Murders surge in Brazil despite pandemic

The number of murders and other violent deaths in Brazil increased 7.1 percent in the first half of the year, despite lockdown measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic, a report said Monday.

“There were 25,712 violent deaths in the first half of 2020, equivalent to one person murdered every 10 minutes amid the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the stay-at-home measures implemented during this period,” said the report from the Brazilian Public Security Forum.

“The figures broke a downward trend in violent crime that began in 2018,” it said in its annual report on public security in the South American country, which has long struggled with high levels of violence.

The report’s authors said it was too early to draw definitive conclusions on why homicides, deadly robberies and fatal police shootings increased even as the pandemic kept many Brazilians at home.

They said more study was needed on how criminal gangs were evolving amid the pandemic, including whether they were shipping more drugs overland in response to a reduction in air traffic — possibly leading to increased conflict around trafficking routes.

“At this point, it is still difficult to determine which trends are the effect of social distancing measures and which are not,” they said.

In some cases, the pandemic may have led to under-reporting of violent crimes.

For example, femicides increased 1.9 percent during the period, but reports of assault and threats against women declined by 9.9 and 15.8 percent, respectively.

“That may reflect the difficulty some women faced to go to a police station or report abuse amid strict stay-at-home measures,” the report said.

The rise in violent crime “may be being made worse by the relaxation of gun-control laws” under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and “a permanent, war-like discourse” on crime, said Renato Sergio de Lima, the group’s director.

Brazil has registered the second-highest number of Covid-19 deaths in the world, after the United States, with nearly 154,000.

It only partially implemented lockdown measures even at the height of the outbreak in July, as Bolsonaro clashed with state governors over stay-at-home measures that he argued were unnecessarily hurting the economy. (AFP)