Brazil’s No-Blame Game: How Impunity Imperils the Country’s Image

A lack of accountability casts a shadow on Brazil’s preparations to show off its progress with the World Cup and the Olympics.

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Nacho Doce / REUTERS

A cap hangs from a cross alongside highway BR-163, also known as the Highway of Death, in Lucas do Rio Verde, Mato Grosso state, Brazil, Sep. 28, 2012.

As Brazil prepares to play host to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, it has much to show off. The country has reduced poverty and inequality at unprecedented levels; and it has been lauded the world over by a media in thrall to its dynamism, its natural beauty and its undisputed charms.

But two shocking episodes of violence, yet another case of mismanagement by its sporting bodies, and several episodes of deadly traffic madness–all made worse by a sense of continuing impunity enjoyed by the alleged perpetrators of crime and mismanagement–have come as a reminder that all is not rosy in South America‘s biggest nation.

In São Paulo, eight police officers are being held in a city jail in connection with the investigation into the cold-blooded killing of two youths. In Rio de Janeiro, a 21-year old American woman was brutally raped and her partner was beaten by three men who kidnapped them in a minivan used for public transport.  Meanwhile, the city’s mayor was forced to close the new stadium that will host the track and field events for the 2016 Olympics because the roof is in danger of collapse. And last week, a bus that was allowed to continue running in spite of having 47fines for traffic violations careened off a viaduct killing seven people onboard.

The events are more than just graphic illustrations of how life is cheap in Brazil. The other common thread is impunity and a lack of accountability. Death squads persist in São Paulo; Rio police ignore rape reports; bus drivers keep driving in spite of repeated fines; those responsible for organizing one vastly over budget sports event are allowed to organize another. “We are accustomed to punishing only the poorest and that has been the case though Brazil’s history,” says Felipe Santa Cruz, president of the Rio branch of the Brazilian Bar Association. “It is getting better. (But) we still don’t have a culture of obeying the law. Some parts of society have no fear they will ever be punished.”

(MORE: Rio 2016: Track and Field Venue Closed Indefinitely)

The front page headlines have been a huge embarrassment for Rio, little more than a year before it holds the World Cup Final and three years before it hosts the Olympics. Life in the self-appointed “Marvelous City” has gotten better in recent years, thanks largely to a mayor who took a leaf out of New York’s book and cracked down on petty crime. Indeed, it is no longer a place where anything goes. But citizens still complain that too much does.

The root of the problem is two-fold, says Fabricia Ramos, a researcher with the Institute for Studies on Labor and Society,  a Rio think tank. Most glaringly, public services are insufficient or inefficient.

They can function for the elite when they need them but the poor – and the areas they live in – are treated with disdain, she said. There are few ways to complain and those responsible are rarely held accountable. Ramos cited as one example a new city hotline set up to help citizens to resolve everyday problems. The city says 1-in-5 of the calls leads to direct action. But Ramos says a more common outcome is frustration. “You call this number if there is a car parked illegally on your street, or a manhole cover is missing, or if part of a building looks like it is going to collapse,” she says. “But you are at the mercy of the city. If they want to ignore you they can and there’s nothing you can do. Accountability is the big challenge.”

(MORE: The Stadiums of Rio: Why They Are Not Yet Ready for the Olympics)

Such initiatives are a step in the right direction but there is still a feeling of one law for the rich and another for the poor, says Ramos, and that exacerbates the sense of helplessness. One week before the American woman was raped, a local girl reported a similar incident but police failed to properly investigate. The same people were apparently responsible for both crimes, police later acknowledged, and they removed the officers who failed to investigate. “The rapes exposed a devastating inequality,” Ramos said. “A girl was raped but because she comes from a poor neighborhood the police did nothing. And then when an American is raped they find three guys within 24 hours. That is a hard message for people who live here to swallow.”

The lack of accountability is even more evident in the sports world. Carlos Nuzman, the man who organized the 2007 Pan American games and now in charge of organizing the 2016 Olympics, has not commented on the debacle of the stadium closure, much less been called to account for it. Nuzman has always maintained the Pan American Games venues were built to Olympics specifications and that superlative quality was the reason the games went six times over budget.

Now, however, two of those venues, for cycling and swimming, have been found to be so substandard they cannot be used for Olympic events, and a third, the athletics stadium, was last week closed because engineers said the wind could blow the roof down if gusts topped 63km/h.  The city now is now rushing to get ready for the Olympics, the World Cup and the Confederations Cup, which will take place in June.

The world will come to Brazil and no doubt be delighted by the warm climate and friendly hosts. But they are unlikely to be impressed by the infrastructure around them. If the games don’t go according to plan, Brazilians will have no one to blame but themselves. Just don’t expect anyone to be held accountable.

MORE: Rape, Kidnap of Tourists Feed Rio Safety Fears

ValkiriaBarbosa 1 Like

How can a country like Brazil host 2 events like these, with so much corruption and unpreparedness!!! It is unbelievable how corruption has taken over this country and how poor life conditions are for tax payers. It is a shameful country.

LeonardoHenrique 1 Like

no brasil pai de Família Ganha 640,00 reais, ladrão Que Vai Preso, a familia recebe 971,00 reais, NAO TEM lei,

LeonardoHenrique 1 Like

no brasil pai de família ganha 640,00 reais, ladrão que vai preso, a família recebe 971,00 reais, não tem lei, 


help, help us , we do not know what to do , people are dying all the time because of lack of security , a friend of mine was killed with three shots , I was kidnapped . can not stand anymore, these people now coming around here, because of the World Cup , will be stolen too , this is really no security , no health has nothing .

LeoSantos 1 Like

As a brazilian citizen I jjust can apologize for and about  all these omitions by our government and ask God to help us and/or the G8 to take a better position about who tehy support and follow as our politicians.Profits and interests can't be the focus but  "Order and Progress" as says our green and yellow flag.Sory world!

HelderSeba 1 Like

Brazil is a country with many laws and no law enforcement. Also many corrupt politicians as head of the government.


@HelderSeba Most of them (politicians) financed by the same who make questions and criticize about the brazilian unlawful situation!


The Olympic games in Brazil? Wait and see ! - Or read the comments here from Brazillians and, they are right!  

regicirilo 1 Like

vi is a citizen praising the socio economic situation of the country should be of some advantage, pos sixth economy only if the politicians to post here only counts as people who earn £ 3000.000.00 up to post the minimum wage of R $ 640.00 where a kilo of tomatoes costs of entrono $ 10.00 more expensive than a kilo of meat prices high in the government's aid to R $ 70.00 per actual dis me and that will end up as a political coma pobresa wins almento more 500% while the citizen rises when the minimum wage rises only 20 real pos year the vice mayor of san jose fields sp almentado had his salary of R $ 6,000.00 to R $ 13.000.00 real by the mayor and citizens of poor worker who lives minimum wage now in May with certesa only received £ 20.reais of the alemnto not to buy or tomato 3kilos me there comes a ipocrita Diser the parents is a marvel sixth largest economy in the world if only for it to be of any political party, any governor or filiadoa mensalão faser events closing his eyes pros social problems deverião ashamed pos in real Brazilian citizens we are ashamed of our leaders who only just sounding board itself alliances and political fiction sinking the country pos people the poor do not have to see dinehiro game of the World Cup, we need to help social security hospitals pegasem that money stolen from the people to build stadium for Hobo with certesa donode team that will never pay contruise hospitals and housing oh yes estarião contributing to a parents better

