On the Overlooked Daily Violence in Brazil

In the past several years, Brazil’s international image as a growing global power has been the dominant meta-narrative of the country. While this generally-rosy picture is not inaccurate, it also overshadows very real domestic social crises facing Brazil. To wit:

The 1992 Carandirú massacre of 111 inmates shot down in what was Brazil’s largest prison was documented in thousands of print and televised news reports, as well as five books and a popular film.

But a similar number of people, mainly young men, are shot to death every day in Brazil, without any repercussions. “We have lost our sensitivity about this day-to-day massacre,” laments Julio Jacobo Waiselfisz, the author of the “Map of Violence 2013: Deaths by Firearm”.

The report, released late Wednesday Mar. 6 in Rio de Janeiro, was produced for the Brazilian Centre for Latin American Studies (CEBELA) and the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), based on official figures. It counts 799,226 deaths by firearm in Brazil from 1980 to 2010. Of that total, 450,255 were young people between the ages of 15 and 29.

This “invisible slaughter” is equivalent to the total official number of people killed in armed conflicts in 12 countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Colombia, in the critical years of 2004 to 2007, the Map says.

450,000 dead from gun violence is alarming no matter what; when put into perspective against conflicts like Afghanistan and Iraq, however, it becomes even more alarming. And when one considers how much Brazil has grown in that time period in spite of those death rates, both the murder rates and the overall picture of demographic growth in Brazil are incredible. Between 1980 and 2010, the population grew from about 120 million to 190 million, and that was with the murder of 450,000 people who died but who could have formed families had they lived.

For all of the talk of the dramatic loss of life in Latin America’s past (be it the disappeared in Argentina, Guatemala, Chile, or even Brazil) and present (with Mexico’s disappeared), the murder rates in Brazil are often overlooked. This latest study from CEBELA and FLACSO reminds us that, while the victims may not be “disappeared” as they were and are elsewhere, there is nonetheless a massive social crisis of death in Brazil, one that politicians,  commentators, and scholars alike all too often forget about or neglect.

About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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