Brazil’s Crime

murder brazilI had the chance to meet Mr Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s leading presidential candidate, about two decades ago. He is now on the verge of a significant victory in a run-off to be held on October 28. Back in those days, Bolsonaro was a city councillor in Rio de Janeiro and I was starting my professional career as a legal academic. His wife, one of my law students, invited me to join them for lunch at the City Council. I spoke with Bolsonaro for about 30 minutes and my interaction with him was rather pleasant and insightful. He clearly demonstrated love for his family and for the country. The brief conversation was enough to convince me that he was a different politician — completely different from the usual Brazilian politician normally inclined to embrace a leftist view of the world.

Bolsonaro has always been labelled ‘far right’ by the Brazilian media. This is a label usually given to anyone who opposes such things as the radical feminist lobby and/or the LGBTQI agenda. Bolsonaro apparently is very ‘far right’ because he also sees a few positive aspects in the military regime that ruled over the country from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. Above all, he is called a ‘fascist’ because he wishes to fight crime and to introduce policies that can somehow address the breakdown of law and order in Brazil. Above all, Bolsonaro is deeply hated by those who reject his correlation between the rampant levels of criminality and the disorder caused by the incapacity of successive let-wing governments to protect the people from dangerous criminals.

While the current democratic period was initially hailed as the commencement of a new era of human rights, Brazil has faced an explosion of crime and violence over the last three decades. From 1985 (the last year of the military regime) to 2018, the number of Brazilians murdered as a result of criminal activity has grown by 257%. Homicide is currently the major cause (58%) of early death for Brazilians. In today’s Brazil, notes Joseph A. Page, a professor of law at the Georgetown University Law Center

Violent crime can strike at any time and in any place. Crowded city streets offer no refuge, as muggers prey on pedestrians and occupants of motor vehicles while onlookers go silently about their business. Those not wealthy enough to convert their dwellings into fortresses can never be certain that one day intruders might not force their way in and commit violence against them.

One of the hypotheses proffered to at least partially explain the explosion of criminality over the last three decades is associated with the left-wing radicals who resorted to terrorist activities during the military regime in the 1970s. When serving time in jail, these radicals passed on to criminals their own leftist ideology and, above all, the terrorist skills they had developed. They did so because they aspired to implement a socialist dictatorship in Brazil. These radicals transmitted their terrorist skills as well as their radical ideology to criminals, perhaps in the belief that the ‘social injustices’ of a so-called capitalist society justified criminal behaviour. In accordance with Marxist theory, crime was presented as a natural reaction against the supposedly capitalist society’, seeing in criminal behaviour a means of political protest and an instrument of the oppressed against their oppressors. Of course, the utopian view of these extremists had no basis in social experience. Rather, such a view ignores that the primary victims of crime in Brazil are actually poor people from the lower classes. Even so, observes Professor Page

There is evidence that political prisoners were held together with common convicts… in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and that the latter learned from the former not only how to organize and defend their rights within the penitentiary but also some of the subtleties involved in planning and executing bank robberies and kidnappings. Moreover, this was the period when inmates founded the ‘Red Command’, a network that enable organized crime to take virtual control of major prisons in the state of Rio de Janeiro and eventually to draw into its ranks some of the major traffickers in the region… Many of the new drug lords… have learned their trade… behind prison bars, where they have come into contact with the ‘Red Command’. They do not hesitate to use violence or even to engage the police in an occasional gun battle.

Due in substantial part to the ongoing leftist apology for crime (coupled with more than 30 years of utterly disastrous government policies), some 1800 people died last year in Rio de Janeiro alone as victims of violence. In Rio’s favelas (shantytowns), drug-lords leading criminal organisations such as the Comando Vermelho (Red Command) ‘have moved to a position of total dominance over community institutions’. The arm of the law is simply not applied in large parts of the city, because criminals have established with the complacence of the state what people properly describe as ‘parallel government’. These are parts of the country which have become exempt from the normal process of law and order.

