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Ahead of Vote, Tremors from Brazil

Prepared by: Stephanie Hanson
September 26, 2006


In May, Sao Paulo was paralyzed by four days of gang violence and prison riots that left more than a hundred people dead, many of them policemen. Since then, the powerful prison gang that orchestrated the attacks, the Primeiro Comanda da Capital (PCC), has launched two more waves of violence (WashPost) in July and August. The gang has substantial financial and legal resources, writes Samuel Logan in a Power and Interest News Report, calling the attacks in May "a minor showing of the true power the PCC holds." Destabilizing the largest city in South America is no small feat, but since May's attacks the PCC has grown bolder. On August 12, a television reporter was kidnapped, and the group demanded that his employer, TV Globo, broadcast a PCC video calling for better conditions in Brazil's prisons (BBC). The PCC's goals and the government's attempts to dismantle it are examined in a new Backgrounder.

May's "murderous tantrum," as the Economist calls it—not to mention the subsequent attacks—raise questions about prison overcrowding, police corruption, and urban violence in Brazil. Experts such as Claudio Beato, director of the Center for Crime and Public Safety Studies at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil, says police reform and policing of crime "hot spots" are necessary to combat Brazil's escalating urban violence. Other experts say the only way to combat urban crime is to address Brazil's deep-seated social inequality. The country has one of the most unequal income distributions in Latin America, and the flagship social programs of President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, Fome Zero and Bolsa Familia, have been crippled by corruption, budget constraints, and bureaucratic problems (PDF).

The security issue might have been expected to take on extra resonance in an election year, but it was overshadowed by a wave of corruption scandals, from the allegation that seventy-two congressman (sixty-three from his own Workers' Party) paid monthly bribes to guarantee political support (, to a late-breaking dirty tricks scandal that led Lula to replace his campaign manager a week before the election. The corruption charges were a lucky break for Lula's main competitor, Geraldo Alickmin, who otherwise might have been tainted by the problems exposed by the prison gang violence. He is the former governor of Sao Paulo state, and some experts predicted the PCC attacks in the city of Sao Paulo would undermine his candidacy (BBC). But in Sunday's elections, Lula narrowly failed to win (ChiTrib) the 50 percent of the vote he needed to avoid a presidential runoff, and now he and Alickman have an additional month to campaign before the second-round vote on October 29. The Economist thinks Lula will win the runoff, because "while showering money on the poor, he has cut inflation, created jobs and kept the economy growing." The Wilson Center's Brazil Institute looks at the changing role of political parties in Brazil and the reasons for Lula's popularity.

While both candidates will likely avoid the security issue before the runoff, neither will be able to ignore it if he is elected. Kenneth Maxwell, director of Brazilian studies at Harvard University, says if Lula wins a second term, he will have to ally himself with centrist parties in Congress and adopt get-tough policies on domestic crime, gangs, and police corruption (Miami Herald).

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