Either Rio Stops Crime or Crime Will Stop Rio

According to the latest Latin America edition of U.S. weekly magazine Newsweek, Rio de Janeiro was always Brazil’s cidade maravilhosa, the marvelous city, but up close, the city is more often a monster than it is a marvel – a honking, steaming metropolis where rampant crime is only the most flagrant symptom of decline.

According to the article entitled “Brazil’s once marvelous city has lost its luster for natives as well as visitors. Can it recover?,” South America’s third-largest metropolis finds itself trapped in a relentless cycle of industrial decline, capital flight and bureaucratic gridlock.

All of this “has gutted the center city and transformed the once prospering suburbs into a rust belt of shuttered factories and slums.”

The city’s fall isn’t irreversible, reports the Rio-based, Brazilian correspondent for Newsweek, Mac Margolis. But Rio is unlikely to recover, he says  unless the chaos and criminals are stopped.

Margolis notes that Rio’s authorities can be very sensitive to any criticism. He cites the city’s urban planning chief saying that “For tourists, Rio is as safe as Belgium.” And adds: “Prickliness aside, the authorities have a point: foreigners are by no means the main victims of Rio’s busy bandits. But that is cold comfort to the Cariocas, as Rio’s besieged natives are called.”

Newsweek informs that, according to the UN, homicides have doubled in the last decade in Rio going up to 3,729 a year. The magazine talks about the effort of the police who have jailed 45,000 criminals, last year, but adds that often the police are the problem. The last shocking crime of the police was the recent killing, death-squad style, of 29 people in the streets of Rio’s Baixada Fluminense.

“From tainted water to toxic politics, South America’s third-largest metropolis (population: 10.5 million) has it all,” says the weekly, which also informs that last month Brazil’s Health Ministry took over six city hospitals, after calling Rio’s health services a “public calamity,”

The magazine sees Rio as Brazil in miniature, reminding that favelas (shantytowns) are all over and that violence has become a national epidemic.

“One business that is flourishing in Rio is drugs”, says the article. “After dark, gunmen in flip-flops and armed with assault weapons battle for territory on behalf of cocaine falanges, like the Red Command and Friends of Friends.”

Newsweek concludes the piece with examples of actions by citizens who wish to take the marvelous city back from criminal hands. The civic group Viva Rio is one such effort. They have launched dozens of initiatives including microcredit. And businessmen have been lobbying the government to ease taxes, clean up downtown and increase policing.


  • Show Comments (11)

  • Guest

    Legalizing dugs
    If you legalize drugs and then “tax the hell out of it” don’t you think that another black market would emerge selling it at lower prices, bringing us right back where we are with another illicit drug trade on our hands?

  • Guest

    Lisa from Sao Paolo
    I agree with most of the above comments….but no nazis please.
    There are many ways to fight crime but all cities are different.
    Death penalty for murder is 1 step and legalizing drugs can be another…stopping drugs income also stops drug related crimes (the most desperate ones that often result in violence) but will not happen unfortunately due to goverments being afraid of initial consequences and taxation issues………….

  • Guest

    I agree with the above German coment, fight fire with fire.

  • Guest

    Von fritz
    The answer is write under your nose, GERMANS. Go down south and ask some of the old nazi,s for some political managment, they will clean out Rio as if it was 1934 in Berlin.

  • Guest

    Life of Crime
    I am troubled by this thinking that people are born into criminality.

    None of us are born criminals (were you?). People evolve into criminals through association with other criminals (lead astray), or a sense of desperation and hopeliness (ie there is no other way to make money). To cut off one supply of easy money(drugs), does not neccessarily mean they will turn to another form of crime. The trick is to find discover and educate ways that people cna make legitimate living. Thats not easy I know, but if we turn our back on people, of course they will turn to illicit activity.
    Have we not all faced at times doing the right and wrong thing? What leads some to do the right thing and or the wrong thing? Opportunity, moral fiber, character, peer pressure, role models, parenting, all these things shape whether we make the right decisions in life or not. WE ARE NOT BORN INTO CRIMINALITY, it is choice, and largely economic opportunity drive.

  • Guest

    Just introduce Zero Tolerence like NYC did and the thugs will be in the jails or executed and that will be that. Look at Thailand. death penalty for drugs.. no exceptions! Hang the thugs, don’t wait to long or there be only thugs living there. Boa Sorte

  • Guest

    Greatest Iota
    There is no city like Rio de Janeiro, no carioca can live anywhere else in the world and be content to stay. They all have one thing in common, the desire, dream and necessity to go back to live in Rio.

    The fix a problem you most fix the root cause of that problem. Eliminating or minimizing the appeal of drugs is the only way to win the war. If it was up to me, the policy I would take is simple. Make it legal, tax the hell out of it, and educated people on its negative. Let the druggies and people with little discipline die off. A team is only as strong as its weakest link.

  • Guest

    Rio Residente
    1) People turn to crime when they cant make a living do legitimate business.There is a lack of business opportunity in Rio because there is too much crime. It is vicious circle.

    2) The comment “There are many drugs already that are legal for useful health purposes, and NOT addictive”. Well, yes, but that is not the point. People take drugs to experience things that are not available in other forms.And every generation has done this. The solution is better education, not making drugs illegal. Look at how tabacco consumption is declining in many many affluent countries through better education (making it socially unacceptable) and higher taxes on consumption (making it very expensive to smoke cigarettes). You cannot stop the supply if you do not shut down the demand. So work on the demand side of the equation through education and taxes. The worst part now is the government makes no money out of this part of the economy, when if if it did apply a VAT tax to cocaine/maconha, it would be able to use this tax to better educate people, provide treatment to addicts, and reduce taxes elsewhere in the economy. That is after all what has happened with tabacco.

    Yes, it is a long journey ahead, but we are all tired of the same old so called solutions that never work. It is time for a change of approach.

  • Guest

    Crime and drugs
    Legalising drugs will not stop the crime. If you prevent criminals from making money from drugs, they will only think of something else to finance their life of crime.

  • Guest

    Long journey ahead
    The above comment recommending the legalization of drugs is pretty extreme. The ramifications of such actions need to be looked at very closely and I would definitely not see it very practical. It’s not the drugs itself that causes the problem, but the health effects and addictions that are associated with these drugs. There are many drugs already that are legal for useful health purposes, and NOT addictive. So the idea of treating bad drugs like good drugs and legalizing them is ABSURD!!!

    We need to think critically at each situation and not use the same bread and butter approach to everything!!

    As for crimes in Rio, it is a way of life that has built upon years of growth due to the political and economic forces that have helped shaped it the way it is today. For change, it is going to be a slow process, but each step can help only if major changes are implemented and enforced. I think the government has to play a greater role in this, and the people can help by influencing their leaders. It is happening already..

  • Guest

    Crime in Rio
    I am an American who has been to Rio and Brazil 30 times in the past 20 years. I agree drug crimes are worse but Rio can be safe if you are careful. The drug business crimes in Rio and the US would stop if the governments would legalize drugs and remove the profits. No government will ever win the drug war. Too much money is to be made when the drugs are illegal.

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