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Brazil 2018 Crime & Safety Report: Rio de Janeiro

Western Hemisphere > Brazil; Western Hemisphere > Brazil > Rio de Janeiro

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Brazil has been assessed as Level 2: exercise increased caution.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation 

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

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Rio de Janeiro as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. 

Please review OSAC’s Brazil-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

Violent crimes such as murder, armed robbery, carjacking, assaults and kidnappings are a frequent occurrence. Opportunistic street crime such as pickpocketing, purse snatching, and smash-and-grab thefts from vehicles and storefronts is a constant concern. These acts take place in all areas of the city and at any time throughout the year.

Foreign visitors of all nationalities, as well as American citizens, have been victims. Those who have been victimized were most often targeted due to their perceived wealth and lack of awareness. There is no indication that American citizens or U.S. government employees are being directly targeted for any criminal activity in Rio de Janeiro. Most criminals are armed and will not hesitate to use violence when they encounter resistance. In the majority of incidents, victims were unharmed when compliant.

Do not accept drinks from strangers and always watch your drink. Scopolamine, or a similar drug, may be added to your drink. People have woken up robbed of their valuables or sexually assaulted after accepting such a drink.

Do not walk on beaches or in parks during hours of darkness. Assaults are common in these areas.

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 ATM terminals worldwide. Local cybercriminals are also known to target hardware – like the terminals – to obtain credit card and banking information. This includes attacking portable point-of-sale systems to obtain the information stored in the magnetic strip of a credit card as it is swiped for payment. Because this scheme often requires access to the payment hardware, researchers note it requires insider access. Cybersecurity companies often note that, while still vulnerable, Chip-and-PIN cards are more secure and harder to clone than magnetic swipe cards. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.”

Cybersecurity Issues

Brazil remains ranked 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 activity online. The domestic banking sector has 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. OSAC constituents working in Brazil should 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. Government websites have been defaced and taken offline by "hacktivists" in recent years.

Other Areas of Concern

The crime in Rio’s favelas is a product of organized crime, mostly centered on narcotics trafficking. In Rio de Janeiro, a “favela pacification program” was begun by the state government to bring favelas under government and police control and have occupied over 30 favelas to date (mostly in the southern part of the city). In 2017, several police operations escalated into large-scale gun battles in and around the favelas. In September 2017, the Brazilian Armed Forces deployed to Rocinha, Rio’s largest favela, to quell ongoing violence. In addition, there have been instances of specific targeting of police officers by criminals in various locations throughout the city.

Transportation-Safety Situation 

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road conditions in Rio de Janeiro are similar to those found in large U.S. cities. Visitors driving in Rio de Janeiro should expect traffic congestion and delays at any time. Due to the topography of Rio de Janeiro (mountain ranges surrounding the southern part of the city), there are multiple vehicular chokepoints throughout the city caused by tunnels. Many drivers are not sufficiently trained, properly licensed, or insured, all of which leads to stressful driving conditions.

Some major roadways run through or next to favelas; there is a potential for violent crime to spill out onto the roadways causing potentially significant traffic delays. All visitors to Brazil are encouraged to drive defensively. Any overland travel beyond city limits should be limited to daylight hours. Throughout Brazil, road conditions outside of the main cities vary greatly. Brazil uses automatic photo-ticketing systems to discourage speeding, and tickets are mailed to the owner of the vehicle. While traveling through rural areas, drivers also must pay close attention to pot holes and speed humps. Lighting, traffic signals and road markings vary from good to poor. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

Road conditions range from extremely poor to very good; however, accidents are always a concern outside of major cities. Incidents of cargo theft, from both 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 has significantly increased in Rio de Janeiro. All commercial goods are targeted; however, shipments of petroleum, pharmaceuticals, and mobile electronics are especially lucrative for criminals.

Public Transportation Conditions

Rio de Janeiro utilizes a municipal bus system, taxis, and an underground railway (metro) system. While none are off-limits in Rio, RSO advises that, especially in the northern zone of the city, they are utilized with caution to reduce the possibility of being a victim of crime.

Although buses are plentiful and generally keep to a regular schedule, RSO advises avoiding city buses when possible. Protests and demonstrations targeting the bus and mass transit systems often leave passengers vulnerable to violence, as 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 blue stripe and possess state-issued red livery license plates in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Taxis and private vehicles are recommended for use in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Even while driving, motorists can be vulnerable to armed bandits on motorcycles who prey on potential victims waiting at traffic lights or in traffic. Private car services, such as Uber, also provide a relatively safe option for travelers. For more information on ride-sharing, please review OSAC’s Annual Briefing Report “Safety and Security in the Share Economy.”

Only use legitimate, well-marked taxis at taxi stands, arranged via smart phone apps, or have your hotel call one for you. “Gypsy vans” are private transportation used by the local populace to move from neighborhood to neighborhood in Rio. These cabs have had numerous criminal issues, are not regulated, and are not advised for use by Westerners.

The metro system is relatively efficient and keeps a regular schedule. However, the metro system is often crowded, and there have been reports of personal theft and of females being touched inappropriately. The metro system offers women-only rail cars during morning and evening rush hours on most operating lines, which are encouraged to be used.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

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

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Rio de Janeiro as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There are no known indigenous terrorist groups operating in Brazil. Brazil is a non-aligned country with no significant enemies and is not targeted by any known radical groups.

