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Brazil’s growing status as a potential world power cannot obscure the characteristics of its other reality: that of a country with vast inequalities and high crime rates. The Comando Vermelho, the most prominent organized crime syndicate in Rio de Janeiro, besieges the beauty and charm that attracts tourists to this city. The CV arose not only as a product of the political dictatorship of the seventies, but also of the disenfranchised urban poor crammed into Rio’s favela slums. Today, the CV presents a powerful challenge to the State’s control of parts of Rio territory.

As Brazil’s soft power projection grows, it is seriously challenged by its capacity to eliminate organized crime. Economic growth is not sufficient to destroy a deeply embedded organization like the CV. In fact, Brazil’s success may yet further retrench the CV’s activities. Culpability for organized crime cannot be merely limited to the gangs, but must also be shared among the willing consumers, among whom can be found educated and elite members of society, as well as the impoverished and desperate.

The Brazilian government needs a top-down response addressing the schism between rich and poor. However, Brazil’s citizens must also take responsibility and forge a bottom-up response to the drug- and corruption-riddled elements of its most respected members of society. Brazil must target reform across public health, housing, education and above all, law enforcement. Without such changes, Brazil will remain a two-track democracy. Rio’s wealthy will still be able to revel in the city’s beauty albeit from behind armored cars and fortified mansions, while the city’s poor will yield – either as victims or perpetrators – to the desperate measures of organized crime.


"The views, opinions, and/or findings contained in this report (paper) are those of the author(s) and should not be construed as an official Department of the Army position, policy or decision unless so designated by the official documentation.

Funded by the National Defense Center for Energy and Environment (NDCEE), ID W91WAW-09-D-0022, delivery order number 0616."

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