Archive for the Brazil Category

Haitian Migration From Brazil: An Overview of Contributing Factors, Part Two

Posted in Brazil on June 11, 2020 by asmit127

By Alexandra Smith

The migration of Hatians out of Brazil and to the United States has been the result of multiple factors, among them being, a changing political and economic landscape in Brazil, an economic collapse and subsequent social and political unrest in Venezuela, and finally an inability to integrate into local Brazilian communities. The story of Hatian migration through Brazil, and subsequently to the United States, cannot be told without understanding one of the other major countries involved, and its precipitous internal economic decline.

In the decade between 2000 and 2010, Venezuela benefited from a rise in the price of oil, and that economic boon was utilized by president Hugo Chavez to implement populist policies and increase social programs (1). Those recent positive trends in quality of life and economy led many Haitians to see Venezuela as a destination for migration in the early 2010s. Though these policies helped in the 2000s, they became ineffective when the price of oil dropped dramatically in international markets. The next president, Nicholas Maduro, continued with the same populist policies as his predecessor with the majority of funding from the exportation of oil. This culminated in one of the worst economic disasters in the modern world, with in 2019, up to 97% of Venezuelans living in poverty. The effects of this massive economic downturn, in addition to social unrest, was a mass exodus of Venezuela refugees, in addition to the Haitians who previously settled there. These Haitians, already on the mainland and working in Venezuela, saw better potential opportunities in the United States, leading to an increased number of Haitians recently detained at the US-Mexican border.

The events in Venezuela also reverberated throughout Central and South America, and in particular, Brazil. In 2017, the Brazilian National Parliament attempted to pass a bill reforming the previous statute from 1980 in which treated immigrants as “a threat to national security” (2). Through political maneuvering, the bill was transformed to reinforce, rather than remove the status of immigrants as “threats to national security” (3). For Haitians in Venezuela, Brazil became a less attractive option for migration as the Venezuelan economy failed, thus leading to an overland migration pattern to the US-Mexican border.

Finally, as a result of the changing ideology of Brazilian government to migrants in the latter portion of the decade, the immigrants from Haiti already in Brazil, began to face challenges integrating into local Brazilian communities. Already in 2016, one migrant noted that, “The government is promoting a foreign policy to bring more Haitians to Brazil, but there is no public policy for Haitians here” (4). Despite the acceptance of avenues of legal migration to Brazil, Haitians often experienced instances of “racism in everyday situations” as well as a lack of language training programs, cultural integration, and general public policy initiatives aimed at migrants. In other words, the lives of Haitians when they finally arrived in Brazil were those of outsiders, and despite Brazil’s historical legacy of racial and ethnic diversity, Haitians found hostile communities rather than livable conditions. This inability to be accepted into local communities once they arrived in Brazil in conjunction with a shrinking of labor markets, and stricter government attitudes to migration, undoubtedly led Haitians already living in Brazil to other countries in search of employment and settlement.

In the case of Haitians already living in Brazil, or in the case of Haitians finding refuge in other South American countries such as Venezuela, it was not beneficial to attempt a return to Haiti in order to emigrate to the United States, and thus began choosing overland routes through Central America and Mexico, explaining the recent increase of Haitians appearing at the US-Mexican border. Undoubtedly there are other factors in play forcing Haitians to the border at this time, but this has been a sketch of the more recent developments in Central and South America that have led Haitians to move to and from Brazil to the United States.

1 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela, February 24, 2010,

2 Jeffery Lesser and Shari Wejsa, “Migration in Brazil: The Making of a Multicultural Society,” Migration Policy Center, 29 March, 2018,

3 Though this bill received nearly unanimous support in the Congress, president Michel Temer vetoed portions of the bill to the point where the amended bill that was passed resembled a return to the “national security threat,” ideology in relation to migrants. In the context of mass migration from Venezuela in the decade from 2010 to 2020, this shift of policy was part of an effort to curb the amount of refugees and migrants coming into Brazil. The influx of migrants from Venezuela, coupled with an internal economic downturn in Brazil in the latter portion of the decade, made Brazil a less welcoming destination for refugees and migrants in recent years.

4. Gabrlela Bazzo, “Hatian Migrants Pouring in to Brazil Don’t Find a Warm Welcome,” Huf ington Post – Huf ington Post Brazil, August 22, 2016 eferrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAAKTvJa6BFkdAUh0CjobW6X dJTihgH7BY0dTD-CnPTgObrz3D3CqE3eShZM2zhHNVXi7yWlKk_jiGviws8lzPTf-Lv06NlEPsCkY7PAFEqJ ViW4jpFlQHhOW_7jxHhG7gGtfiHrOGBqsNAXaiYw0Wcf5iH6tTBc3FVawQJCPTM_1

Haitian Migration to Brazil: An Overview of Contributing Factors, Part One

Posted in Brazil on June 11, 2020 by asmit127

By Alexandra Smith

Over the course of the past ten years there has been a significant increase in the number of Haitian immigrants seeking asylum in South America as well as the United States from Haiti. At a glance, these two developments seem to be unrelated within the scope of Central and Southern American migration, but their connection lies within shifts of migration policy by Brazil following the earthquake of 2010, as well as in a complicated nexus of socio-political and economic changes within the country in the following years.

The earthquake in Haiti of January 12, 2010, with a magnitude of 7.0, caused over 300,000 deaths, displaced more than one million people, caused 7-8 billion dollars in damage, and damaged nearly half of all structures in the “epicentral area” (1). These outcomes had a devastating effect on Haiti, it’s economy, infrastructure, and it’s people. One of the ways in which the international community attempted to aid Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake(outside of disaster relief teams and economic contributions), was to make changes in refugee and immigration policies. Brazil was one of these counties. In 2013, several years following the earthquake, the number of refugee applications to Brazil from Haiti increased by 600%, and due to this increase, Brazil instituted a new policy in order to accept the increasing number of Haitian applicants (2). The Brazilian embassy in Haiti began to authorize up to 2000 visas per month, a policy that as of 2019, is still in effect. The result of this change in the number of visas granted to Haitians meant that by 2017, there were over 50,000 Haitians living and working in Brazil (3). It is important to note that other South American countries also expanded their approval of visas to Haitians, especially Venezuela, which also became a destination for Haitian refugees and workers.

Economic and labor markets also contributed to the acceptance of Haitian workers to Brazil. In the decade following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Brazil hosted several international sporting events. In order to build stadiums for these contests, Brazil actively encouraged migration into the country, hoping to supplement their domestic labor force with migrant workers. Stories of economic opportunity made their way back to Haiti, which resulted in the continued application for visas through the embassy, but also an uptick in the number of illegal immigrants being smuggled into Brazil, who were then given “Humanitarian visas” by the Brazilian government with the embassy vice-consul stating, “They’re already there, half a world away, and Brazil wouldn’t deny them” (4).

Regardless of whether or not the policy of granting humanitarian visas was for humanitarian reasons, economic ones, or simply because Brazil was in the international public eye as the leader of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, the number of Haitians increased exponentially in the years following the earthquake in 2010. These trends largely explain the reasons behind the significant number of Haitians in Brazil, but the question remains why there are a significant numbers of Haitians recently showing up on the US-Mexican Border.

1 Reginald DesRoches, Mary Comerio, Marc Eberhard, Walter Mooney, and Glenn J. Rix, “Overview of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake.” Earthquake Spectra 27, no. 1_suppl1 (October 2011): 1–21.

2 The State of Environmental Migration 2014: A Review of 2013, eds. François Gemenne, Pauline Brücker, and Dina Ionesco (Paris: IOM and Sciences Po, 2014).

