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

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Brazil 2019 Crime & Safety Report: Rio de Janeiro

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 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.) or to informal housing developments (commonly referred to in Brazil as favelas, vilas, communidades, and/or conglomerados), at any time of day due to crime.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Consulate General in Rio de Janeiro does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or establishment, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of services provided.

Review OSAC’s Rio de Janeiro-specific 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.

Crime Threats

There is serious risk from crime in Rio de Janeiro. Violent crimes such as murder, armed robbery, carjacking, assault, and kidnapping are a frequent occurrence. Opportunistic street crime such as pickpocketing, purse snatching, and smash-and-grab theft from vehicles and storefronts is a constant concern. These acts take place in all areas of the city at any time throughout the year.

Foreign visitors of all nationalities, including U.S. citizens, have been victims. Criminals most often target their victims due to perceived wealth and lack of awareness. There is no indication that criminals target U.S. citizens or U.S. government employees due to their nationality. Most criminals commit crimes while armed, and will not hesitate to use violence if they encounter resistance. In the majority of incidents, compliant victims were unharmed.

Do not accept drinks from strangers and always watch your drink. Criminals may add scopolamine or a similar drug to your drink. People have woken up robbed of their valuables or sexually assaulted after accepting such a drink. For more information, review OSAC’s reports, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, and Scopolamine Incidents on the Rise in Colombia.

Parks, beaches, and other recreational areas have experienced violent crimes, mostly at night, to include assault, theft, and sexual assault. Depart from these public areas before sundown. Although assaults are also common during the day, higher rates of crime occur after dark.

There are noticeable nationwide increases in reported crime in December and January, likely attributable to Brazil’s liberal system of prison furloughs that allows for leave during the holidays, a higher percentage of police officers on annual leave during the Christmas season, diversion of police resources to patrol popular coastal areas, and the receipt of a “13th month” salary bonus in December that leaves many Brazilians with extra disposable income. Burglars also frequently target vacant homes and apartments during these two months, while owners and tenants are traveling.

The use of credit card cloning devices and radio frequency interception (RFI) at restaurants, bars, and public areas is a serious concern in Rio. The World Bank reports that Brazil has one of the highest concentrations of ATMs worldwide. Local cybercriminals target ATMs to obtain credit card and banking information, and portable point-of-sale systems to obtain the information stored in the magnetic strip of credit cards swiped for payment. Because this scheme requires access to payment hardware, insider access is usually involved. Cybersecurity companies often note that, while still vulnerable, chip-and-PIN cards are more secure and harder to clone than magnetic swipe cards. All visitors to Brazil should be aware of the increased risk to their credit and debit card information, and carefully monitor accounts for suspicious activity. For more information, review OSAC’s report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Cybersecurity Issues

Brazil remains among the most pervasive cybercrime environments worldwide. Brazilian cybercriminals are sophisticated and regularly employ malware to steal billions of dollars annually, despite government efforts to stop malicious online activity. The domestic banking sector has historically been the primary target of these operations and anecdotal information suggests insider access; however, cybercrime in Brazil also affects daily Internet users, private-sector organizations, and short-term travelers. Scams involving credit cards are common. Travelers using personal ATM or credit cards sometimes discover that criminals had cloned or duplicated their cards without their knowledge. Maintain awareness of popular schemes to avoid becoming cybercrime victims.

Cyber security and online fraud are major concerns, with annual losses reaching billions of dollars. Hacktivists have defaced government websites and taken them offline in recent years.

Other Areas of Concern

All of Rio’s neighborhoods are subject to criminal activity. Among them are ungoverned urban areas known as favelas (sometimes called communidades), which are often visually distinct from the most affluent neighborhoods. Drug gangs dominate these areas; armed confrontations between traffickers and police occur frequently.

The crime in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas is a product of organized crime, centered on narco-trafficking. The Rio de Janeiro state government began a “favela pacification program” a decade ago to bring favelas under systematic government and police control. Over 30 favelas have been “pacified” to date (located mostly in the southern part of the city), but this strategy has yielded only modest results due to a lack of resources. Over the past year, violent crime in Rio de Janeiro escalated to the point of being a national security concern.