A report from the United Nations reveals that while the country has only 2.8% of the world’s population, it is nonetheless responsible for more than 11% of its registered homicides. From 1985 (the last year of the military regime) to 2015, the number of Brazilians murdered grew by 250%. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), around 600,000 people were killed in Brazil over the last 20 years alone, an average of 30,000 a year. During the last ten years, Brazil has maintained an average annual homicide rate of 28 per 100,000 residents, compared with a global average of approximately seven per 100,000. For Timothy Cahill, an Amnesty International investigator, deaths in Brazil falls easily within the U.N. parameters for a situation of civil war.

During the notoriously corrupt government of President Lula’s Workers’ Party, the United Nations revealed that only 7.9% of the 49,000 cases of murder officially reported in that year were successfully prosecuted. As a result, even the most notorious cases of first-degree murder still may not produce enough evidence to even initiate the trial of well-known perpetrators. Brazilian courts condemn only 1% of all suspects for first-degree murder because judges argue that inquiries transferred to them by the public prosecutor are so poorly elaborated that they may find no evidence to condemn even a notorious serial killer. As for those who are convicted of serious crimes such as first-degree murder, their sentences are so lenient that they are freed after a few years in prison.

It is also worthwhile to remember that crime, including murder, is often interpreted by the Brazilian political elite as being the sole result of a deprived social environment. Although this interpretation may be a result of their guilt and shame at their own responsibility for the state of society, it fails to more properly consider that crime can be the result of moral choices. While there is truth in suggesting there might be criminals who have emerged from a background of social disadvantage, such a determinism has been proven inadequate by the numerous exceptions to the rule. Above all, this can be even interpreted as a terrible slur on the millions of honest Brazilians who live a humble life but would never resort to crime. Rather, these are the primary victims of crime because they cannot afford the level of private security that can be afforded by the economic/political elites. Furthermore, numerous white-collar crimes have been committed in Brazil by wealthy left-wing politicians, who have been ruling over the nation for more than three decades.

Naturally, the combination of poor education and a difficult economic environment (caused by economic policies) can make someone find in crime an alternative source of revenue. In the context of widespread impunity, heavy tax-burden, and a notorious lack of incentives for economic investment, the option of resorting to crime may appear particularly attractive to some. According to Dr Candido Mendes Prunes, a lawyer who holds a PhD from the University of São Paulo (USP), the leftist governments of Brazil have over the years provided a ‘generous package of incentives’ to criminality such as no honest citizen can access to develop lawful activities. Unfortunately, the easiest target for such criminals is always those who cannot afford to pay for ‘special protection’ and have had their fundamental rights disregarded by the Brazilian government.

One should not be surprised to discover that the majority of Brazilians are deeply inclined to vote for Jair Bolsonaro. They believe, rather correctly, that at this present stage Bolsonaro is the only candidate who can do something about the widespread sense of impunity. As noted by political theorists Katherine Hite and Leonardo Morlino, ‘the majority of Brazilians … have a strong sense that ‘justice is a joke’ and ‘impunity is widespread’. Of course, Bolsonaro’s candidacy emerges here as a hope that justice can be done and that Brazilians will be able to live again in a prosperous and peaceful society, where the law is applied and criminals are properly sentenced and convicted for their crimes committed according to the law.


Another of Bolsonaro’s promises is to fight the serious problem of corruption in Brazil, a country where true power is interpreted as meaning the ability to operate above the law. As political theorist Carlos Alberto Montaner explains when speaking of such Latin American countries as Brazil, ‘it is as if politicians were not elected to obey the laws but rather to be autocrats who measure their prestige by the laws they are able to violate’.

Curiously, when running as a candidate for the 2002 election, President Lula da Silva pledged to do everything he could to combat corruption. And yet corruption in Brazil reached unprecedented levels under his administration, which was responsible for the biggest series of corruption scandals in the country’s history. No other government in Brazilian history has ever had more top party-leaders, congressmen, ministers, and functionaries under investigation for fraud in such a brief period of time. Every sector of Lula’s left-leaning Workers’ Party was implicated in bribery, fraud, vote buying, theft of public funds, failure to report illicit campaign financing, and a host of other felonious behaviour, revealed almost on a daily basis. All of Lula’s closest and most important advisers, congressional leaders and party bosses were forced to resign and were under congressional investigation for illegal large-scale transfers of funds into electoral campaigns, private enrichment, and financing full-time functionaries.