3 Kyilah Terry, “New Hatian migration patterns end in displacement,” published by UCLA Center For India and South Asia and UCLA International Institute, April 17, 2019,

4 Emily Gogolak, “Hatian Migrants Turn Toward Brazil,” The New Yorker, August 20, 2014

Militias in Brazil

Posted in Brazil, Uncategorized on May 16, 2020 by asmit127

By Alexandra Smith

A major force contributing to the level of violence in Brazil are paramilitary groups called “militias,” often composed of former and current police officers, prison guards, and firefighters.[1] Ostensibly formed to combat criminal organizations, these violent groups have assassinated politicians and threaten anyone they believe to be connected to criminal organizations.[2] The militias operate in Brazil’s poorest neighborhoods, where they compete with gangs for control. Their connections to state power are hazy, sometimes facing crackdowns from police, though Brazil’s new far-right president Jair Bolsonaro is a strong supporter of militias.[3] Since the militias currently control even more favelas, a type of informal settlement or shantytown which emerged in Brazil’s major cities, than Brazil’s powerful gangs,[4] they are a likely source of danger for poor Brazilians fleeing violence.

The militia movement emerged in Rio de Janeiro in the 1990s and early 2000s as a reaction to amateur vigilantism and the growth of gangs in favelas and are seen as a positive force by some Brazilians, especially police officers and the upper-middle class.[5][6] The militias are enabled to fight gangs due to this tacit support from sectors of the Brazilian state, who see the militias as allies in the fight against gangs.[7] From their founding to 2019, the militias spread to a dozen of Brazil’s twenty-six states and in rural Brazil they have gained a new role: pushing locals off land sought after by businessmen.[8] Again, while the militia activities in rural Brazil are official denounced by the federal police, President Bolsonaro has made positive comments, suggesting that militias be legalized.[9]

A 2007 NACLA report ahead of the Olympic games in Rio found that militias routinely used force against alleged criminals and their family members.[10] The militias escalate violence with gangs, leading to shoot-outs in favelas, while “abusing residents with impunity.”[11] The militias also act as a business, extracting protection fees from businesses in the favelas they control, or providing services to residents as higher than market costs.[12] Meanwhile, the militia commitment to fighting drug trafficking is waning, with some militias now making deals with gangs and allowing trafficking in their territories.[13]

The political intervention of militias in recent years is not surprising given the support they are receiving from Brazil’s far-right president. In 2018, Marielle Franco, a Rio City Councilor and member of the leftist Socialism and Liberty Party, was assassinated by two former militia members. Franco opposed the level of state violence in favelas and strongly opposed the agenda of the current government. While it is unknown who ordered the assassination, commentators have pointed out the close personal connection between Jair Bolsonaro and both ex-police assassins.[14]

Gangs and traditional police bodies are not the only sources of violence in Brazil’s favelas, as politically motivated and economically motivated violence is often perpetrated by the militias. Many segments of Brazil’s society and state apparatus support the militias due to their stated aim of combatting gangs, but their extrajudicial attacks on favela residents means that they often do as much harm to civilians as they do to gang members. In 2018, a report found that 2 million people lived in Rio favelas controlled by militias, and while definitive numbers do not exist for militia members or areas controlled, they operate across Brazil.

Further Reading

  1. For news updates on militia activities in Brazil, see
  2. For more information on the connection between the Bolsonaro government and the militias, see
  3. For more information on the use of militias by agribusiness to harass small, often indigenous, landowners:
  4. For data and analysis on the high level of police violence in Brazil:


Barbara, Vanessa. “The Rise of the Milicia State.” The New York Times. 10 Apr 2019. Accessed 16 May 2020.

McLeod-Roberts, Luke (2007) Paramilitary Games, NACLA Report on the Americas, 40:4, 20-25, DOI: 10.1080/10714839.2007.11722302

Phillips, Dom. “Lesser Evil”: how Brazil’s militias wield terror to seize power from gangs.” The Guardian. 12 Jul 2018. Accessed 16 May 2020.

[1] Phillips.

[2] Barbara.

[3] Barbara.

[4] Barbara.


[6] McLeod-Roberts, 22.




[10] McLeod-Roberts, 20.

[11] McLeod-Roberts, 23.