In February 2018, the Brazilian President authorized Brazil’s Armed Forces to intervene directly in public security within the state of Rio de Janeiro, employing joint military-police operations, strategic planning, and intelligence sharing in an effort to quell the violence and rebuild state law enforcement capabilities. The favelas are off-limits to U.S. government personnel; avoid them.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road conditions in Rio de Janeiro are similar to those found in large U.S. cities. Drivers in Rio de Janeiro should expect traffic congestion and delays at any time. Due to the topography of Rio de Janeiro (mountain ranges surround the southern part of the city), tunnels cause multiple vehicular chokepoints throughout the city. Many drivers do not receive sufficient training, properly licensure, or insurance, which leads to stressful driving conditions at any given time.

Some major roadways run through or next to favelas, increasing the potential for violent crime to spill out onto the roadways, causing potentially significant traffic delays. Drive defensively at all times. Limit any overland travel beyond city limits to daylight hours. Road conditions outside of the main cities vary greatly. Brazil uses automatic photo-ticketing systems to discourage speeding and mails tickets to the owner of the vehicle. While traveling through rural areas, pay close attention to potholes and speed bumps. Lighting, traffic signals, and road markings vary from good to poor. Using tinted windows, rolling windows up, and locking doors, and keeping valuables out of sight are the best recommendations against possible random criminal activity. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s report, Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Incidents of cargo theft, both from overland shipments originating at ports of entry and from storage facilities, occur frequently. Brazil’s rate of cargo theft is among the highest in the region, and of particular concern in Rio de Janeiro. Criminals target all commercial goods, although shipments of petroleum, pharmaceuticals, and mobile electronics are especially lucrative.

Public Transportation Conditions

Rio de Janeiro has a municipal bus system, taxis, and an underground railway system. While none is off limits to U.S. government employees in Rio de Janeiro, ride with caution in order to reduce the possibility of being a victim of crime, especially in the northern zone of the city.

Although buses are plentiful and generally keep to a regular schedule, avoid city buses whenever possible. Protests and demonstrations targeting the bus and mass transit systems often leave passengers vulnerable to violence; buses have been set ablaze or robbed while in transit.

While taxis are plentiful, there are still high rates of illegal/pirate taxis looking for potential targets of opportunity. Only use legitimate, well-marked taxis, which are yellow with a blue stripe and possess state-issued red livery license plates in the city of Rio de Janeiro. The local populace uses informal minibuses to move from neighborhood to neighborhood in Rio; these vehicles have had numerous criminal issues, are not regulated, and should not be used by visitors. Use taxis and private vehicles for use when moving within the city of Rio de Janeiro. Even while driving, motorists are vulnerable to armed bandits on motorcycles who prey on potential victims waiting at traffic lights or in traffic. Private car services (e.g. Uber) also provide a relatively safe option for travelers. For more information on ride sharing, review OSAC’s report, Safety and Security in the Share Economy.

The metro system is relatively efficient and keeps a regular schedule. However, the metro system is often crowded, and there have been reports of citizens suffering loss of personal items and of individuals touching female riders inappropriately. The metro system offers and encourages using women-only rail cars during morning and evening rush hours on most operating lines.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Airports countrywide inaugurated supplemental security measures, in part to thwart criminal activity targeting aviation facilities.

Other Travel Conditions

Some U.S. companies use armored passenger vehicles to transport visiting senior executives, who may be targets due to their high profile or high-value status.

Terrorism Threats

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is minimal risk from terrorism in Rio de Janeiro. 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.

Major drug gangs control organized crime in Rio de Janeiro, operating mainly in the favelas and in the country’s prison system.

The Tri-Border Area (TBA) of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay is a regional hub for the transit of illicit goods, including narcotics and firearms. To date, no incidents directed against U.S. citizens have occurred in this area. Visitors to the area, to include Foz de Iguazu, should remain especially vigilant and maintain a low profile.