The Brazilian Supreme Court controversially decided about two years ago to re-open the notorious corruption scandal which revealed a “voting for money” scheme involving the leadership of the ruling Workers’ Party (PT), who were caught paying bribes to members of other political parties in return for their votes in Congress. Brought to light in 2005, during the first presidential term of Lula, the court gave its final verdict in December 2012 after a long deliberation. Of the 37 accused, 25 were found to be guilty of a range of charges, including money-laundering, corruption, and accepting bribes. They received penalties up to 40 years in prison. On the occasion, then Attorney-General Roberto Gurgel described the whole incident as ‘the most daring and outrageous corruption scheme and embezzlement of public funds ever seen in Brazil’.

The landmark decision seemed to have marked the end of the country’s culture of impunity. As noted by the BBC, ‘this case attracted major coverage as Brazilians watched to see if those found guilty of corruption would be held accountable and the country’s long history of impunity ended’. But the reality is that not only some of the convicted have yet to start serving time in prison, but a court ruling has favoured a motion that allows for an appeal in Supreme Court decisions where at least four justices give the condemned a more favourable decision. Curiously, this is an internal decision  of the court itself, since the law does not mention the possibility of any such appeal, which has led by then Attorney-General Helenita Acioli to qualify such an appeal as “absurd” on the grounds that the case has already reached and been conclusively decided by the country’s highest court.

Among those who had their criminal cases tried again was the notorious Chief of Staff during the Lula administration, José Dirceu. Considered to be the mastermind of the political generation that came to power with the election of Lula, Dirceu worked and studied in Cuba until 1975 and is regarded as the ‘architect of Lula’s election as President’. According to Dr Arthur Ituassú from the Department of International Relations at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio), Dirceu is a high-profile figure in Brazilian political life, who has been well-known to the country’s political class and media for many years. He trained as a guerrilla in Cuba and returned in disguise with a new identity. For years, he did not even reveal his real name to his wife. He was successful in studies and politics, where his Stalinist expertise greatly helped his rise to become Lula’s most trusted aide. Dirceu’s guiding mantra was clear to everyone: It does not matter how you do it as long as you do it. By operating under such ethical parametres, he became both feared and powerful inside the Workers’ Party and (after 2002) the government; and this is also how he planned to reach the presidency after Lula’s second term expired in 2010.

Dirceu was initially sentenced to 10 years and 10 months in jail for corruption. The court also ordered him to pay a fine of R$ 676,000 (the equivalent of US$330,000 at the time).  But the court subsequently allowed, by a six-to-five majority, that his case should be reopened, meaning that the sentence was considerably reduced and its regime even changed from closed to half-open. The new trial also re-examined the convictions by other high-profile members of the left-wing administration, including former head of the Workers’ Party and its treasurer. Some of these penalties were reduced to less than two years in an appeal. According to law professor Pierpaolo Bottini of the University of São Paulo (USP), ‘[surpassing] time limitations is a possibility because, if the penalty is up to two years, the limitation period is four years. Thus, if the penalties … were reduced, they would have surpassed the limitations even if the defendants were not acquitted’.

Left-Wing Radicalism

Although the mainstream media, both national and international, insist on calling Mr Bolsonaro a ‘far-right’ candidate, it is patently clear that the major threat to democracy in Brazil actually comes the radical left and its presidential contender, Fernando Haddad. He is the candidate for president form the Workers’ Party, replacing former President Lula whose candidacy was barred by the Superior Electoral Court under the anti-corruption law. Haddad served as the Mayor of São Paulo city from 2013 to 2017. In July 2016, he was approved by only 14% of the city’s population. On 2nd October, 2016, Haddad lost his bid for re-election to Brazilian Social Democracy Party candidate João Doria, receiving only 17% of the vote.