[12] McLeod-Roberts, 25.

[13] Phillips.

[14] Barbara.

Contemporary DTOs in Brazil

Posted in Brazil, Uncategorized on May 14, 2020 by asmit127

By Alexandra Smith

Today, gangs like the Red Command and the First Capital Command play major roles in drug trafficking and violent crime in Brazil. However, the context of these organizations is more complex than the narrative often promoted by both Brazilian and international media and governments which centers gangs as the biggest threat to Brazil’s political, economic, and social system. The gangs are a symptom, not a cause, of an unjust, violent economic and social system dating back to Brazil’s dictatorship. Both the CV and PCC emerged from the rampant inequality in Brazil, as well as its inhumane prison system. Police violence and militias significantly contribute to the level of violence in Brazil. Further, the CV and PCC are able to exert social control in favelas, a type of informal settlement or shantytown which emerged in Brazil’s major cities, in part because they provide services and job opportunities to the poorest Brazilians often ignored by the state. Further, the government policy of considering areas where gangs operate as “rebel space” which needs to be “reconquered” contributes significantly to the level of violence.[1]

Red Command (CV) was one of the first gangs to develop in Brazil’s prison system, through an alliance between leftist guerillas and criminals.[2] Red Command was founded in 1979 and has been active in Brazil since then, rooted in the prison system but connected to organized crime across the country.[3] The group began in Rio’s state jails, but when the Brazil’s dictatorship (1964-1985) attempted to break up the gang by sending leaders to jails in distant states; they simply set up new chapters wherever they were sent.[4] The Red Command worked with Colombian cartels in the 80s to distribute cocaine and gained control of many of Rio de Janeiro’s poorest neighborhoods.[5] Within these neighborhoods, they even became a source of employment and set up parallel systems of government.[6]

Red Command is strongest in Rio de Janeiro, where “it was thought to control more than half of Rio de Janeiro’s most violent areas, though this fell to under 40 percent by 2008,” but the group is thought to be declining. In 2016 the group’s alliance with the PCC broke down, leading to outbursts of violence, especially in prisons.[7] Red Command worked with the Family of the North, based in Manaus, from 2015 to 2018.

First Capital Command (PCC) emerged in 1993 in the Taubate prison in Sao Paolo when they assassinated rival criminals following a football tournament.[8] PCC offered its members protection in the form of unity, as well as legal aid, and became an effective gang within the Sao Paolo prison system.[9] Beginning as a group which sustained itself through dues rather than organized crime, the PCC grew quickly while the government denied its existence.[10] The PCC gained prominence through simultaneous seizures of hostages in prisons, such as an instance in 2001 when they took control of 29 prisons and took 10,000 hostages.[11] The PCC has been able to intervene in Brazil’s political system to ensure the election of candidates it views favorably, and a truce between the PCC and the government led to a 46% drop in Sao Paolo’s homicide rate.[12]

During the last decade, the PCC has been involved in drug trafficking operations, money laundering, and engages in violent armed robberies.[13] The PCC has led prison riots in their fight against the RV beginning in 2016, resulting in hundreds of deaths, while operating in Uruguay, Bolivia, and attempting to recruit former Colombian leftist guerilla fighters.[14] The PCC has not only contributed to violence in Sao Paolo and the RV’s home state of Rio, but also in Northern Brazil, where allies of the two groups compete for control over prisons. PCC allies include the Guardians of the State in the northern territories of Brazil and the Friend of Friends in Rio de Janeiro.[15]

Further Reading

  1. For more information, background, and news on the Red Command, see:
  2. For more information, background, and news on First Capital Command, see:
  3. For regional homicide statistics, see:
  4. For more detailed statistics and maps on crime in Brazil (the website has English, Portuguese, and Spanish options):


ARIAS, ENRIQUE DESMOND. “Gang Politics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.” In Global Gangs: Street Violence across the World, edited by Hazen Jennifer M. and Rodgers Dennis, by Venkatesh Sudhir, 237-54. University of Minnesota Press, 2014. Accessed April 25, 2020.