Though there are no known indigenous terrorist groups operating in Brazil, authorities arrested a number of individuals who identified themselves as ISIS members or sympathizers in 2016 prior to and during the Olympic Games. Also during the Olympics, eco-terrorists planted a pressure cooker bomb at a major bus terminal in Brasília. Both of these incidents may have used the high profile of the Olympic Games to make their points, but were nevertheless the country’s first terrorism-related incidents in recent history. Concerns exist that individuals among the region’s extremist community have been engaged in facilitating transfers of money and people for terrorist organizations.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

There is moderate risk from political violence in Rio de Janeiro. Political violence in the form of protests occurs throughout Brazil, especially in the capital and major cities. These protests occur for various reasons, from poor work conditions and wages to public corruption or social inclusion. While protests are generally non-violent, some have escalated into violence. In Rio de Janeiro, several protests over the past year have turned violent, resulting in property damage and minor injuries. Protests tend to increase in numbers and intensity during periods of political transition, the visits of high-profile foreigners, and major events. Usually, these demonstrations are well controlled and proceed under escort of local police. Avoid protests, as hostile protestors have infiltrated crowds for the purpose of confronting the police. Additionally, large gatherings are enticing targets for thieves and pickpockets.

Civil Unrest

Economic conditions in Rio de Janeiro, coupled with a large-scale investigation into public corruption, have contributed to civil unrest, protests, and strikes as Brazil works to recover from its longest and deepest recession since the 1930s. In 2018, official unemployment reached 11.7%. The State of Rio de Janeiro concluded the year above the national average, at 14.6%. Inflation has already risen above 10%, and with additional austerity measures proposed by the new government to resolve the national budget deficit, the middle class, and other economically vulnerable groups will continue to experience economic stress in 2019. Any additional spending limits on public security, public health, and education are likely to have a negative impact on the local populace. There were large, nationwide protests over the past year in Brasília, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo. While the majority of these protests were peaceful, sporadic violence did occur. Avoid areas where large crowds are gathering or protests are ongoing.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Brazil boasts a wide variety of ethnicities; the majority of the people are Catholic, followed by a distant second of Protestant. Reports of violence within the state of Rio de Janeiro aimed at traditionally Afro-Brazilian religious practices remain a concern.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Most natural disasters are not a major concern in Brazil, although significant flooding does occur during the rainy season. Flooding, and associated mudslides, is a serious concern in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Major bodies of water within the city of Rio de Janeiro are extremely polluted. Tourist areas such as Lagoa, Ipanema, and Copacabana beaches, and Guanabara Bay all show extreme contamination.

Many of Brazil’s beaches have very dangerous riptides, even if the water looks safe. Ocean currents and waves are unpredictable, even in popular beaches tourists frequent. Always observe posted warnings and never swim while under the influence of alcohol. Follow local authorities’ guidance and refrain from swimming alone in areas marked with red warning signs or at beaches where there are no municipal lifeguards or first responder services.

Brazil has indicated that it will continue to work toward mitigating the ongoing threat of mosquito borne illness in 2019. For more information on mosquito mitigation, please review OSAC’s report, What’s Bugging Your Staff: Mosquito-borne Diseases - Mitigation Tactics.

Critical Infrastructure

Brazil is one of Latin America’s leading digital nations. Over 50% of Brazilians now are active internet users, and Brazilian financial institutions were early adopters of online services. Cyber security and online fraud are major concerns, with annual losses reaching billions of dollars. Hacktivists have defaced government websites and taken them offline in recent years. 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.

Intellectual Property

The risk of economic espionage is not particularly high in Brazil, but other intellectual property rights (IPR) issues continue to challenge U.S. companies. Brazil remained on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Watch List in 2018 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 near Paraguay and Argentina of particular concern. 

Over the past year, Rio de Janeiro police have made significant efforts to combat sales of counterfeit and pirated goods at physical markets, with offenders more frequently referred for prosecution. 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. Avoid street vendors selling knock-off designer products; you may face a large fine.

Personal Identity Concerns

Brazil’s federal law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, but several states and municipalities have administrative regulations that prohibit such discrimination and provide for equal access to government services. Social discrimination remains a concern, especially against the transgender population. According to Human Rights Report, violent acts including murder, against LGBT individuals remain a serious concern; local NGOs reported that in 2018, more than 400 members of the LGBT community were victims of hate killings.

The law prohibits racial discrimination, specifically the denial of public or private facilities, employment, or housing, to anyone based on race. The law 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, white persons constituted less than half the population; approximately 52% 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.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities in employment, air travel and other transportation, education, and access to health care; the federal government generally enforces these prohibitions. However, accessibility to public transportation and the ability to accommodate the needs of physically disabled persons are limited in most areas.

