RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – This week the headlines have been covered with Operação Guilhotina (Operation Guillotine), with 580 Polícia Federal (Federal Police) agents raiding several police stations in various neighborhoods of Rio. It is great news, with Rio’s legendary police corruption, it may be as important as the UPP programs for improving public security.
Since first visiting Rio in 2002 I was always told to be more afraid of the police then the trafficantes (drug gangs in the favelas). And while I had never experienced misconduct first-hand, most protracted rumors tend to have some truth behind it.
There was one night in 2004 when a police officer (with an assault riffle) at a semi-random roadblock flagged my taxi over because he saw fear in my eyes. I saw him read my face, and knew I was going to get stopped. I was alone, and completely legal, and sent on my way.
Recently I heard a first-hand account to two Gringos leaving an after hours bar, that were apparently acting suspicious, and stopped and searched by police. They found small amounts of drugs on one of them, and the two were taken for a slow drive around the block while a bribe was negotiated – about R$300 was all they could get.
On one hand, these guys were up to something wrong (if drug consumption is wrong), but on the other, they were stopped for no reason, other then looking like the easy marks that they were. Of course, this is small-time stuff, just the tip of the iceberg.
Many comments on stories published here echo a general distrust of the police, and a specific concern that corruption can undermine any UPP progress. Police are scary enough if you are doing something illegal, but to be afraid of them when you are not breaking the law is… terrifying.
Obviously police corruption is not unique to Rio, and a list published by legal degree resource doesn’t even rank Rio’s finest on the top ten. Not sure when this list was created, or how scientific it is, but it reads like a road map of places to avoid (except maybe Mexico and Russia): 1. Haiti, 2. Mexico, 3. Kenya, 4. Uzbekistan, 5. Burma, 6. Iraq, 7. Somalia, 8. Afghanistan, 9. Sudan, 10. Russia.
Another source for overall corruption shows a similar picture, and while Brazil is not among the worst, they certainly are not the brightest spots on the map either. As a developing nation though, with a very optimistic near-term economic future and relatively short history of cultural inequality and exploitation (compared to the other BRICs), there is reason to hold hope.