Tropic of violence | By Tommaso Protti
Violence has become a familiar facet of Brazil’s identity, a tragic routine that affects all layers of Latin America’s biggest country. According to the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime, Brazil is the country with the most homicides in the world, registering almost 50,000 in 2020, and some of its cities have homicide rates similar to those found in civil wars. As in other parts of Southern and Central America, a large part of this violence and criminality can be linked to organized crime groups participating in drug trafficking. The murder victims are frequently young black men from poor urban areas who are constantly recruited by drug gangs. At the same time, the Brazilian military police, the principal law enforcement units dealing with gangs, has one of the highest fatality rates in the world. But this violence can be found in all social, races, genders and ages layers of Brazilian society.
MANAUS, BRAZIL – APRIL 14, 2019: Young gang members of A Família do Norte – The Northern Family or FDN –pose for pictures with drugs and weapons in Manaus. The Northern Family is considered the strongest gang in Amazonas state. It controls local drug sales, trafficking routes and prisons. The gang formed in 2006 to ward off the advance of criminal gangs from Brazil’s south. In 2017, leaders commanded a bloody Manaus prison uprising when 56 people were killed; many beheaded, gutted or burned. In 2019, at least 40 prisoners were killed in an internal gang dispute.
BELEM, BRAZIL – MAY 23, 2015: Relatives of inmates detained inside the Cremacao police imprisonment facility in Belem, the capital of Pará state. The people above react after hearing the gun shots of a special operations police squad, who fired their weapons while suppressing a revolt inside the prison. The rebellion started due to the conditions of overcrowding inside the cells: 212 inmates shared a space designed for 92 people.
MANAUS, BRAZIL – APRIL 18, 2019: Young gang members of A Família do Norte – The Northern Family or FDN –pose for pictures with drugs and weapons in Manaus. The Northern Family is considered the strongest gang in Amazonas state. It controls local drug sales, trafficking routes and prisons. The gang formed in 2006 to ward off the advance of criminal gangs from Brazil’s south. In 2017, leaders commanded a bloody Manaus prison uprising when 56 people were killed; many beheaded, gutted or burned. In 2019, at least 40 prisoners were killed in an internal gang dispute.
Members of the Brazilian Military Police special unit, Choque, advance to repress an anti-governative protest in Sao Paulo. Nationwide, killings by police rose 6 percent in the first half of 2020, according to official data compiled by the nonprofit Brazilian Forum of Public Security. In 2019, police killed 6,357 people. Almost 80 percent of them were Black.
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – MAY 14, 2020: Residents of the São Paulo favela Vale das Virtudes waited to receive food from the Treino na Laje charity organization on Friday.
It is a complex behavioral phenomenon of aggressiveness that dates back to the historical bases of the country that it is oppressed by extreme levels of poverty. In fact, Brazil remains one of the most unequal countries in the world. Intense and rapid urbanization led to unplanned and haphazard expansions of cities, creating vulnerable areas lacking basic infrastructure, public goods, or an effective presence of the state. These favelas and periferias are epicenters of violence, with the highest numbers of homicides and other violent crimes in the country. This ongoing work documents violence around Brazil, focusing on its northern and northeastern regions where a culture of violence born through impunity, weak state institutions and centuries of savage inequality, exacerbated by drug trafficking networks, have expanded greatly throughout these places in recent years. While most commonly known in popular culture for beaches, carnival, samba and football, Brazil remains one of world’s most violent countries, a tropical paradise of blood and sorrow.
BELEM, BRAZIL – NOVEMBER 24, 2018: Crack addicts occupy an abandoned public housing lot in Vila da Barca, Belém, the Brazilian Amazon’s second biggest city and capital of Pará state. Use of crack and other cheap, smoked cocaine derivatives has exploded in the Amazon states in the last decade. Addicts often stay awake for days at a time smoking. While rocks of crack often sell for as little as US$1, addicts regularly rack up large debts with dealers. Those that don’t pay are murdered.
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – SEPTEMBER 22, 2020: Cristina Pereira, unemployed, lives in an improvised shelter under the bridge in dowtown Sao Paulo with her husband and two sons. The pandemic worsened her chances of finding work.
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – DECEMBER 15, 2020: Unable to attend school because of Covid-19, two children watch tv in a shack located inside Ocupacao Anchieta, a squatted community in southern Sao Paulo.
Moises Reis dos Santos (24), a hit man for a gang in the northeastern Brazilian town of Mata de São João, