Those following the news about Brazil may think that we are living in a civil war. Such vision is reinforced in most Brazilian movies and even novels. But is Brazil a violent country? Compared to what? Is it really dangerous to live here?
A recent study made by a Mexican non-governmental institute has ranked 14 Brazilian cities amongst the 50 most violent cities in the world. This rank was based on the number of homicides, but danger is not only related to physical violence, but also to the chances of being robbed, hit by a car, getting involved in a car accident or even getting injured when executing a job.
The greatest concerns of foreigners coming to Brazil (and also of Brazilians who have been living here) is to be murdered after a robbery, to be kidnaped or to be caught in the middle of crossfire. Brazil does not have an official civil war, but the dispute between drug dealers in several Brazilian cities creates an environment similar to the one of countries at war.
When in Brazil, especially in major cities, you can expect the following crimes:
- Car robbery – you can get robbed in your car when stopping at intersections. If you are lucky, only your belongings will be taken, especially wallets, mobile devices, computers and watches. In the worst case scenario, the criminal takes you to the closest ATM, have you withdrawing all your balance and leave you at a different location, taking your car with him. This practice is called “sequestro relâmpago”. Never react to these robberies under any circumstances as the number of murders of this nature is very high.
- Robbery – there is no preventive measure against robbery in Brazil, but it is important to avoid walking on the streets late at night, leaving money at sight, displaying electronic devices on the street and so forth. It is possible to be robbed when leaving the bank too as the criminal follows you until a place where he can rob you without being noticed.
- Collective robbery – known as “arrastões” in Portuguese, collective robbery consists of several people being robbed at the same time. It is common in restaurants, “casas lotéricas”, buses and outdoor events such as Carnaval and New Year ’s Eve celebrations.
- Kidnapping – it can be an extension of the car robbery. The criminal assaults you at the bank surroundings or right after you leave your car. The next step is to call your family and ask for money in exchange for your freedom.
Urban and rural violence
In Brazil there is this general idea that violence is somehow linked to urban life, however, living in the countryside may be much more dangerous than living in major metropolitan areas. A crime committed in areas located far away from major urban areas has a higher chance of remaining unpunished than a crime committed on the city. Women being raped on the countryside are less likely to press charges than those living in the cities. It is as if in rural areas people were not sure of what their rights are and for this reason, do not press charges.
The most violent cities of Brazil are located in states like Bahia, Alagoas, Maranhão and Espírito Santo. São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro may seem to be the most violent cities in Brazil because they get to be more exposed and due to the number of inhabitants.
The most violent city in Brazil, Simões Filho, is located in Bahia state and has only 118 thousand inhabitants. There is an average of 146 homicides to each 100.000 inhabitants and the murder rate is of 1,23%. Just to give an idea, in 2011 the rate in São Paulo city was of 10 homicides per each 100.000 inhabitants.
Not all dangerous situations in Brazil are related to violence. There are some accidents that may occur and do not necessarily depend on a crime (even though there may be a lot of neglicence involved). They are:
According to Ministério da Saúde, every 30 seconds there is a car accident in Brazil. Just to give an idea, in the US there is a proportion of one accident resulting in death per 5.300 vehicles; in Brazil, this proportion is of one death per 690 vehicles. The main reasons are the quality of the roads, the safety of the cars and the driver’s respect to the law.
Drunk driving is pointed out as responsible for 75% of the car accidents in Brazil. Even though the legal age for drinking is 18 years old, it is very common to see people who are younger than this and even kids constantly exposed to alcohol. The penalty for drunk driving is not as rigorous as it is in other countries. Unless there is a death involved, the driver does not get arrested. Drunk driving still is socially accepted in Brazil.
Still according to Ministério da Saúde, in 2003 there was an average of 5,6 deaths caused by pedestrian accidents per each 100 thousands inhabitants in Brazil. This number was almost three times higher than the raters for countries like USA, England and Canada.
The lack of educational policies and safer roads for pedestrians are some of the responsible for these high numbers. The conditions of many Brazilian sidewalks force the pedestrian to walk on the streets, being then more likely to be hit by a car. Also, Brazilian pedestrians receive no penalty for disobeying traffic laws: if a car crosses a street when the traffic light is red, the driver will be fined; on the other hand, there is no penalty to a pedestrian who crosses the street when the pedestrian light is red or crosses out of the crosswalk.
In Brazil, there is an average of 2.000 work accidents per day, what leads the federal government to spend annually BRL 70 billion. The major causes are old and unprotected machinery, outdated technology, inadequate furniture, bullying, overworking and disrespect to several rights protected by law.
Foreigners coming to work in Brazil may be surprised with the conditions of many Brazilian companies and factories, especially those working in the construction sector. It is estimated that in 2009 there were 720324 work accidents in Brazil and 2467 resulted in death.
After all, is it dangerous or not?
It depends on what you are comparing Brazil to. There had been European foreigners who claim to feel safer living in Brazil than living at their home country. The truth is that Brazil has got isolated areas that give the feeling of living away from criminality. There are several people in Brazil who claim that they have never been robbed or suffered any violence.
Social inequality is what is behind most crimes in Brazil. Criminals leave the outskirts of the city to rob in upscale areas. Also, there had been cases of middle-class youngsters who would form a gang and commit kidnaps and robbery in order to sustain their lifestyle.