It's common knowledge that while Brazil's largest cities, like São Paulo, Rio and Salvador, are plagued by violence the rest of the country still offers plenty of places, which are islands of quiet and safety. This common knowledge, however, has just been debunked.
A study by the Organization of Ibero-American States shows that violent crimes in Brazil are moving from the capitals to the country's interior. Murders, the report reveals, are now spread throughout 556 or 10% of the 5560 Brazilian municipalities.
Rio, São Paulo and all other densely populated cities don't make into the 10 worst cities for violent death. They don't appear even among the 100 worst cities. Rio de Janeiro shows up at 107th place with 57.2 murders per 100,000 and São Paulo only makes it at 182nd place with 48.2 homicides per 100,000.
While falling in the big cities the murder rate has been steadily increasing in the hinterland, however.
The 10 most violent municipalities in Brazil don't even include a capital city. Among them only two in fact are in metropolitan areas: Serra, in the state of Espírito Santo and Ilha de Itamaracá, in Pernambuco.
The research, which was a joint effort with Brazil's Health Ministry, shows that Brazilian champion of murder is not a big town, but Colniza, a small 13,000-residents city in the state of Mato Grosso, which has had over 20 murders a year for the last three years, putting it at the top with a rate of 165 deaths per 100,000 residents.
All numbers are from 2004, the last year in which the statistical data have been consolidated.
The 556 cities analyzed in the study concentrate 71.8% of all the murders in Brazil. While Colniza appears as number 1, the last town in the list, Nova América, in the state of Goiás, appears with 29.8 homicides per 100,000, which still puts it inside an area that the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) classifies as presenting "total rupture of the public safety mechanisms." These are cities where the population neither trusts the police nor believes they can solve their problems.
A recent Violence Map drawn by the Brazilian government has shown that while the Brazilian population increased 16.5% in the decade going from 1994 to 2004, the number of murders during the same period grew 48.4%, from 32.603 deaths a year to 48,374.
Some of Brazil's most violent places are new towns created with the deforestation of the Amazon and they include besides Colniza, Juruena,Â São José do Xingu and Aripuanã, all Mato in Grosso and Tailândia, in the state of Pará, where lawlessness seems to be the rule. They are in fact nobody's land.
Naturally, the number of murders is not exactly small in the capitals. Only seven from Brazil's 26 capitals do not show up among the 556 meanies and the metropolitan areas of the capitals of Rio de Janeiro, Pernambuco and Espírito are some of the most lethal areas in the country. Since 1998, Pernambuco and Espírito Santo have appeared in the Violence Map among the most dangerous states to your life.
"These are cities where there are huge fights for the land, involving Indians, deforestation and the illegal appropriation of areas. These are very remote regions, of difficult access, where the government and laws are absent," says the report's author, sociologist Julio Jacobo Waiselfisz, for whom Brazil's violence has reached unbearable highs.
Commenting the study, Brazil's Health Minister, Agenor Alves, said that "the data are not encouraging at all." "This is an alarming worrisome situation," he stated, adding that the new numbers will be useful in helping the government to adopt the right policies to lessen the problem of violence in Brazil.
With 48.374 homicides in 2004, Brazil is considered the world's 4th worst country in number of murders just behind Colombia, Russia and Venezuela. And this number could be worse if the real numbers were in. Waiselfisz believes that there are 15% more homicides in Brazil than the statistics show.
Thousands of deaths are never reported to the authorities. In this case, as he believes, the victims are buried in clandestine cemeteries or just abandoned in the jungles and rivers where they are never found or accounted for.
Top 30 municipalities where murder is a problem in Brazil (average rate for 2002/2004):
City, State, Murder Rate per 100,000, Ranking
Colniza MT 165.3 1st
Juruena MT 137.8 2nd
Coronel Sapucaia MS 116.4 3rd
Serra ES 111.3 4th
São José do Xingu MT 109.6 5th
Vila Boa GO 107.0 6th
Tailândia PA 104.9 7th
Aripuanã MT 98.2 8th
Ilha de Itamaracá PE 95.1 9th
Macaé RJ 94.5 10th
Foz do Iguaçu PR 94.3 11th
Itaguaí RJ 92.7 12th
Recife PE 91.2 13th
Tunas do Paraná PR 86.8 14th
Itaboraí RJ 83.7 15th
Cariacica ES 83.3 16th
Cabo de Santo Agostinho PE 82.2 17th
Santa Cruz do Xingu MT 81.7 18th
Duque de Caxias RJ 80.9 19th
Ribeirão PE 79.4 20th
Rio Bonito do Iguaçu PR 79.3 21st
Vitória ES 78.6 22nd
Nova Iguaçu RJ 78.5 23rd
Vicente Dutra RS 78.1 24th
Cotriguaçu MT 77.4 25th
Buritis RO 77.3 26th
Jaboatão dos Guararapes PE 76.9 27th
São Sebastião SP 76.9 28th
Agrestina PE 75.8 29th
Diadema SP 74.6 30th
Rio de Janeiro RJ 57.2 107th
São Paulo SP 48.2 182nd