The Land of Impunity

3 June 2021

“Impunity is safe when complicity is general”, once said Mariano José Pereira da Fonseca, Marquis of Maricá (1773-1848).

Visiting my family in the south of Brazil in my early teenage years was always an eventful trip, as I had the opportunity to spend time with my cousins and at the same time I had the freedom to go out with them without being questioned and monitored by my parents. My cousins had a very well established circle of friends; the children of families with influence, power and wealth.

One day, I was told that one of their friends had committed a terrible crime; killing his mother! I was in a state of shock and horror. His parents had been recently separated and his mother was known to be parading town with younger boyfriends, which made him extremely embarrassed. We were then told he had left town, only to return a few months later as if nothing had happened. No one ever questioned him nor mentioned the event. This is the very first time I realised that there were two different set of rules in Brazil, one for the powerful and wealthy, the other one for the remainder of the population. I soon learned the name for it: impunity!

Brazil is known for being a friendly and hospitable country.  That aspect of the culture also extends to idolising and accommodating criminals from all over the world, no exception, including former Nazis like the “Angel of Death”, Josef Mengele and Franz Stangl; the infamous English criminal who helped plan and carry out the Great Train Robbery of 1963, Ronnie Biggs; a convicted fugitive Italian drug lord, Rocco Morabito, recently arrested in Brazil; one of the most important members of “Cosa Nostra”, Tommaso Buscetta; amongst many others.

It is worth pointing out that international criminals are a minority in Brazil, as the country is best known to be the land of impunity, a “safe heaven” for all types of local criminal activities committed by “businessmen”, politicians, the police, terrorists and drug lords.

“Corruption is not a Brazilian invention, but impunity is something very much ours”, once said TV presenter Jô Soares.

Corruption, violence and impunity are interconnected and run through every part of Brazilian society. Corruption leads to violence and impunity, an infectious disease affecting the most powerful in the country.

Published at Portal Brasil Empresarial, there are a few examples of violence, the fight for power, money, and impunity that has run through Brazilian politics for a very long time.

In June 1967, deputies Nelson Carneiro and Estácio Souto Maior, father of pilot Nelson Piquet, drew their weapons and exchanged fire in the Chamber of Deputies. With a .38 caliber revolver, Nelson Carneiro shot Estácio Souto Maior, who despite being wounded, managed to retaliate.

Four years earlier, on December 4, 1963, senator Arnon de Mello, father of the current senator and former president Fernando Collor de Mello, shot at senator Silvestre Péricles, who laid down on the ground and dodged the shots. One of the shots hit senator José Kairala, who died hours later. Fernando Collor’s father reacted to the threats, and during a speech in the Senate, he shot Péricles Silvestre.

In 1929, when the Federal Chamber was still headquartered in Rio de Janeiro, a discussion between deputies Sousa Filho and Simões Lopes resulted in death. Simões Lopes, who was armed, fired two shots at Sousa Filho, who died on the spot.

In all three occasions, all those involved were acquitted and were never held to account for their actions.

Crime-solving rates in Brazil are one of the lowest in the world. The country has loose criminal laws with soft penalties being applied to serious crimes, including incongruous criminal procedural legislation, which allows criminals to go free unpunished. Seven out of ten homicides are not punished in Brazil.

“An absolutely inefficient criminal law, unable to reach anyone who earns more than five minimum wages, has led us to build a country of rich offenders, a country in which people live on bid rigging, active corruption, passive corruption, embezzlement, money laundering. This was no accident. It spreads across the country”, said Luís Roberto Barroso, a Brazilian law professor, jurist and current Justice of the Supreme Federal Court of Brazil.

Currently there are about 500 criminal cases in the Supreme Court, criminal proceedings as well as investigations, most of them against parliamentarians, mentioned Barroso at Jornal do Comércio.

Corruption and impunity work from top down in Brazil. The current president, Jair Bolsonaro, and his family have been involved in various criminal and corruption scandals, accused of money laundering, running a paramilitary death squad, and stealing from the population. These scandals often lack scrutiny and go unpunished.

Authorities in Brazil have always been a fortunate class. The privileged forum favours certain public authorities, unlike the majority of the population, encouraging white-collar crimes, corruption, and impunity to take place.

Developed countries usually have a few positions with privileged jurisdiction, but in Brazil over 45,000 authorities have this privilege. The factors that contribute to an individual or organisation to commit a crime is highly influenced by the possibility of it being tried and convicted by a justice system.

Impunity is also present in the police force in Brazil. The recent events of Jacarezinho in Rio de Janeiro, where an operation by the Civil Police that resulted in the deaths of 25 people, including one police officer, was news across the world. The victims were suspected of criminal activities, but no proof yet has been presented.

“It’s completely unacceptable that security forces keep committing grave human rights violations such as those that occurred in Jacarezinho today against residents of the favelas, who are mostly Black and live in poverty “, said Jurema Werneck, executive director of Amnesty International Brazil.

A study called “Labyrinthine Investigations”, published by Conectas, reveals that reports of violations committed by police officers tend to be ignored and shelved. A complex bureaucratic mechanism capable of silencing victims and protecting crimes committed by police officers was identified.

“The institutions work to justify the conduct of the police officers, to avoid investigation and punishment”, said Adilson Paes de Souza, a retired Military Police Lieutenant Colonel who has a PhD from the Institute of Psychology of USP (University of São Paulo).

“The existing doctrine in the Military Police is one of militarisation and war against the enemy, and this also spills over into the Civil Police, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Judiciary. When the judge clear signs of torture that a detainee has suffered, the message is the following: this is the enemy, damn it, no standards and guarantees for him”, added Souza.

Brazil is like an orphan lacking protection and direction; a country being constantly fooled, beaten, controlled and exploited by ruthless greedy individuals and organisations. It has been left to fend for itself. It is bruised and traumatised. The criminals responsible are left unpunished, exempted of their heinous crimes.

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