Organized crime in Rio de Janeiro is controlled by major drug gangs, operating mainly in the favelas and in the country’s prison system.

The tri-border area of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay is known as a regional hub for the transit of illicit goods, including narcotics and firearms. To-date, no incidents directed against official or non-official Americans have occurred in this area. It is advised that American visitors to the area, to include Foz de Iguazu, remain especially vigilant and maintain a low profile.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Rio de Janeiro as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Civil Unrest 

Political violence in the form of protests occurs throughout Brazil, especially in the capital and major cities. These protests are held 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 in 2017 turned violent, resulted 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 coinciding with major events. Usually, these demonstrations are well-controlled and proceed under escort of local police. However, these events should be avoided, as hostile protestors have been known to infiltrate the crowd to confront the police. Additionally, these large gatherings are enticing targets for thieves and pickpockets.

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 2017, official unemployment reached 13.7%. Inflation has already risen above 10% and with additional austerity measures proposed by the government to resolve the national budget deficit, the middle class and other economically vulnerable groups will continue to experience economic stress in 2018. Further 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 in 2017 in Brasilia, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo. While the majority of these protests were peaceful, sporadic violence did occur. All visitors to Brazil should avoid areas where large crowds are gathering or protests are ongoing.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Brazil boasts a wide variety of ethnicities, and the majority of the people are Christian/Catholics, followed by a distant second of Protestant. However, in 2017, there were numerous reports of violence within the state of Rio de Janeiro aimed at traditionally Afro-Brazilian religious practices.

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 have been tested and shown to be extremely polluted. Tourist areas, such as Lagoa, Ipanema, and Copacabana beaches, and Guanabara Bay, all have shown extreme contamination.

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. The Brazilian army is responsible for defending critical cyber infrastructure, and 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

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 remains on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 “Watch List” in 2017 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 of particular concern. Some local police forces make concerted efforts to combat sales of counterfeit and pirated goods at physical markets, but offenders frequently are let off with minimal penalties. 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 fine of up to several thousand reais by the local police, not to mention the personal embarrassment and political fallout that may result from your illegal actions.

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 an NGO, violent acts, including murder, against LGBT individuals saw a 30% increase in 2017 and remain a serious concern.

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 of 202.6 million, since 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, and the federal government generally enforced these.   

Drug-related Crimes

The majority of city’s drug-related crimes are based upon the illicit drug trade and 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 U.S. 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 “Quicknapping” or “Express Kidnapping”, an ongoing criminal activity in which ATM users are kidnapped at gun point and taken to several ATMs to withdraw cash. While Brazilians are most often targeted, all foreigners are vulnerable to this crime.

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 morale as reasons for widely varying response times and unsolved crime. Police-involved shootings resulted in over 1,000 civilian deaths in the state of Rio de Janeiro. At the same time, police officers in Rio are being killed in growing numbers; 126 military police officers were killed in Rio in 2017. 

Police labor unions advocate and frequently organize strikes that result in absences of police personnel in key areas. 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.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Visitors should inform the nearest Embassy or Consulate if they encounter problems while traveling in Brazil, including detention or arrest by the police.

Crime Victim Assistance

Medical Emergency (ambulância) Tel: 192

Fire Service (Corpo de Bombeiros) Tel: 193

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

Police/Security Agencies

The Military Police of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Policia Militar, or Military Police, are not actually associated with the Brazilian Armed Forces, but are rather the U.S. equivalent of uniformed state police officers.), which have their own formations, rules and uniforms and are responsible for maintaining public order across the state. Deployed solely to respond to or act as a deterrent against the commission of crime, these units do not conduct criminal investigations.

Detective work, forensics, and prosecutions are undertaken by the state's Civil Police (Policia Civil). Each state has its own Civil Police Department, which carries out criminal investigative work, forensics, and internal investigation; it acts as the state bureau of investigation, while the Military Police carries out preventive police duties. 

The Federal Police (Policia Federal, 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. It is subordinate to the federal Ministry of Justice.

Medical Emergencies

Contact Information for Available Medical Services 

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

Insurance Guidance

For air medical evacuation services, the Consulate advises visitors purchase private air medical evacuation insurance before traveling to Brazil. The Consulate can assist visitors with further information about obtaining services available.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Brazil is undergoing an ongoing threat of mosquito borne illnesses in 2018. 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 Western Hemisphere team with any questions.  

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

Emergencies and calls after business hours may be directed to Post One:+55 (21) 3823-2029

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

Website: http://riodejaneiro.usconsulate.gov

Nearby Posts

Embassy Brasilia: http://brazil.usembassy.gov/

Consulate Recife: http://recife.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Sao Paulo: http://saopaulo.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Guidance

U.S. companies are encouraged to contact the RSO in Rio de Janeiro for specific inquiries concerning the local security situation. Information is also readily available from the Regional Security Offices in Brasilia, Sao Paulo, Recife, the American Chamber of Commerce, and from the active OSAC Country Council operating in Rio de Janeiro.

For updated information, please contact the Consular Section of the American Consulate General in Rio de Janeiro, or consult the web sites of the Consular Bureau of the Department of State (www.travel.state.gov) or of the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia.

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

Additional Resources

Brazil Country Information Sheet