Foreign nationals face persistent kidnap threat in Rio de Janeiro

12/02/2018

Frequent violent clashes between security personnel and the organised criminal gangs that inhabit Rio de Janeiro’s low-income favela areas are indicative of a declining security environment in the city. Following yet another outbreak of violence on 31 January outside of the infamous Cidade de Deus (City of God) favela, Brazil’s Defence Minister Raul Jungmann announced that the security system in Rio de Janeiro state was “broken”. According to statistics compiled by the Institute of Public Security (ISP) incidents of violent death in Rio de Janeiro increased by 7.5% in 2017 compared to 2016, from 6,262 to 6,731. 2018 has witnessed a continuation of violence with 688 incidents involving firearms reported in the state during January 2018 alone.

Amid a surge in violent crime, express kidnappings increasingly pose the most distinct kidnap threat to foreign nationals visiting Rio de Janeiro. In these incidents, victims are targeted on the basis of perceived wealth and often driven to multiple ATMs to withdraw money. ISP statistics indicate that express kidnappings, rather than the prolonged kidnapping of a victim for ransom, was the most prevalent form of kidnapping during 2017 and the 99 recorded incidents represent a 44% increase from 2016’s 69 incidents. Highlighting that perpetrators engaging in express kidnapping continue to be active in the city, on 7 February 2018 Rio de Janeiro State Police (PCJH) reportedly arrested an individual suspected to be responsible for three separate cases of express kidnapping in the western Recreio dos Bandeirantes district.

The ability of the PCJH to mitigate the escalating violent crime and kidnapping rate is hindered on account of poor funding and deep levels of corruption. PCJH officers are reported to be amongst the worst paid public servants in Brazil and the irregular receipt of salaries incentivises personnel to engage in corrupt practices, including assisting criminal elements. On 29 June 2017 state authorities launched an operation to arrest almost 100 PCJH officers accused of criminal collusion. Suspects were alleged to have accepted bribes in exchange for providing a variety of services including protecting drug traffickers, providing weapons and carrying out kidnappings on behalf of criminals.

Whilst most visits to Rio de Janeiro are devoid of incident, foreign nationals should be aware that high unemployment and acute wealth disparity shall remain motivators for both criminal elements and corrupt security personnel to perpetrate express kidnappings.

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