Saturday, February 24, 2007


Yeah, I know I said I had rested my case in the matter of the Sept. 29 mid-air collision, and I have, to the extent that I won't engage in debating facts that are no longer in dispute.

The evidence for the defense is overwhelming, except to the authorities involved in the coverup, one of the chief of whom, incidentally, has the professional distinction of once having been locked in the trunk of his car by four under-aged prostitutes.

We know who was responsible for the accident. But as I've said from the beginning -- from the first day in the jungle, in fact -- I'm pretty sure the fix is in.

I remain interested in Brazil as a travel destination (remember, the only Brazil I actually saw consisted of an airplane manufacturing plant, an air strip and military barracks in the middle of the Amazon, a police station in Cuiaba, and a hotel in San Jose dos Compos where I was under police surveillance till I managed to get out of the country).

So, the Carnaval festivities having just ended, I've been intrigued reading recent travel stories about Brazil. What a swell place Rio is to frolic, they enthuse! Yet there's nary a mention in most of this frilly travel-writing about one of the most notable characteristics of Brazilian tourist-destination cities: shockingly high crime rates.

Travelers deserve better information. Rio and Sao Paulo are dangerous cities. Period. As the United States State Department warned the other day in a very strongly worded advisory: "Crime throughout Brazil has reached very high levels." (Excerpts from the full advisory are printed below).

Even top government officials are getting mugged and kidnapped.

In today's, is a story about Brazil's Finance Minister, Guido Mantega being taken hostage and held at gunpoint while visiting a friend's ranch in Ibiúna, interior of the southeastern state of São Paulo, during Carnaval. Also held were his wife and two children, from Friday night, February 16 to Wednesday, February 21. They were otherwise unharmed.

Last December, you might recall, Brazil's Chief Justice, Ellen Gracie Northfleet, was carjacked in Rio by six armed men. She and a passenger in her car, the Brazilian Supreme Court vice president, were dragged out of the car at gunpoint and robbed while, reported then , "the policemen in charge of the security, driving in two other cars, watched the whole scene without reacting."

And let's not forget about the several recent incidents in which gunmen have hijacked airport shuttle buses carrying tourists from the airport to their hotels in Rio and robbed them all, sometimes with pistol-whipping.

Here are the key aspects of the recent State Department travel advisory on Brazil:

"CRIME: Crime throughout Brazil has reached very high levels. The Brazilian police and the Brazilian press report that the rate of crime continues to rise, especially in the major urban centers – though it is also spreading in rural areas. Brazil’s murder rate is several times higher than that of the U.S. Rates for other crimes are similarly high. The majority of crimes are not solved. There were several reported rapes against American citizens in 2006.

Street crime remains a problem for visitors and local residents alike, especially in the evenings and late at night. Foreign tourists are often targets of crime and Americans are not exempt. This targeting occurs in all tourist areas but is especially problematic in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador.

Caution is advised with regard to nighttime travel through more rural areas and satellite cities due to reported incidents of roadside robberies that randomly target passing vehicles. Robbery and “quicknapping” outside of banks and ATM machines are common. In a “quicknapping,” criminals abduct victims for a short time in order to receive a quick payoff from the family, business or the victim’s ATM card. Some victims have been beaten and/or raped.

The incidence of crime against tourists is greater in areas surrounding beaches, hotels, discotheques, bars, nightclubs, and other similar establishments that cater to visitors. This type of crime is especially prevalent during Carnaval (Brazilian Mardi Gras) ...

At airports, hotel lobbies, bus stations and other public places, incidents of pick pocketing, theft of hand carried luggage, and laptop computers are common. Travelers should "dress down" when outside and avoid carrying valuables or wearing jewelry or expensive watches. "Good Samaritan" scams are common. If a tourist looks lost or seems to be having trouble communicating, a seemingly innocent bystander offering help may victimize them. Care should be taken at and around banks and internationally connected automatic teller machines that take U.S. credit or debit cards. ... Carjacking is on the increase in Sao Paulo, Recife and other cities.

Travelers using personal ATMs or credit cards sometimes receive billing statements with non-authorized charges after returning from a visit to Brazil. The Embassy and Consulates have received numerous reports from both official Americans and tourists who have had their cards cloned or duplicated without their knowledge. Those using such payment methods should carefully monitor their banking online for the duration of their visit. ...

RIO DE JANEIRO: The city continues to experience a high incidence of crime. Tourists are particularly vulnerable to street thefts and robberies on and in areas adjacent to major tourist attractions and the main beaches in the city. Walking on the beaches is very dangerous at night. During the day, travelers are advised not to take possessions of value to the beach. Incidents affecting tourists in 2006 included the robbery of cars and a tourist bus going into the city from the airport and the murder of a Portuguese tourist at 8:30 a.m. on Copacabana beach. Drug gangs are often responsible for destruction of property and other violence, such as the burning of public buses at the end of 2005 caused the deaths of some passengers . ... While most police officials are honest, in 2006, there were several cases of corrupt police officials extorting money from American tourists. ...

SAO PAULO: While similar incidents may occur elsewhere, all areas of Sao Paulo have a high rate of armed robbery of pedestrians at stoplights. There is a particularly high incidence of robberies and pick pocketing in the Praca da Se section of Sao Paulo and in the eastern part of the city. As is true of "red light districts" in other cities, the areas of Sao Paulo on Rua Augusta north of Avenida Paulista and the Estacao de Luz metro area are especially dangerous. There are regular reports of young women slipping knockout drops in men's drinks and robbing them of all their belongings while they are unconscious. Armed holdups of pedestrians and motorists by young men on motorcycles (“motoboys”) are an increasingly common occurrence in some parts of Sao Paulo. Victims who resist risk being shot. The number one item of choice by robbers in Sao Paulo, especially with regards to business travelers, is laptop computers. Recent efforts of incarcerated drug lords to exert their power outside of their jail cells have resulted in sporadic disruptions in the city, violence directed at the authorities, bus burnings and vandalism at ATM machines. These occurrences have not resulted in any injuries to U.S. citizens. Visitors and residents should respect police roadblocks and be aware that some municipal services may be disrupted."



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