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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Brazil 2020 Crime & Safety Report: Recife

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Consulate General in Recife. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in northeastern Brazil. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s  Brazil country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Brazil at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to crime. Do not travel to any areas within 150 km/100 miles of Brazil’s land borders with Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, and Paraguay due to crime. (Note: This does not apply to the Foz do Iguacu National Park or Pantanal National Park.) Do not travel to informal housing developments (commonly referred to in Brazil as favelas, vilas, comunidades, and/or conglomerados) at any time of day due to crime. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime & Safety Situation

Crime Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Recife as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Street crime incidents such as mugging, pickpocketing, and armed robbery pose the greatest risk to travelers. International crime rankings often cite major urban centers within the Recife Consular District as among the most dangerous cities in the world.

Economic conditions are harbingers of security in the region. The Secretary of Social Defense (SDS), the senior body for law enforcement in the state of Pernambuco (of which Recife is the capital), reported a spike in the homicide rate between 2014 and 2017. However, since the peak in 2017, Recife benefited from a wave of economic growth, which has in part contributed to a 35% reduction in homicides from 2017 to 2019. In 2019, the State of Pernambuco had its lowest number of robberies in five years, a 17% reduction from 2018.

Brazil’s overburdened criminal justice system has very low conviction rates. An acute shortage of jail space across Brazil and resulting prisoner furloughs contribute to a cycle of violence. Despite laws that strictly regulate firearms, criminals frequently procure and use handguns. Criminals also use military grade weapons, blades, and other improvised weapons.

Although the risk is greater at night, street crime frequently occurs during the day. Incidents of theft are frequent on city buses and metro trains. Brazil’s criminals often use motorcycles in street crimes to evade police. Comply with criminals’ demands; resisting increases the likelihood of serious bodily harm. Exercise caution while on Recife beaches, as petty theft and alcohol related incidents are common.

Crime can occur in any part of the city, including in affluent areas, but the incidence of crime against tourists is greater in areas surrounding the airport, hotels, bars, nightclubs, Recife Antigo (the historic center of the city), public transportation centers, and other establishments that cater to visitors. The theft of cell phones is common. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.

Over 700 surveillance cameras monitor and attempt to deter crime in Recife. The SDS uses these surveillance systems to dispatch police. Police and static guards patrol areas near Boa Viagem, the location of U.S. Consulate staff housing. Larger apartments and commercial sites often employ 24/7 private security guard services. Despite the cameras, security guards, and police, criminal activity is a regular occurrence.

Visitors and locals can be victims of stolen identity involving credit/debit cards. Merchants are sometimes involved in the theft of credit/debit card account information at point-of-sale machines. State Department investigations revealed that hackers compromise bank security measures to steal account numbers. The use of credit cards is very common in Recife. When using a credit card, never allow waiters or clerks to walk away with your card, and make sure they use the card’s chip in lieu of swiping. Monitor accounts for the duration of your visit in Brazil. Inform your banks and credit card issuers of travel plans to Brazil to monitor unusual charges. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Cybersecurity Issues

A growing area of concern is the rise in cybercrime. Cybercriminals with significant capabilities regularly target U.S. businesses in Brazil. Brazilian cybercriminals are sophisticated and regularly employ malware, and steal billions of dollars annually despite government efforts to stop malicious online activity. Some debit/credit card thefts have been attributed to hacking; close monitoring of banking account information should automatically follow any sales transactions to ensure credit/debit cards and personal information is not compromised. Withdrawing money from ATMs not inside hotels, banks, airports, or other locations with supplementary security measures poses serious risks. Maintain awareness of popular schemes to avoid becoming a cybercrime victim. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road conditions vary greatly throughout northeastern Brazil. Most roads in large cities are paved. However, many roads, even in urban areas, are in poor condition with large potholes and overgrown vegetation. Some roads may become impassable during the rainy season. Recife has poor, easily clogged water drainage systems; potholes appear suddenly and remain unrepaired for weeks. Many rural roads are unpaved and can be impassable during heavy rains.

Defensive driving is a requirement, as traffic can be congested and unpredictable. The level of public and private driver training and safety awareness does not reach minimum U.S. standards.

Crime on the roads remains a problem, especially during evening travel, traffic jams, and road closures due to protests. Although U.S. government employees in Recife have not reported being the victim of a carjacking or robbery, these crimes occur in the city, particularly at night. Criminals take advantage of victims stopped at red lights, particularly in the evening hours, and in less dense or remote areas of the city. Call0800-081-1078 for the Traffic Police (CTTU).

