A new report analyzing nationwide trends in violence in Brazil concludes that a number of geographic and socioeconomic factors are contributing to shifting homicide dynamics in Latin America’s biggest country.

Between 2005 and 2015, homicides in Brazil steadily increased, according to a recent report from the Institute of Applied Economic Research (Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada – IPEA).

The country recorded 59,080 homicides in 2015, yielding a murder rate of 28.9 per 100,000 inhabitants — the sixth-highest in the region, according to an InSight Crime tally.


(Graphic courtesy of IPEA)

In terms of geography, there has been a considerable shift in recent years in terms of where the violence is focused. Brazil’s densely-populated southeast region, historically the most violent, is now experiencing a decrease in homicides. Brazil’s more rural north, northeast and midwest regions, however, are seeing a rise in murder rates.

For example, Brazil’s southeastern state of São Paulo, its most populous, saw a 44.3 percent decrease in murders between 2005 and 2015, the report found. The northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte, however, experienced a 232 percent increase in homicides during that time period.

Moreover, in 2015, all the states that experienced a growth in homicides in excess of 100 percent were located in Brazil’s north and northeast regions.


(Graphic courtesy of IPEA)

While the concentration of murders appears to be shifting away from heavily urbanized areas toward less populous ones, Brazil’s youth and Afro-descendant populations continue to be disproportionately affected by violence.

According to census data from 2010 broken down by the United Nations Statistics Division, youths between the ages of 15 and 29 represented just over a quarter of Brazil’s total population in 2010. But young males in that age bracket accounted for nearly half of all the country’s homicide victims between 2005 and 2015, IPEA’s report found.

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Homicides

The scale of the violence faced by youths is staggering; more than 31,000 youths were murdered in Brazil in 2015 alone. But mixed-race and Afro-descendant Brazilians, who make up about half of Brazil’s total population, are perhaps the sector of society most severely affected by homicides.

The IPEA report’s authors write that Afro-Brazilians are being murdered as if they were in a “state of war.” Overall, Afro-Brazilians were 23.5 percent more likely to suffer from murder than non-Afro-Brazilians. And between 2005 and 2015, there was an 18.2 percent increase in the Afro-Brazilian homicide rate, while non Afro-Brazilians saw a 12.2 percent decrease.

Perhaps no single statistic says more about where homicides are concentrated within the Brazilian public than IPEA’s finding that 71 of every 100 homicide victims in the country are young, black men.

InSight Crime Analysis

The authors of the IPEA report admit that they are still trying to understand the exact reasons behind the shifting patterns of violence in Brazil. And they argue that understanding these dynamics is crucial to formulating effective policies aimed at reducing homicides.

One factor clearly linked to homicide trends is socioeconomic status.

“Black individuals are more likely to be murdered, are disproportionately represented in Brazil’s [prison] population and still comprise the majority of the poorest strata of the general populace,” Felipe Medeiros, an analyst at the consulting firm S-RM, told InSight Crime.

Dandara Tinoco, the “Instinto de Vida” (“Instinct for Life”) homicide reduction campaign coordinator at the Igarapé institute, a Brazilian research organization, told InSight Crime that the regional shift in the focus of homicides to Brazil’s north and northeast correlates with “high levels of social and economic inequity” found in those regions.

While economic growth can increase the availability of jobs and raise workers’ wages, perhaps providing an incentive for avoiding criminal activities, IPEA’s report found that when the benefits of economic growth only accrue to specific populations, involvement in crime may in fact become more enticing for those left out. Moreover, economic growth can increase demand for illicit goods like drugs, thereby driving conflict by crime groups for control of these criminal markets.

SEE ALSO: Brazil News and Profiles

Tinoco also told InSight Crime that some of the municipalities in northern Brazil are “growing really fast, without the required supply of social services such as health and education.” 

Echoing Tinoco’s statement, S-RM’s Medeiros told InSight Crime that increasing violence in that region could also in part be attributed to the “rapid, poorly managed growth of cities in the north and northeast.”

In addition, Medeiros mentioned that the spread of powerful crime groups based in southern cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo has also been linked to rising violence in the north.

Desmond Arias, an associate professor at George Mason University who has studied security issues in Brazil, told InSight Crime that access to good quality data is essential to understanding the many factors that are contributing to shifts in violence.

“Having good data, and transparent data, is crucial,” Arias said. “The public needs to be able to have access to crime indexes and other data so they can research and understand the violence that is taking place in their communities.”

Medeiros echoed these sentiments, explaining, “It is necessary to invest in intelligence, interagency coordination and forensics. Most Brazilian police … do not invest in the resources necessary to elucidate homicides.”

He added that this would not “definitely solve the issue of homicides in Brazil, but would very likely contribute to its long-term mitigation.”

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