When the Workers’ Party won the presidential election for the first time, in January 2003, its main leader and then President, Lula da Silva, almost immediately pushed for the creation of unconstitutional bodies of external (political) control over the press, television, and film. Lula was elected in November 2002 and served until January 2012. Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, also from the Workers’ Party, acquired a notorious reputation for her incapacity to articulate a thought and for constant outbursts of rage and erratic behaviour. Together, they employed hundreds of thousands of members of the Workers’ Party in the public section, including Marco Aurélio Garcia, who while serving as President Lula’s foreign affairs advisor, in an article celebrating the anniversary of Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto, declared: ‘The agenda is clear. If the horizon that we search for is still called communism, it is time to re-constitute it’.

Perhaps as a way of re-constituting communism, the Workers’ Party created, in 1990, an umbrella organization called the Forum de São Paulo (FSP). The FSP was established to fight the ‘negative effects’ visited on Soviet-style communism by the dismantling of the Soviet empire. In 2004, its organizers declared that the major goal of the organization was ‘to compensate for our losses in Eastern Europe with our victories in Latin America’.  As leader of the ruling party that founded the FSP, Lula was appointed as its first chairman. In July 1990, the first meeting of the FSP was attended by delegates of Colombia’s FARC guerrillas, Peru’s TUPAC-AMARU guerrillas, Chile’s MIR guerrillas, Basque separatist group ETA, and the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The U.S. State Department considers all of these to be terrorist organizations. Dr. Constantine Menges, a former CIA intelligence officer, observed:

Lula da Silva has been a sponsor of international terrorism because these annual meetings [of the FSP] are used by the anti-US terrorist and radical organizations to coordinate their plans for taking power in their respective countries and for planning actions against the United States.

On March 16, 2005, Veja, Brazil’s leading current-affairs magazine, published a cover story about the illegal offering of five million dollars by the Revolutionary Army Forces of Colombia (FARC) to the 2003 campaign of Workers’ Party candidates. The article quoted official documents from the Brazilian Intelligence Agency, ABIN (Agência Brasileira de Inteligência), attesting to the existence of ‘close liaisons’ between party members and the FARC drug guerrillas. In an interview with the daily Folha de S. Paulo, on 24 August 2003, the FARC leader, Commander Raul Reyes, said that his terrorist group had close ties with the Workers’ Party leadership, including highly-placed members of the Brazilian government. What is more, the Workers’ Party, in an official note entitled ‘The Truth about Colombia, the FARC and PT’, openly admits that the FARC and the PT are both members of the subversive FSP, although it falsely maintains that there is no evidence of the FARC’s involvement with kidnapping and drug-trafficking.

As for its constant dabbling in Central American politics, the intervention of the Brazilian government in Honduras, in 2010, became a major obstacle to the peaceful solution of the crisis in that country. During the constitutional crisis in Honduras, President Lula stood behind the ousted President Manuel Zelaya, who attempted to follow in the steps of his Venezuelan ally Hugo Chavez, particularly in regard to his desire to change the Honduran constitution to scrap presidential term limits, which was the reason for his being ousted. When Zelaya took refuge in the Brazilian embassy, Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim declared that the Brazilian government would not tolerate any actions against the embassy. A few weeks earlier the Lula administration had voted in the Organization of American States (OAS) to lift the membership ban on Cuba – a country that has not held a democratic election in 50 years. This vote explicitly violates the organization’s democratic charter.

During the Lula administration the Brazilian government remained entirely silent about genocidal policies of the Islamic government of Sudan. They even refrained from voting to grant human rights monitors a wider brief in that troubled country. In 2008, Newsweek magazine stated that ‘Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez has no better friend than Lula, even as the former has muzzled the media, bullied rivals, and smothered trade unions’. Even so, President Lula said that Venezuela was an authentic democracy because, in his words, ‘each country establishes the democratic regime that suits its people.’ Finally, serving as President he developed excellent ties of friendship with the Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Lula ‘stoutly defended Iran’s nuclear program and even invited Ahmadinejad to visit Brazil’. He even questioned the right of the Iranian people to protest against the fraudulent elections that took place in that country, pointing out: ‘In Brazil we also have people who do not accept electoral defeats.’