Coutinho, Leonardo. “The Evolution of the Most Lethal Criminal Organization in Brazil—the PCC.” PRISM 8, no. 1 (2019): 56-67. Accessed April 25, 2020.

Grillo, Ioan. Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America. New York: Bloomsbury Press (2016).

[1] Arias, 251.

[2] Grillo 42.

[3] Grillo 59.

[4] Grillo 93.




[8] Coutinho, 57.

[9] Coutinho, 57-8.

[10] Coutinho, 58.

[11] Coutinho, 58.

[12] Coutinho, 61.




Historical Background on Drugs in Brazil

Posted in Brazil, Uncategorized on May 14, 2020 by asmit127

By Alexandra Smith

The high murder rate which exists in Brazil’s poorest communities today is a result of long term economic and social developments dating back to the 1950s in Brazil. First, high levels of economic inequality and urban poverty in Brazil led to migration to the cities and the formation of favelas. Second, the repressive military regime in Brazil imprisoned large numbers of dissidents and criminals, who were forced to form gangs to protect themselves from atrocious prison conditions. Third, Brazil became an important transit point for drugs produced in other parts of South America destined for the United States and Europe.

The growth of narcotrafficking and gangs in Brazil is connected to the growth of favelas, a type of informal settlement or shantytown which emerged in Brazil’s major cities beginning in the 1950s.[1] Favelas grew due to migration from rural areas to cities and the lack of adequate housing available for poor migrants. Favelas became politically organized in the 1960s, relying on clientelist connections to gain resources for favela residents, but the breakdown of these connections after the fall of military rule in 80s created a power vacuum.[2] From 1964-1985, Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship, which heightened social issues and poverty. Today, the favelas are the main area in which organized crime operates, due to the lack of state presence in the slums.[3] The organized crime organizations have “recruited thousands into their ranks, provide a certain social control, and even pave streets,” while operating as part of the drug trade.[4]

However, the origins of the organizations which today operate in the favelas come from the country’s prisons. Brazil’s military dictatorship, decided to keep communist guerillas and violent criminals in the same prisons.[5] Instead of fighting, the two groups worked together to form a prison gang called the Red Command in the early 1970s, which initially professed a leftist ideology, but soon became focused entirely on organized crime.[6] The gangs spread onto Brazil’s streets from the 1970s to 1990s.[7]

While organized crime in Brazil originated with a focus on gambling, or the so called “animal game,” international trends in organized crime drove gangs to participate in the more profitable drug trade.[8] In the 1980s, Andean cocaine traffickers were looking for new routes to send their drugs to developed markets and began shipping narcotics through Brazil with the tacit or active support of some elements of the state’s security forces,” coinciding with an increase in violence.[9] Colombian cartels in particular worked in Brazil on cocaine production, including building laboratories in the country.[10] Brazil is also targeting by international drug trafficking organizations because Brazil itself has a high demand for drugs, which makes it different than other Latin American countries which are simply areas drugs are trafficked through.

The result of these developments is a high rate of crime in Brazil concentrated in the poorest neighborhoods. Militarized crackdowns by authorities and conflicts between rival gangs keep violence levels high, while an opportunity for income provides incentives to join groups like the Red Command.


[2] Arias, 239.


[4] Grillo, 37.

[5] Grillo, 42.

[6] Grillo, 43.



[9] Arias, 239.


Further Reading

  1. For a longer, but still accessible summary of Brazil’s criminal history:
  2. For more information on Brazil’s brutal military dictatorship and its approach to issues other than Drug Trafficking:
  3. For more historical background, and information on drug routes and use and Brazil:


ARIAS, ENRIQUE DESMOND. “Gang Politics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.” In Global Gangs: Street Violence across the World, edited by Hazen Jennifer M. and Rodgers Dennis, by Venkatesh Sudhir, 237-54. University of Minnesota Press, 2014. Accessed April 25, 2020.

Grillo, Ioan. Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America. New York: Bloomsbury Press (2016).

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