Brazil's Progressive New Security Plan

(International Relations and Security Network, 22/08/2007)


On 20 August, Brazilian President Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva presented a new national security plan for Brazil. It is the second such plan announced during his presidency, and this time, according to Lula, it will work because the budget is in place.


The Brazilian government will invest some US$3.3 billion in national security over the next five years. It is an ambitious national security plan that combines social development considerations with the necessities of security, prison improvement and community policing.


Leaders from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that focus on reduction of violence have given the plan a nod of approval, but they agree with a wide section of the Brazilian populace that is doubtful the measure will ever leave paper.


The plan has five basic components. The first identifies 11 areas around the country where security is a top priority, mostly in urban centers. Contrary to international belief, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo do not top the list.


The little known city of Victoria, in Espiritu Santo, is Brazil's most violent with just over 78 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. Narrowing the age to between 15 and 29, this number jumps to to approximately159 per 100,000. Recife is second on the list. Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo are fifth and seventh, respectively.


Rather than apply a federal level focus on the well worn zero-tolerance seek and destroy missions into insecure areas, the new national security plan calls for communication and social development programs to take the lead, where possible. Placing such a heavy emphasis on development is what makes this plan progressive and potentially a model for the region.


Once development takes root, the second major component of Brazil's plan, called Mothers of Peace, can take place. This component will focus on using mothers as the primary component of positive, crime free development inside Brazil's most dangerous communities.


By offering mothers basic legal training, job training and other educational programs that will lay the groundwork for them to become productive citizens, it is believed that they will pass along some of these lessons to their sons, nephews and cousins who are tempted to enter a life of crime.

Focusing on teenage boys is the program's third component. Young men will be offered similar training as the mothers' program so that they can become positive influences on their community counterparts.


At least 160 new prisons, with a capacity for 400 inmates each, are planned for the fourth component. A portion of the funding marked for the prisons will support educational programs for inmates that qualify.


With a large part of funding for the new national security plan focusing on education, police who participate in educational programs will be eligible for a salary boost as part of the fifth section of the plan. This could be up to US$200 a month, a considerable raise when the average monthly salary for Brazil's police forces is around US$450 a month.


There is a renewed focus at the federal level for community policing. The president's ideal situation sees community police known by their first names, and armed with non-lethal enforcement tools such as batons, electric shock tasers and rubber bullets.


To jump start the national security program, the Justice Ministry will hand out some US$240 million this year. The remaining funds, spread over five years, will come directly from the treasury. This is where the problems may begin, according to some senators who find the plan too idealistic and subject to corruption.


A lack of legal and transparent money transfer from the public to private sector is at the root of Brazil's long string of recent corruption scandals. Some observers are worried that much of the money marked for the security plan will simply disappear.


Another challenge is bureaucracy. No less than 14 NGOs, government agencies, state-level committees, and international organizations will work together to carry out the plan. It is not possible to implement such an endeavor with one team, but streamlining bureaucracy would ensure fewer middlemen, and thus, fewer chances for a diffusion of responsibility that often arise when problems occur or goals are not met.


In five years, Brazil wants to reduce its national homicide rate from 29 deaths per 100,000 to 11 per 100,000, comparable to Chile, where there are seven deaths per 100,000. It is a noble goal and an ideal way to spend national funds. As Lula looks toward his legacy, his may be the name most associated with the beginnings of a progressive security plan that made Brazil a safer place to live, even in the favelas.