Street lighting is unpredictable, lanes lack clear markings, and drivers frequently drift to avoid poor road conditions, resulting in unsafe driving conditions. In Recife, a lack of parking results in informal parking that blocks roads and sidewalks. Peddlers and panhandlers create an additional hazard, as do slower moving human and animal-pushed carts.

Brazil has zero tolerance for drinking and driving and has enacted a law to combat drunk driving known as “Lei Seca” (Dry Law). Frequent unannounced checkpoints occur in most cities, including Recife, where police will initiate breathalyzer tests on vehicle operators. While these checkpoints establish a viable deterrent, there still are incapacitated drivers on the road. Throughout Brazil, automatic photo-ticketing systems attempt to discourage speeding and other violations.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Issues

Previous iterations of the State Department Travel Advisory for Brazil warned travelers not to use public buses in and around Recife due to crime. The current iteration of the Travel Advisory does not carry this warning.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Airports countrywide have inaugurated supplemental security measures, in part to thwart criminal activity targeting aviation facilities. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Recife as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.There are no known indigenous terrorist groups operating in Brazil. Brazil is a non-aligned country with no significant enemies, and is not a target of any known radical groups.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Recife as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Extremist groups occasionally conduct acts of civil disobedience and may enter into violent confrontations with police. There have been political protests in the past year throughout the country. While most protests in Recife are peaceful, they can become confrontational. Avoid large crowds or ongoing protests. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Anti-U.S. Sentiment

Most Brazilians regard U.S. nationals in a positive manner, and are friendly to foreigners.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Flooding and mudslides are a seasonal problem in Recife. Monitor weather conditions, especially during the rainy season (July to September). Many streets and neighborhoods lack drainage systems, which exacerbates flooding.

Recife beaches can be hazardous due to sharks. In 2018, Recife beaches registered two shark attacks; one was fatal. Adhere to the Shark Danger warning signs posted along Recife beaches. Review OSAC’s Report When Wildlife Attacks.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

The Brazilian army is responsible for defending critical cyber infrastructure. Brazil’s Computer Emergency Response Team monitors and addresses general cyber security incidents. Given Brazil’s highly networked economy and the fact that authorities still are developing cyber doctrine and capabilities, analysts note continued critical infrastructure risks.

Economic Concerns

Cargo theft remains a major security issue on the roads throughout Brazil. As a result, many companies employ countermeasures, including armed security escorts for high value loads and the use of satellites to track truck movements. Review OSAC’s Report, In-Transit Cargo Theft in Brazil.

The risk of economic espionage is not particularly high in Brazil, but other intellectual property rights (IPR) issues continue to challenge U.S. companies. Concerns also persist with respect to Brazil’s inadequate protection against unfair commercial use of undisclosed test and other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical products.

Brazil remained on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Watch List in 2019 due to high levels of counterfeiting and piracy, including online piracy. Illicit goods enter Brazil over its extensive land and sea borders, with the tri-border area with Paraguay and Argentina a particular concern. Avoid street vendors selling knock-off designer products; by buying them you may face a large fine.

Personal Identity Concerns

The law prohibits racial discrimination, specifically the denial of public or private facilities, employment, or housing, to anyone based on race. It also prohibits the incitement of racial discrimination or prejudice and the dissemination of racially offensive symbols and epithets and stipulates prison terms for such acts. The 2010 census reported that, for the first time, more than 50% of the population identified themselves as belonging to categories other than white. Despite laws and a high representation within the general population, darker-skinned citizens, particularly Afro-Brazilians, frequently encounter discrimination and are underrepresented in national government positions.

Brazil’s federal law now prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Enforcement, however, is weak, and violence against LGBTI+ persons still occurs regularly, particularly against the transgender community. According to the 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, violence against LGBTI individuals remains a serious concern nationwide. There were 141 killings of LGBTI individuals in the first 135 days of 2019. Transgender individuals were particularly at risk; there were 163 killings of transgender persons nationwide in 2018, and police arrested suspects in only 9% of the cases. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

The law also prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities in employment, transportation, education, and access to health care; the federal government generally enforces these standards. It is common for the elderly, pregnant women, and disabled individuals to receive priority treatment at public and private establishments. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

Large volumes of drugs originate in or pass through Brazil en route to Europe, Africa, and North America. Within Recife, marijuana and crack cocaine are the most common drugs.

