By Benjamin Parkin, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Figures released by the Public Security Institute (ISP) show that robberies on buses in the state of Rio de Janeiro have gone up by almost 25 percent in the past year. In 2012, the ISP registered 4,112 crimes between January and October, the total for the equivalent period in 2013 was 5,130, a rise of 24.75 percent.
Since the beginning of 2014, already 37 people have been arrested in connection with robberies on highways in Rio, according to the Federal Highway Police (PRF). These arrests represent only 23 percent of registered crimes, however.
Just this past Saturday, police arrested two men attempting to rob a tourist bus traveling from the Centro in Rio to Nova Iguaçu. Alex Albino de Souza, 26, and Nicolas Ferreira da Silva, 19, were armed with a revolver and robbing the 42 passengers of their valuables. However, a security camera picked them up and they were arrested.
“Robberies on buses are crimes of a complex nature, given that criminals usually do not get on near highways, but at final stops and inside cities,” said the Federal Highway Police, in a statement to The Rio Times. “As such, they do not operate on moving buses, so that they can get off with the stolen goods close to nearby communities, where access for police cars is difficult.”
“Since the end of last year the PRF intensified inspection on stretches of road most often targeted, working with special tactical groups. One factor that has also greatly contributed to the arrest of criminals is to report incidents to 191/PRF or personally at a police station.”
The increase in robberies on Rio’s roadways follows an increase in crime across the state, as many speculate the pressure on the drug trade in pacified favelas has displaced illegal activity. According to the ISP, there were 3,501 intentional homicides in Rio de Janeiro state between January and September 2013 – up 14.9 percent compared to the same period last year.
Last year a van carrying ten German tourists was robbed at gunpoint on a guided tour in Tijuca National Forest, the group’s van was intercepted on Estrada da Paineiras by two cars and six armed men. No one was harmed in the holdup, but the group of tourists along with the guide and driver were robbed of their money, electronics, and legal documents, all while one of the tourists had a gun held to his head.
In 2010 a minibus and a van with twenty domestic and foreign employees of petrochemical company Odebrecht on board, was robbed near the ports in Centro of Rio de Janeiro. Eight masked men in two separate cars, armed with rifles and pistols rammed the first minibus on the way down the Viaduto do Gasômetro highway.
In Recife, to combat high rates of armed robberies on buses, police began the Operation Secure Transport in 2013. The new operation, in which police board and search buses in areas with the most cases of robbery, was responsible for a seventy percent drop in such crimes in its first month alone.
The recent increase in bus robberies in Rio comes just a week after a rise in bus fares from R$2.75 to R$3 in Rio was announced, which has sparked protest and fostered resentment over the poor quality of public transport. This news likely will only exacerbate this sentiment.