Violence in Sao Paulo

I assume that currently, in the American media, the major, recent newsworthy events are the Petraeus scandal, Obama reelection, and the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. These are all extremely important happenings, but there are some pretty major things going on in the rest of the world, especially here in Sao Paulo. I don’t mean to underplay those other events, especially the destruction from Hurricane Sandy, which has affected the lives of so many people, but I think it is important that people know about the violence presently occurring in South America’s largest city.

Throughout this year, especially in the past two months, there has been an undeclared war between Sao Paulo’s military police, and the PCC, the local drug gang that runs the prisons and favelas in the city/state. About 90 police officers from Sao Paulo have been murdered this year, and every day reports come out about more stories of this kind. In the past two weeks alone, 140 people were killed in the metro area. It’s basically a combination of the film “Tropa de Elite” and the popular TV series “Prison Break,” but unfortunately, it is reality.

The ROTA, which is Sao Paulo’s Tropa de Elite, (Elite Squad), is trying to combat this issue. Two weeks ago, 500 of them invaded the favela near my house, Paraisopolis, which is one of the biggest slums in the city with 80,000 inhabitants. There, they arrested many of the gang members, as well as obtained a “hit” list of police officers. Additionally, they acquired 24,212 kilograms of cocaine, 254 kilograms of marijuana, and about 300 weapons.

This is an ongoing problem in the city, and President Dilma has agreed to send federal help, which she did previously during similar situations in Rio, but the Sao Paulo state government stubbornly continues to refuse, saying that they have it under control. According to a recent news report, 984 people have been killed in the first nine months of this year. I’m not sure I’d call that “under control.”

To put that into perspective, according to a news article I read a short time ago, in the past 11 years, 2,000 US soldiers have died in the war in Afghanistan. If that figure is wrong, please correct me. Those soldiers, and all of the soldiers defending the USA are true heroes, and their deaths are not meant to be minimalized at all here, but, it is alarming that almost 1,000 people have died in one city, in not even a year, and that it does not make global news. Even more disturbing, few changes seem to be made about it. Of course, the Brazilian government and police are working to solve the problem, and unfortunately, I’m no expert on Brazilian government or history, but it amazes me that this is a trend that has been going on for so long. I know that it goes beyond my comprehension and that it is part of a deep and complicated history of colonialism, corrupt governments, and dictatorships, as well as a current problem of poverty mixed with the global drug trade. Poverty and violence are tough issues, and take time to change. Many Brazilians dedicate their lives to improving this country, and it is frustrating and sad to see this happening, everyday waking up and seeing more massacres on the daily news.

There will be much more to come about this topic, as I’ve only just hit the top layer of an extremely intricate, and complex dilemma. However, in the end, we can’t live our lives in fear. We just have to be smart, and know that everything is in God’s hands.

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2 thoughts on “Violence in Sao Paulo

  1. Hey… what are you? A different kind of traveller or a writer, maybe a journalist? You’re really digging into our reality here in São Paulo, and Brazil, as I can se… But if you want to get really shocked with death figures… look at the transportation statistics… Can you read in Portuguese? Here is a document, for example… (http://www.pmrv.sc.gov.br/publicacoesETrabalhosArquivo.do?cdPublicacao=2490) Already in the introduction you get this figure: In 2007 you had on average 7.6 deaths PER HOUR in the brazilian streets… Ok, the country is huge, but even when you consider the whole population, and the number of accidents per 100.000 vehicles, you still get absurd figures… I’ve been thinking about non-oficial campaings to change the behaviour of drivers, because most of all those accidents are just related to bad behaviour decisions of drivers and pedestrians, and when you talk to a journalist, someone from TV or maybe internet, or some more traditional newspapaer… you get this: there’s nothing NEW about deaths in car accidents, so it’s not a good material to make an article! You only see some news about this on the official press when they have pictures (everybody stops in the site to see some horrible picture), or maybe when some official office releases some report, but besides that, no one cares… I saw an accident in a road.. a sport motorcycle hit a bike… the guy from the motorcycle probably tried a desperate maneuver and ended up dead because of head injuries. Later that day I searched all the internet trying to find the name of the person, trying to find out some news about the guy in the bike (who was ok, but injuried anyway), and I found not a single line mentioning the accident! It’s not to say that the violence problem related to drugs is not important… but in the end we are absurdly irrational… even if some completely innocent people die because the police and the bad guys are shooting themselves and then there’s a “lost bullet” flying away, most of the deaths in this war are of polices and bandits. It’s not the case when it comes to traffic deaths. So not only the risk is a lot greater, but also everyone who drives a car or uses the street to walk are in the serious group of risk. And, still, the news about the drug violence is a lot more disturbing, I really can’t understand why… Well, I’m losing myself here, writing maybe just too much…. congratulations once again for being so interested in the places you visit and doing such a wonderful work trying to understand other realities!

    • Thanks for writing! I am actually just a Spanish and English teacher working here in Sao Paulo, but the current events and things happening in this country interest me a lot, so I write about them! 🙂 I know, it is insane the amount of traffic deaths here, something I also could have mentioned in my post about traffic and living without a car. When I first arrived to Sao Paulo, while being a passenger in a car, I would always have my fists clenched on the edge of my seat, very tense because I had never been in a city where people drive so fast and so close to each other. Now I have learned to relax, ahha, and I am used to it, but it is a very sad reality that so many people die in traffic related accidents. You should start that campaign, because it is important, and so sad that the media doesn’t care. Of course they have the “Respeite o pedestre” banners all over the place, but still, more should be done. I have seen more accidents and people lying dead on the road after a collision here than anywhere else. Well, thanks again for reading my blog and commenting! I look forward to reading more of your blog too. 🙂

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