The recent inauguration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has highlighted two of the most prominent issues the country has faced for the past few years: corruption and unemployment. The city of Rio de Janeiro acts as a microcosm for both of these issues, mirroring the statistical downturn, though it also acts as an example of the result of both of these issues. The rate of violent and organized crime has been increasing since late 2016, as has the number of police killings taking place in the poor shantytowns of the city known as favelas.
These downward trends come as a result of the recession in the Brazilian economy occurring around the same time as a major corruption scandal involving Petrobras, an oil company run by the state. The massive number of layoffs from the company and the contracting companies involved kicked the unemployment rate to 11.7% by 2017. 92,000 formal jobs were lost in that year, the resulting economic deterioration of the favelas snowballing into the most tangible problem facing these areas.
With the loss of conventional means of income, both citizens and police have turned to other means for survival – the homicide rate reached the highest point since 2009, and Bloomberg reports that beginning in 2018, a truck was robbed in Rio every hour. Instability increased with the record high of 1,444 police killings during 2018 in Rio alone. While a number of these incidents were in self defense, Human Rights Watch has reported that a large number were extrajudicial executions of those suspected to be involved with gang violence, which render citizens less likely to report crimes or aid in investigations, and criminals less likely to surrender peacefully in fear that they will be killed.
With frequently occurring violence, a vicious cycle is revealed, and the economy suffers from a high number of incidents. Violent bank robberies and a large number of highway robberies have made businesses suffer, and Rio’s services sector has shrunk more than twice that of Brazil’s as a whole – the economic issues causing the surge in violence are being perpetuated, with few means of returning from the recession.
As a means of combating the issue, the military was dispatched into precarious areas in February of 2018. Few citizens opposed this measure, and military intervention took place in the form of patrols and highways checkpoints across the city. This interventionist mindset can be seen in the new president, who promises a hard line on security. Bolsonaro has said that the main factor hindering progress in combating violent crime is modern concern for human rights, and has promised a sort of “carte-blanche” to police to use deadly force while on duty. Parallels can be seen between this stance and that of the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has used extrajudicial execution as a mean of combating drug use.
Despite the international controversy over relaxing gun control laws and consequences for use of deadly force, many remain optimistic with the arrival of the new administration, which has promised a respite from the corruption that has been plaguing Brazil for years. The hardline security measures are welcomed in poor areas, and the economy is projected to catch a break as oil production is set to increase, allowing for an increase in government spending to fund security measures and the return of job opportunities in the state.