Brazil's Murder Rate Wreaks Destruction at World War Proportions

Brazil's Murder Rate Wreaks Destruction at World War Proportions

Soldiers take part in a crackdown on crime gangs, at the Lins de Vasconcelos slum complex in Rio de Janeiro, on Aug. 5, 2017.

SourceAPU GOMES/Getty

Why you should care

Because a new report reveals that soaring crime rates are a real drag on Brazil’s economy.

A recent study by the Brazilian government spelled out the high cost of crime in the South American giant, placing a few of the country’s states on par with some of the world’s most murderous nations, including Honduras. In financial terms:

Record homicide levels have cost Brazil 450 billion reals ($120 billion) in lost productivity over two decades — a sum almost equal to the Marshall Plan, the U.S. World War II aid package for Europe.

The report from Brazil’s presidency noted the overall economic cost of crime between 1996 and 2015 jumped an equivalent of 4.4 percent of gross domestic product annually — about three times that of some European countries.

“Violent crime has not eased in the interim: If anything, it worsened. It is very likely that the overall economic burden of criminal violence steadily increased,” says Robert Muggah, research director at the Igarapé Institute, a security think tank in Rio de Janeiro that contributed to the report. “Brazil is confronting a full-blown public security crisis, but spending on crime control has been both ineffective and inefficient.”

The findings are likely to underline public concern about a deteriorating security situation in the country as Brazil faces what is expected to be its most unpredictable election in decades in October. Alarm over rising crime has helped boost support for Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right politician and former army captain who is leading polls with pledges to crack down on crime and loosen gun controls.

The report was released days after government think tank IPEA and the Brazilian Forum on Public Security (FBSP) revealed in a study that the country’s homicide rate exceeded 30 per 100,000 in 2016, with 62,500 murders, the highest ever recorded, and about 30 times more than in Europe. Between 2006 and 2016, 553,000 people were killed in Brazil, said the IPEA/FBSP study, more than in the seven-year Syrian civil war, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Experts such as Muggah acknowledge it was difficult to render precise comparisons between Brazil and other countries because of the different ways in which the economic costs of crime were measured.

Brazilian society is extremely violent [and] the chance of violence exploding is very high.

Renato Sérgio de Lima, director, Brazilian Forum on Public Security

Nonetheless, a recent study on the costs of crime by the Inter-American Development Bank revealed that the regional average in Latin America was 3.55 percent of GDP in 2014, compared with 3.78 in Brazil in the same year; 2.75 percent in the U.S.; 2.55 percent in the U.K.; 1.87 percent in France; and 1.34 percent in Germany.

Monday’s report found annual public and private expenditure on security almost tripled during the reporting period. While there was a minor dip in murders between 2003 and 2007, killings continued to climb during most of the period.

Analysts warn the number of killings could rise further if Bolsonaro is elected president in October. Renato Sérgio de Lima, director of the FBSP, says Bolsonaro through his rhetoric comes across as a Brazilian version of Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, who has declared open season on criminals.

“Brazilian society is extremely violent,” says de Lima, adding that with Bolsonaro’s urging, “the chance of violence exploding is very high.”

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By Andres Schipani & Joe Leahy

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