A small civil war broke out briefly in Brazil in November, as the government tried to clamp down on Rio de Janeiro’s massive drug and gang problem. Boston.com’s Big Picture blog captured the scene wonderfully.
But as a December 2005 cable posted Tuesday by Wikileaks reveals, the problem is nothing new.
On November 30, 2005, drug dealers chose a passenger bus at random and burned it, killing five people and injuring 14 others.
“In a city where police brutality and drug gang violence have become almost daily routine, the story that 12 drug gang members had burned the bus to seek revenge on the Military Police who had killed one of their members the same day in the same favela, Bras de Pina, was shocking,” reads a cable from the US Consulate in Rio De Janeiro.
“The bus was apparently chosen at random; one of the armed gang members refused to let the bus driver open the back exit while other gang members poured gasoline on the bus floor and set fire to it. Only a few people managed to escape through the windows. Given the intensity of the blaze, the victims, burned alive, can only be identified through dental records or DNA testing (which could take up to one year).”
The cable shows a startling lack of security in Brazil, thought to be a modern country in South America and chosen to host the 2014 World Cup and beat out Chicago to host the 2016 Olympics Games.
“While civilians are frequent victims of police and criminal behaviour, a new level of violence was achieved with this act: instead of stray bullets from raids, assaults in the home and on the street, carjackings and ‘lightning kidnappings’ which appear random, this was an intentional act taken against innocent civilians,” the Cable reads.
In a December 9, 2005 cable, State Secretary for Security Marcelo Itagiba told a visiting American Congressional delegation headed up by Henry Hyde of Illinois that he was “optimistic about combating crime, drugs.”
“Itagiba described a series of measures which are better positioning Rio’s law enforcement community to fight the state’s notoriously high crime rate,” the cable reads.
But a November 2009 cable refers to increased problems as “a full-blown internal armed conflict, and not simply an urban crime problem.”