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnappings for ransom have become less common in recent years. One tactic of organized gangs is to target individuals observed withdrawing money from ATMs or exiting banks. Using ATMs located in secure locations such as shopping malls or major hotels reduce the chances of criminal targeting. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Other Issues

Brazilian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporarily importing or exporting items such as firearms, antiquities, mineral samples, tropical plants, wildlife, medications, and business and communication equipment. Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response

The emergency line is 197 for Civil Police, 194 for Federal Police, and 190 for Military Police. Call +55 81-3322-3122 for the Tourist Police. Due to a lack of resources and equipment, as well as staffing shortages, police response times may be slow. Because of these same issues, police have a higher rate of unsolved crimes. When reporting a crime, you may have to go to a police station or report less serious crimes via the internet.

Police/Security Agencies

The Military Police of the State of Rio de Janeiro have their own formations, rules, and uniforms, and are responsible for maintaining public order across the state. Polícia Militar is the country’s military police and is not associated with the Brazilian Armed Forces; they are the Brazilian equivalent of U.S. uniformed state police officers. Deployed solely to respond to or act as a deterrent against the commission of crime, these units do not conduct criminal investigations.

The Civil Police (Polícia Civil) acts as the state bureau of investigation. Each state has its own Civil Police Department to undertake detective work, forensics, prosecutions, and internal investigation, while the Military Police performs preventive police duties.

The Federal Police (Polícia Federal or DPF) are responsible for crimes against federal institutions, to include international drug trafficking, terrorism, cyber-crime, organized crime, public corruption, white-collar crime, money laundering, immigration, border control, airport security, and maritime policing. DPF is subordinate to the federal Justice Ministry.

Medical Emergencies

The medical emergency line is 192. For fire emergencies or sea rescue, call 193. Medical care at private clinics in Recife is sufficient for most emergencies. Private facilities normally require cash payment in advance for medical care. Public hospitals provide a lower standard of care, and are often overcrowded and understaffed, but they are experienced with medical emergencies including trauma injuries, and generally do not require pre-payment. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the Consulate’s Medical Assistance page.

The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

Bring prescription medicine sufficient for your length of stay. Be aware that Brazil's humid climate may affect temporary and long-term storage of medicines. Some prescription medicines (mainly generic) are available. Consult with medical providers regarding immunization and vaccination requirements prior to travel. Refer to OSAC’s Report, Traveling with Medication.

Brazil is experiencing an ongoing threat of mosquito borne illnesses, and has indicated that it will continue to work toward mitigating the threat in 2020. For information on mosquito mitigation, review OSAC’s report, What’s Bugging Your Staff: Mosquito-borne Diseases - Mitigation Tactics.

Mosquito and other animal- and isect-Borne Diseases, including Chagas, chikungunya, dengue, Zika, visceral leishmaniasis, and rabies are present in Brazil. There are no prophylactic therapies for dengue and chikungunya. While chikungunya and dengue fever have become endemic countrywide, malaria is more prevalent in the interior.

All U.S. government personnel obtain yellow fever vaccination prior to travel to Brazil. Travelers should carry a documented yellow fever card.

Because Zika is a cause of severe birth defects, CDC recommends pregnant women and couples trying to become pregnant within the next 3 months carefully consider the risks and possible consequences of travel to areas with risk of Zika.

If you travel, strictly follow steps to minimize exposure to and prevent mosquito bites.

Leptospirosis, while not common, is a viral infection spread via rodent droppings and waste. Given the limitations of the sanitation system in Brazil, exercise caution including vigilant hand washing after outdoor contact and vaccination of pets that may contract the disease from food bowls and other exposed surfaces where rodents may traverse. Be careful of canned beverages and coconuts that are typically stored on the ground, where rodents and other insects congregate.

Pay special attention to HIV/AIDS prevention. In addition to elevated infection rates among high-risk populations such as commercial sex workers and mobile populations such as miners or loggers, World Health Organization data shows that Brazil has among the highest prevalence HIV rates in Latin America and the Caribbean. WHO recommends preventive sexual practices to include of use of condoms.

Incidences of water-borne diseases increase during periods of flooding. Only consume bottled or purified water, and take special precautions when eating fruits and vegetables, especially during the rainy seasons. Refer to OSAC’s Report, I’m Drinking What in My Water?

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Brazil.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

OSAC Country Council Information

There is no Country Council in Recife. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Latin America Team with any questions.

U.S. Consulate Contact Information

Rua Gonçalves Maia 163, Bairro Boa Vista, Recife, Pernambuco 50070-065

Monday-Friday: 0700 to 1600

Regional Security Officer (RSO): (+55) (81) 3416-3114

American Citizen Services (ACS): (+55) (81) 3416-3080

After hours Duty Officer: (+55) (81) 99916-9470

Other U.S. Diplomatic Posts in Brazil

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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