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.”

About The Author

John Guilfoil is the editor-in-chief of Blast: Boston's Online Magazine and the Blast Magazine Network. He can be reached at [email protected]. Tweet @johnguilfoil.

2 Responses

  1. Liz Martin

    The article neglects to mention that 15% of all the murders committed in Rio are actually committed BY the police. The United Nations, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have all come out against the high rate of murders COMMITTED by the Brazilian police. The Brazilian government will have us believe that these murders are collateral damage in the fight against crime, however, by any measure, Rio police are not doing crime prevention, nor are they solving crimes. A statistic on the number of arrests each year by the Rio police as compared to the number of people they kill annually is graphic in demonstrating the lethality of police tactics. The United States police kill and arrest in a ratio of 1: 37,750 in Rio 1 to 23.

    On May 5th, a hearing was held in the US Congress on this egregious situation, but got no press coverage. The Brazilian government has us all convinced that the violence is drug driven only and all they need to do is get tough on crime. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the UN are left to stand on the sidelines saying that the emperor is naked, and no one listens.

    Indeed, Brazil is plagued by horrible crime, but policing strategies in Brazil kill citizens in unparalleled numbers. Unless Brazil implements the recommendations put forward by the United Nations and other human rights groups, no one will be safe at the World Cup and the Olympics.

  2. Robert

    I am an American living and working in Rio. My wife is Brazilian and from this area. Indeed there are many problems here and I have certainly witnessed a lot of it first hand. Its very sad because its such a beautiful place. And the people are truly wonderful and warm and they enjoy knowing people from other countries. Their desire to truly be a world class city is hampered by, A: The ruling class. B: Their own Government. C: The constant bad press they get. The ruling class here(and thats exactly what they are) control the economy and industry at all levels here so the largest portion of wealth stays in there grasp. They could care less about the people here. As long as they remain in control and wealthy beyond belief, they will use whatever means they can to see that the status quo remains. The government, in bed with the ruling class. Not to be trusted OR believed. Their arm is the Police, military and civil. These guys are in business for themselves. Who do you think sells the weapons to the gangs? The Police have been suppliers and nervous partners of these guys for over 30 years. The gangs put kids in the military here to facilitate their being supplied with military grade weapons. These arent the downgraded semi auto, limited magazine “sporting” arms we see in the USA now. These are full auto military issue firearms. Where did you THINK they came from? If the thought of losing the millions and millions of dollars form the Olympics and the next World Cup weren´t threatened by the worlds fear of the situation in this country wasnt present, do you think that this latest clean up by the government would have happened? Certainly not. But then, the money coming in is absolutely going to be in the hands and control of these people and surely they will be pocketing fortunes for themselves. Dont get me wrong. I love Brasil and I love the people and my family here and I will live out the rest of my life here with them. But, I do live here and I see and hear what many dont or are afraid to talk about. Help this country be better. Its a tough job, but the people here need to fight back.


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