regicirilo 3 Like

  1. I am Brazilian and I say world cup in Brazil is an internationally inresponsabilidade who organizes the administrators of the country governors pos Brazil does not offer the minimal conditions of health or safety of hospitals and rio de janeiro sao paulo which are the largest cities in the parents are a mess on the floor patients stretchers in the corridors patients die in the emergency room for lack of medical and safety a mess because people perdema life of a cell already had my residence burglarized by 2 veses lead perteces of my house I already make more queicha 4 years or never apolicia justice they sought me fasem little or investigão case, and when holding at 5% the person is caught it is not already pos nehum cent if paid uam and bails out these inpuni inresponsaveis that organisão world cup devereião require that rulers invetisem in health safety first see if there would country could host a Cup pos deviado build stadium with money stolen from social areas as our former president had diverted U.S. $ 500.000.000.00 to build the stadium and his team of R $ 850. 000.000.00para outside the Maracana and others he did now investing in health and safety is good that it did not mensalão out that his accomplices robarão million leaving the health and safety abandonment

dorothy 1 Like

@regicirilo You are absolutely right, I hope not but I am afraid the games will be tragical! In which ever country in S.A. 

had been chosen: idem! Don't go!

henriifr 1 Like

This is the opinion of all of us in Brasil!
But this is showed in the media, when the subject appears in the "most accessed" foreigns sites like this!
The criminals, haves most care and attention from the governmente, than the honest citzens! 
Blind justice, corrupt government, we live of appearances! 

José 2 Like

Ouidah's comments are full of mistakes and distortions. Student loans do not exist in Brazil?  He just forgot to say that Brazilian public schools and universities are completely free!  Nobody cares about the poor people?  Please read any impartial report about poverty reduction and the improvement of life standards in the world to see Brazil among the top best cases in the last decades. By the way, only one of the three members of the gang who raped the American girl is a teenager. It is simply not true that they will be free before the Olympics. I teach in a public university and I can say that his vision of universities selling degrees is a calumny.  Brazil is a developing country with many problems. But if his views of the country were right, how it would be possible to build the sixth economy in the world and to produce remarkable advances in so many social and economic indicators as any independent report can show? We appreciate the friendship and solidarity of foreign people. But we really don’t need the shallow preaching and the banal prejudices of arrogant people. 


It is rather rich to see foreigners who thrived and prospered forging alliances with that very soiled elite now preaching about its perils...


The main reason why Brazil is dysfunctional is because Brazilian intuitions are dysfunctional.They are corrupt, incompetent and infested with nepotism.One reason why the stadiums are falling down is that Brazilian engineers buy their degrees.Corruption is so endemic, the ruling class, the folks that I call the Mango People, simply pay off the college professors, graduate, and simply go to work where their relatives work.

There are no student loans in Brazil.No way to for the poor to elevate themselves.Even at the universities that are supposedly reserved for the poor, the mango people occupy all the spaces by corrupting the system.The poor, without the resources to pay off the school administrators are simply left to sell drugs.

Driving in Brazil gives you a clue on how the citizens see themselves.Everyone is selfish and drives like the road belongs to them.The motorcycles are the worst offenders.They ride on the dividing line, if you are driving in the center lane; it is not uncommon to have four riders congesting you two on each side of your vehicle.Attempts to regulate the cyclists, all fail because they simply block a major intersection until the city or the federal government backs down.They pass in the no passing zone with impunity.Obeying the speed limits does not exists.The busses and the trucks try to run you off the road if you are following the posted speed limits..

Violent crimes are being committed by teenagers.But because Brazil does not charge teenagers as adults, the most time that they serve even for multiple murders and rapes is a year or two.The three teenagers referenced here who raped the American woman will be out of jail before the Olympics.

I understand the revulsion that Brazilians feel towards the treatment of the two rape victims, the American and the Brazilian.Not trying to minimize the obvious double standard, the American case was handled by the Tourist Police.The local complaint was handled by the Civil Police.There is a world of difference in pay, training, resources and professionalism between the two police forces.

Brazil is a beautiful country with hard working people.But their aspirations are stymied by entrenched corrupt elite who is used to special treatment. I am afraid that this corrupt system will not correct itself without a revolutionary like Malcolm X.