Brazil’s World Cup work overshadowed by police murders

Policemen carrying out an operation in a slum in Sao Paulo
Image caption The murder of police officers in Sao Paulo has made the news around the world

It is not a good time to be a police officer in Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city.

So far this year, 95 officers have been murdered in and around the giant, sprawling city, according to official figures - up from 47 in 2011.

The spike in fatal attacks has been blamed on a powerful criminal gang known as the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC), or First Command of the Capital.

The violence exploded back in May when six members of the PCC were killed in a shoot out with an elite police unit trying to clamp down on the drugs trade.

According to lurid newspaper headlines in Brazil, the gang's leadership swore revenge, and police officers immediately started being targeted in what has been described as an "undeclared war". Many have been killed in ambushes while they are off duty.

The fatal attacks on police officers come as the wider murder rate in Sao Paulo is also alarmingly high.

In October alone there were 176 murders in Sao Paulo city, and 571 in the wider Sao Paulo state region, mostly due to gang-on-gang violence.

For a country preparing to host football's 2014 World Cup - including the opening game in Sao Paulo - and the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio, global reports of such a situation is a public relations disaster.

Yet, for the great majority of Brazilians, life continues unaffected, at a time when the football-mad country's economy is again starting to enjoy strong growth.

And with delegates from around the world preparing to attend the Soccerex global convention of football business and finance movers and shakers in Rio, Brazilian commentators say that despite the reputational damage, the country remains a safe place for overseas visitors.

'Great fear'

Wilber Colmerauer is managing director of Brazil Funding, a private company that advises European investors on putting their money into Brazil.

He says: "We are seeing a big wave of crime in Sao Paulo, which is not good for its image or tourism. But Sao Paulo is a huge, sprawling city, we are talking 19 million people, and the violence is taking place in the very poor parts of the city on its outskirts. Most people are completely unaffected."

Image caption Daily life and football have continued despite the violence in Sao Paulo and other big cities

Julia Carneiro, the BBC's Rio de Janeiro correspondent, agrees with this analysis.

"In the central parts of the Sao Paulo there is concern but people haven't changed their routine," she says.

"The conflict has brought great fear to the poorer part of the population and to policemen and their families, but has not affected the richer neighbourhoods - Brazil's inequality is reflected also when it comes to security.

"If this situation doesn't change and crime does not spread to the central areas, it shouldn't be a matter of concern for tourists."

However, Professor Anthony Pereira, director of the Brazil Institute at King's College in London, said the situation in Sao Paulo would probably put people off visiting Brazil in general, or investing in the country.

"We have an organised criminal gang that is challenging the state, and doing it in a sophisticated way. It raises question marks about the capacity of the state to maintain order," he says.

Rio situation

In contrast to Sao Paulo, the murder rate in Rio de Janeiro has fallen in recent years, thanks to a policy known as pacification.

Image caption The Brazilian government says all the stadiums needed for the World Cup will be ready next year

Under pacification, marines and police armed with machine guns, and using armoured vehicles and helicopters, have been entering some of the city's hundreds of favelas - or shanty towns - to drive out drugs gangs and restore order.

Once order is restored, and a permanent police presence is secured, the city's authorities then send in staff to establish social services, such as access to medical care and basic sanitation and waste collection.

As Rio prepares for both the World Cup - at which it will host both group games and the final - and the 2016 summer Olympics, favelas near to football stadiums and other sporting sites are among those being targeted.

"The UPPs [police pacification units] in Rio have been a great success," says Anthony Pereira. "The situation in Sao Paulo should not temper the genuine optimism coming out of Rio."

However, the BBC's Julia Carneiro is less upbeat about the situation in Rio.

Image caption The police are trying to regain control of the favelas

"Rio has over 700 favelas and the pacification has only reached a small part of these communities, a little over 30," she says.

"Dozens of others remain under control of drug gangs and some say the situation is actually getting worse in some of them, with the migration of criminals expelled from the territories they once controlled.

"Another problem which is not very known abroad is a growing one: the control over many of Rio's favelas by the militias, groups of corrupt police or ex-police officers that force the population to pay fees for gas, water and their 'protection'."

Economic growth

One thing that has consensus is the fact that Brazil's rate of economic growth is now gathering speed once more, after it fell back from the highs of 2010.

While the economy expanded by 7.5% in 2010, it grew only 2.7% in 2011.

Although the government expects growth of just 1.5% overall this year, the economy is expected to expand by 4% in the last quarter of 2012, and by the same level in 2013.

Wilber Colmerauer says that the slowdown from 7.5% growth was in many ways welcome because the economy was over-heating, and inflation was rising too high as a result.

"2010 was an election year, so there were many economic stimulation measures in place to boost the economy and the consumer," he says.

"But the new government had to start to unwind a lot of these, to cool the economy down. This has enabled interest rates to fall from around 12% to 7% because inflation has also fallen back.

"You also had the impact of the debt crisis in Europe hitting Brazilian exports.

"Now, though, we are in a position where Brazil has never had inflation so low, more confident consumers are able to increase their spending, and exports are rising again.

Image caption Work is continuing on sites for the 2016 summer Olympic games in Rio

"Plus there is the economic boost of all the infrastructure projects for the World Cup, and the Olympics in Rio," he adds.

With work on the new and renovated football stadiums due to be completed by late spring of 2013, and work continuing at pace at the Olympics sites, fears that Brazil may not be ready have largely receded.

Soccerex chief executive Duncan Revie said: "We are returning to Rio for the third time, with the city very much the focus of the sporting world as host for the 2014 Fifa World Cup Final and the 2016 Olympic Games.

"It is therefore a great time for the football world to be congregating in the city."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites