The Economist: Crime in Brazil Another north-south divide
IN THE past decade Brazil has grown richer and less unequal. Around 36m people were pulled out of extreme poverty; more children go to school and stay there for longer. It may seem odd, then, that violent crime is also on the rise. Between 2005 and 2012 murders have gone up, from 22.5 to 24.3 per 100,000 people. In 2008 there were 900,000 robberies in Brazil; that number rose to 1.1m by 2011 (though it has dipped a bit since).
As Claudio Ferraz from the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro points out, however, the national trend masks stark regional differences. In São Paulo, home to a quarter of Brazil’s population, the murder rate dropped from 44 per 100,000 in 1999 to 11.5 in 2012, turning it from one of Brazil’s deadliest states to one of the safest. In Rio, the third biggest and world-renowned for its lawlessness, it fell by a quarter in 2005-2012. It is now below the Brazilian average.
The poorer north-east, meanwhile, is in the throes of a violent-crime epidemic. In Alagoas, the most dangerous state, murders went from 36.2 per 100,000 in 2005 to 64.5 in 2012. In Ceará and Paraíba it more than doubled in the same period, from fewer than 20 to around 40.
Mr Ferraz offers three complementary explanations for the phenomenon. The first is demographic. The north-eastern states have a bulge of young men aged 15-29, who are more likely to commit crimes. In the north-east they made up 14% (and rising) of the population according to the 2010 census, compared with 12.9% (and falling) in the south-east.
Second, there is the spread of Brazil’s crack epidemic. Brazil now has more crack addicts than any other country in the world, 1m-1.2m according to recent estimates. Higher incomes in the north and north-east, thanks to economic development and cash-transfer programmes, have disproportionately increased demand for cheap drugs like crack from people who previously would not have been able to afford it.
Finally, police in the north may be behaving differently. One reason, Mr Ferraz suggests, is a political shift from right-wing strongmen to the leftist Workers’ Party (PT), which has held the national presidency since 2003, and its allies. They have tended to prioritise redistribution and social policies over security. In Bahia, the biggest northern state, the PT governor elected in 2006 cleansed the police force of many crooked cops. But they were replaced by inexperienced officers.
At the same time, notes Leandro Piquet of the University of São Paulo, southern states responded to their 1990s crime wave by embracing federal policies, such as a gun-control law from 2003, more vigorously than northern neighbours did. They also introduced some bold policies of their own (in Brazil security is largely the responsibility of the states). Better policing in the south may be in part responsible for pushing the crack trade north.