Drug-related Crimes

The majority of the city’s drug-related crimes are due to the illicit drug trade and those persons addicted to illicit drugs. Street assaults, robberies, burglaries, and other criminal activity generate proceeds to support their addictions. Brazil is the number two consumer of cocaine in the world, behind the United States. As such, a large proportion of crime is drug-related.

Kidnapping Threat

While kidnappings for ransom in Rio are less common than other violent crimes, these incidents do occur. One tactic of organized gangs is to target individuals observed withdrawing money from ATMs or exiting banks after making a withdrawal. These gangs frequently operate in teams.

Another version of this is express kidnapping, an ongoing criminal activity in which kidnappers take ATM users at gunpoint and take them to several ATMs to withdraw cash. While Brazilians are the most frequent targets, all foreigners are vulnerable to this crime. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Police Response

Police response, both from the military and civil police, varies greatly. Police officials frequently cite a lack of resources, staffing shortages, lack of basic equipment, and low morale as reasons for widely varying response times and unsolved crime. Police labor unions advocate and occasionally organize strikes that result in absences of police personnel in key areas.

Police-involved shootings resulted in over 1,000 civilian deaths in the state of Rio de Janeiro over the past year. At the same time, interactions with criminals killed 95 Military Police officers in Rio in 2018. Several of these instances involved specific targeting of police officers by criminals in various locations throughout the city.

Law enforcement entities continue to look for creative policing strategies to overcome financial and infrastructure challenges to crime prevention, such as community policing, cops on motorcycles, and extensive implementation of surveillance cameras. Recent implementation of “Operation Presence” to increase the overt law enforcement presence in certain heavily populated areas of the city has yielded some positive results. This increase in ostensive policing has succeeded due to substantial funding by the local Brazilian private sector and has expanded to more Rio de Janeiro neighborhoods.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Inform the nearest Embassy or Consulate if you encounter problems while traveling in Brazil, including police detention or arrest. 

Police/Security Agencies

Military Police of Rio de Janeiro (Polícia Militar do Estado de Rio de Janeiro) Tel: 190

Fire Service (Corpo do Bombeiros) Tel: 193

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 U.S. equivalent of 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 state’s Civil Police (Polícia Civil) undertake detective work, forensics, and prosecutions. Each state has its own "Civil Police Department" to carry out criminal investigative work, forensics, and internal investigation; these act as the state bureau of investigation, while the Military Police carries out 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

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

Medical Emergency (ambulância) Tel: 192

For medical assistance, refer to the Consulate’s Medical Assistance webpage.

The Consulate has identified the following local hospitals as suitable for visitor use: 

 

  • Hospital Samaritano, Rua Bambina 98, Botafogo, Zona Sul, Tel: (21) 2537-9722
  • Hospital Copa D’Or, Rua Figueiredo de Magalhaes 875, Copacabana, Zona Sul, Tel: (21) 2545-3600
  • Centro Pediatrico da Lagoa, Rua Jardim Botanico 448, Jardim Botanico, Zona Sul, Tel: (21) 2535-7932

 

Available Air Ambulance Services

For air medical evacuation (medevac) services, purchase private insurance before traveling to Brazil.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Brazil is experiencing an ongoing threat of mosquito borne illnesses. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Brazil.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Rio de Janeiro Country Council meets quarterly and has approximately 50 members. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Latin America team with any questions.  U.S. private-sector security managers may contact the RSO in Rio de Janeiro for specific inquiries concerning the local security situation. Information is also readily available from the RSO offices in São Paulo, Brasilia, and Recife, and from the active OSAC Country Council in São Paulo.

U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information

Consulate Address and Hours of Operation

Avenida Presidente Wilson, 147, Castelo.

Consulate Contact Numbers:

Switchboard: +55 (21) 3823-2000

Direct emergencies and calls after normal business to Post One at +55 (21) 3823-2029

Regional Security Officer: +55 (21) 3823-2908 

Fax: +55 (21) 3823-2003


Website:
https://br.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/riodejaneiro/


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Consulate Guidance

U.S. citizens should enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate them in an emergency.

Additional Resource: Brazil Country Information Sheet

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