Finally, under the Workers’ Party’s regime Brazil notoriously abstained from condemning the assassination of Cuban political dissidents at the U.N. Human Rights Committee. Speaking on behalf of his government, the Brazilian ambassador to Cuba, Tilden Santiago, had the guts to openly approve of the execution of Cuban political dissidents, calling them nothing but traitors in the service of U.S. imperialism, who were attempting to ‘de-stabilise’ the Cuban communist regime. Ambassador Santiago, who also declared at that time that Brazil’s political institutions ‘should be based on the Cuban régime’, also commented: ‘Likewise, if they try to de-stabilise Lula, we will also have to take the same measures here.’


Workers’ Party Alliance with Communists

The Workers’ Party has been intrinsically associated from its very beginnings with social movements of a communist-socialist variety.One of these movements is the notorious Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem-Terra – MST (Landless Movement). Founded in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul in 1984, the MST, in the very words of its leader João Pedro Stédile, fights for ‘a different way of farming that guarantees that land is not seen as private property’. According to Bernardo Kucinski, a journalist who acted as a special adviser to President Lula:

The strongest mass movement at the end of the 1990s, the MST… has a much broader and more ambitious political program than land reform… It supports the [Workers’ Party] in elections campaigns and is, in turn, supported by this party. But it has its own firmly left-wing political program, which originated in Catholic liberation theology (in which the Workers’ Party also has roots). Activists study Marx and Lenin in Che Guevara schools, and the MST’s strongly moralistic program proposes confiscating wealth from the wealthiest, a moratorium on the foreign debt, and changes in patterns of consumption as necessary for a redistribution of income.

The website of the MST says that two of its major goals are to ‘promote massive fights’ (fazer lutas massivas) and to ‘carry out the Cultural Revolution’ (impulsionar a revolução cultural). Since many of its members are self-declared Maoists, one can reasonably conclude that ‘carry out the Cultural Revolution’ is inspired by the brutal Chinese ‘Cultural Revolution’ from the 1960s. For example, Maria José Jaime, the president of the MST’s major propaganda apparatus, the Institute of Socio-Economic Studies (INESC), was a central-committee member of the Maoist guerrilla movement during the 1970s. She received political and military training in China in 1969.

When Lula was President he openly praised the MST by suggesting that they ‘need to mobilize Brazil to achieve change’. He invited MST leaders for amicable gatherings where flags and symbols of the MST were openly displayed at the presidential office. Frei Betto, a key adviser to both the Workers’ Party and MST’s leaderships, argues that the former considers the latter ‘the best organized people’s movement in the country’. In fact, some of the MST leaders are also Workers’ Party activists, as the national leader of the MST, Stédile explained:

The MST has historical connexions to the Workers’ Party… In the countryside there are many activists who helped to form the party and work for the MST, and vice versa… The majority of our activists, when they opt for a party, generally choose the Workers’ Party.

Actions of the MST pose a serious threat to the future of democracy in Brazil. They have already provoked violence and lawlessness, especially in the countryside. Of course, one can agree with the idea of land reform without having to endorse the violent actions of the MST, which, as extensively reported, includes lootings, highway robberies, invasion of factories, and hostage-taking. When Lula was President, his Minister for Agrarian Development was Miguel Rossetto, a self-declared Trotskyist, who left the MST cadres to become a minister in the federal administration. Rossetto interpreted the astonishing number of violent land invasions devastating the countryside as ‘a normal fact in democracy’. As an editorial in the country’s leading newspaper, Folha de S. Paulo, pointed out:

On the one hand, the minister for Agrarian Development administers the governmental protection of the landless movement. On the other, he makes use of the state bureaucratic machinery to ‘build up’ forces for a future rural revolution.

The major ally to the Workers’ Party in Brazil’s politics is the Communist Party of Brazil (PC do B). Running as Vice President of Haddad’s presidential candidate is Manuela D’Avila of the Communist Party. D’Avila has a vast political and social movement-based experience. She started her experience in the students’ movement in 1999, and in the same year, she became affiliated with the Socialist Youth Union (UJS) part of the Communist Party. Her political party runs an entire section of its website for the Cuban regime. The Communist Party of Brazil has previously supported Lula’s candidature in 1989, 1994, 1998, 2002, and 2016, and then supported Rousseff’s candidature in 20010 and 2014.

