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Over 2,000 Arrested in Mega-Bust in Brazil
Nationwide operation involved more than 25,000 policemen
Alan Mota (al0021)     Print Article 
Published 2007-03-26 15:56 (KST)   
A group of dedicated policemen -- more than 25,000 to be precise -- proved Friday that they were willing to go all the way to set an example for criminals all over Brazil, and help clean up the country's reputation of being corrupt and dominated by crime, as many third-world countries are, especially in South America.

In a mega-operation that began on Monday last week but had its climax on Friday, the officers arrested over 2,000 criminals in 25 states and the capital, Brasilia. (Brazil has 26 states.) The number of those arrested is preliminary and could grow considerably as only 11 states and the capital have had their stats revealed so far.

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The overwhelming majority of the busts were made in only one state, Sao Paulo, the biggest state of the country in almost every meaning of the word. It has the largest population of over 30 million people, the largest state GDP and hosts the country's biggest city, Sao Paulo, with over 18 million people. The state had 1,675 criminals detained by the police. More than 640,606 objects -- fake reproductions or objects with no receipt -- were apprehended and 1,634 vehicles were seized. There were also 257 weapons and 32,195 kilos of drugs seized, including cocaine, crack and ecstasy pills. Three casualties, all of them criminals, took place during the operation.

Among these criminals, there were surprisingly sophisticated gangs. One of them used to steal cargo in Santos port -- the biggest of the country -- opening large containers of merchandise without breaking the locks and replacing the stolen goods with bags of sand.

Sao Paulo was the biggest venue for the operation, but the police were strong in other states too. In the agricultural state of Mato Grosso, 131 were arrested. The state of Parana had 29 arrests. In Pernambuco, in the northeast, 33 people were arrested, while 22 cars were seized. The state of Espirito Santo, which during the last few years became one of the most dangerous in the country, had 64 arrests.

The operation, according to commanding officers, was intended to show that the police are nationally integrated and coordinated, and that its focus on fighting crime won't be deterred by state boundaries or different offices. The point can be considered proven, but the mega-bust also revealed some weaknesses.

In the state of Rio de Janeiro, for example, the 80 arrests made by the officers can be considered a little short of expectation, especially when compared with Sao Paulo. Rio shares with Sao Paulo the title of most dangerous state in the country, and with a population of over 15 million people, 80 arrests does not raise many eyebrows. It's even worse when taking into consideration that over 12,000 policemen -- 20 percent of the state's force -- took part in the operation. It's a little disappointing and even suspicious for some, as the Rio de Janeiro police force has suffered recently with several inside operations to fight corruption. It's considered one of the most corrupt in the country. It was a chance for the Rio police force to clear its name, and it remains to be seen if the population will applaud or suspect the recent operation.

Another example is the capital, Brasilia. A district court that has seen a rise in crime in the last few years, the capital had 222 officers mobilized to go after 451 warrants, but only 43 people were arrested, less than 10 percent of the goal.

A surprising aspect of the operation was the astounding involvement of underage criminals. The stats remain to be seen in all states, but in Sao Paulo alone 219 minors were arrested. That's approximately 13 percent out of the 1,615 detained in the state -- an alarming proof of how gangs are recruiting more among the young kids in "favelas," or Brazilian shantytowns, and poor neighborhoods. This promises to raise more discussions about the criminal majority age in Brazil, after a recent crime involving minors and the death of a child shocked the country.

Another negative aspect exposed by the bust was the precarious condition of the Brazilian prison structure. In the state of Espirito Santo, which had 60 arrests, the police stations could not hold the number of detained so they were placed in buses parked outside the stations while awaiting charges. In Mato Grosso, a state that lacks 3,300 places in detainment centers for its criminals, the stations were completely full. This forced officers to overload prisons and stations with criminals.

The police force, as integrated as it might be, is still not completely connected. The police in the state of Minas Gerais, host of the third biggest city in the country -- Belo Horizonte -- didn't take part in the operation at all. While all the other offices in the country carried on the mega-operation, the police in Minas Gerais followed their daily routine of investigation and arrests, with no special effort. The police chief of the state stated that there was still integration among the Minas Gerais police and other states.

The bust can also be considered a major test for the Brazilian justice system. In a normal setting, the system is already considered badly managed and a bit primitive, based on old rules that make the system act as slow as ever while overloading the upper stances of justice, such as state and national supreme courts. This way, only a small percentage of cases are solved and a small percentage of defendants go to jail. Now, with more than 2,000 cases popping up at once, all levels of justice and almost every state will have the responsibility of making sure that the unprecedented effort of the policemen doesn't go to waste due to the incompetence of judges and attorneys.

The possibility of the operation being a form of protest was also raised. Recently there have been some strikes and protests from officers throughout the country -- one is still going on, even during the operation, in the state of Piaui -- and the population has had its trust in the police force shaken. One of the directors of the police force in Brasilia said that the operation had as one of its goals to attract attention for the capabilities of the police in the country, but soon after, the chief of police in the state of Sao Paulo who was head of the mega-operation, Mario Leme, stated that the focus of the operation was solely on law enforcement.

However, the operation was indeed a great display from the national police force. Despite all the problems such as corruption, bad equipment and low salaries, the force was still capable of putting itself together to show that law is still enforced in Brazil, now more than ever, and that the long tradition of impunity that gave Brazil a bad name can and will be replaced by a tradition of efficiency and justice. The operation as a whole -- which involves, obviously, fair trials and punishment for the guilty -- is still far from over. But it's good to see a positive headline about crime in Brazil, after all.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Alan Mota

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