment is participating in Fashion Rio ...

Mass Killings by Drug Gang Don’t Worry Brazilian Investors

Latin American stocks tumbled as investors continued to take profits amid worries about rising ...

100 Killed a Day: Driving in Brazil is Seven Times Deadlier that in the US

Vehicle traffic in Brazil is seven times more lethal than it is in the ...

Brazil’s Appeals Court Denies Moral Damages Against Cigarette Maker

The 4th Panel of the Superior Justice Court (STJ), the highest Brazilian appeal court, ...

Brazil’s Industrial Activity Falls 15% in First Quarter

Brazil's industrial production posted slight growth from February to March, registering growth of 0.7%. ...

Beauty and the Beat

Bahia has a new muse. Banda Eva sells one million CDs and projects Ivete ...

Back to Their Land, Brazilian Indians Don’t Want to Depend on Government

Two weeks ago the Krahô-Kanela people returned to their Mata Alagada land. They are ...

Brazil’s Didn’t Act Out of Self-Interest in Hong Kong, Says Lula

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said Monday, December 19, that his country ...

Brazil’s Landless Want More than Just Land

Brazil’s landless movement, known as the Movimento dos Sem Terra (MST), is on the ...