The Communist Party of Brazil was created in 1958 as a result of a splinter inside the old Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) following Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s denunciations of Stalinist atrocities. In an open letter to Khrushchev, founders of the Communist Party of Brazil protested against this ‘revisionist’ agenda of Stalin’s legacy, and aligned themselves with Maoism. When the Chinese government initiated capitalistic economic reforms in the 1980s, the party then aligned itself with Albania. And when Albania held its first democratic elections in 1992, the Communist Party of Brazil withdrew from that relationship.


The account above provides a general explanation as to why Brazilians appear to have finally rejected the socialist model epitomised by the current presidential candidate of the Workers’ Party, Fernando Haddad. The other candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, may not be perfect but at least he has acquired the reputation as being a very honest politician who appears seriously concerned about the current state of widespread corruption and violence in the country. Having won 46 per cent of the votes in the first round, Bolsonaro is on the verge of achieving final victory in the run-off presidential elections to be held on 28th October. By contrast, Fernando Haddad is the de facto representative of the socialist forces led by former President Lula da Silva, who was forced to transfer his candidacy to Haddad because of the statutory prohibition of convicted criminals to run political campaigns while servicing their sentences. Haddad enters the second round 17 percentage points behind Bolsonaro. I sincerely hope that Haddad remains far behind and the Brazilians elect Jair Bolsonaro as the next President of Brazil.


Dr Augusto Zimmermann LLB, LLM, PhD is Professor of Law at Sheridan College in Perth, Western Australia, and Professor of Law (Adjunct) at the University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney campus. He is also President of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association (WALTA), and a former Commissioner with the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia (2012-2017).  Dr Zimmermann is also the recipient of the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research, Murdoch University (2012)

10 thoughts on “Brazil’s Crime

  • Mcarvalho says:

    I’m from Brazil, and I can confirm all in the text is accurate. The situation is really complex and the text, even long, only skims the surface of the problem. Bolsonaro is far from perfect, but is by far the best option now in Brazil.

  • Mcarvalho says:

    Another fact no one talks about: the Rio de Janeiro’s most voted representative this year was a black man. But there are almost no news coverage about that, because he supports Bolsonaro: https://pleno.news/brasil/eleicoes-2018/deputado-federal-mais-votado-do-rio-de-janeiro-e-negro.html
    The link is for an article in Portuguese. Good luck trying to find something in English about that…

  • sabena says:

    The Economist described Mr Bolsonaro as “Latin America’s latest menace’ in its edition of 22 September 2018,so based on that he’s obviously worth electing.

  • lloveday says:

    To emphasise the increase in murders, Dr Z gives two figures covering much the same periods, “From 1985 (the last year of the military regime) to 2018, the number of Brazilians murdered as a result of criminal activity has grown by 257%“, and “From 1985 (the last year of the military regime) to 2015, the number of Brazilians murdered grew by 250%“, but fails to state the increase in population over the same periods.

    Without taking into account population growth it is somewhat like stating the fact that there were more road deaths in Australia in 2017 than 1945.

    Dr Z then informs “During the last ten years, Brazil has maintained an average annual homicide rate of 28 per 100,000 residents“, suggesting a non-increasing rate of murder (surely a more relevant figure than absolute murders) over the last 10 years, surely the most relevant time period.

    I can’t follow “some 1800 people died last year in Rio de Janeiro alone as victims of violence than did all U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War” – maybe there should be a “more” (or “less”) somewhere?

    I’ve read that 6,731 cases of violent deaths were recorded in Rio in 2017, while 58,000 odd U.S. Soldiers died during the Vietnam War, 47,434 classified as “Hostile Deaths”, which added to my difficulty in understanding the comparison.

  • en passant says:

    “Those not wealthy enough to convert their dwellings into fortresses can never be certain that one day intruders might not force their way in and commit violence against them.”

    Sounds like Melbourne today

  • Mcarvalho says:

    Bolsonaro is the winner!!!!

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