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Body count rises in Brazil’s drug war

October 30th, 2009

Rio policeWhile U.S. attention has focused on the raging drug war just south of the border in Mexico, the battle to control drugs in Brazil is taking more lives.

Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels three years ago, 9,500 people have died in drug-related violence, including 5,300 killed last year, according to the Mexican government.

In Brazil, 35,000 people were fatally shot in 2007, and most of the deaths were drug-related. According to the government’s public safety secretariat, there are nearly 23,000 drug-related homicides a year.

The drug war in Brazil is centered in its best-known city, Rio de Janeiro, and its slums, known as favelas, where police sometimes fear to tread, as well as in poor neighborhoods of Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre, Recife, Salvador, Curitiba and Belo Horizonte. Gun battles rage between rival gangs that seek to control the lucrative trade, particularly in cocaine, whose use has doubled in recent years in Brazil, according to the United Nations.

The drug war burst into international headlines earlier this month when traffickers in Rio shot down a police helicopter. The crash and an ensuing battle between the traffickers and police and between rival drug gangs killed 39 persons.

Other such crimes have terrified the country in recent years.Drug traffickers kidnapped and murdered a local television reporter, Tim Lopes, in 2002, and a 6-year-old boy died in a car robbery after being dragged outside the car for several miles in another drug-related crime in 2007.

The crime wave is particularly unsettling as Rio prepares to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics two years later.

Police have tremendous difficulty apprehending the criminals in the favelas, where residents, fearing for their lives, will not divulge information. The cartels in those areas also bolster popular collaboration by providing food, medicine and other necessities to the desperately poor.

The weapons used by the traffickers are often unregistered; some are stolen from the police and the Brazilian army, according to the British magazine the Economist.

By Luis Vieira

http://www.washingtontimes.com


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