Amnesty International: Brazil's largest cities are now controlled by drug gangs and paramilitary militia
The London-based rights group, in a copy of report obtained by The Associated Press and scheduled for release Thursday, said government negligence has left poor Brazilians in the crossfire between police and criminals — the victims of stray bullets, police curfews and extortion by militias and drug traffickers.
"Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo have reached a tragic impasse. Criminal gangs ... have rushed to fill the vacuum left by the state, Balkanizing the cities into a patchwork of violent fiefdoms," said the report, which was based largely on news reports and academic studies.
Amnesty said the situation came to a head in Sao Paulo a year ago when the First Capital Command Crime gang brought South America's largest city to a standstill, torching buses, attacking police stations and taking hostages. Police responded by killing hundreds of suspects.
More recently, drug gangs in Rio launched a wave of attacks that left 19 people dead in response to the growing power of paramilitary militias made up of former and active-duty police, firefighters and soldiers.
"The events of 2006 dramatically raised the stakes of the public security debate," the report said.
Amnesty called on federal and state governments to "develop a coherent long-term security policy that focuses on the root causes of violence and social exclusion."
As Latin America's largest nation prepares to host the Pan American Games in July, many here fear the simmering violence could tarnish not only that event, but also foil the country's chance at hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
The report criticized the use by Rio police of a special armored car called a "Caveirao," or Big Skull, against drug gangs in shantytowns, saying bystanders have been injured or killed in operations using the vehicles.
Amnesty said official statistics show that in 2006 Rio police killed more than 1,000 people. Police justify the killings as acts of self-defense.
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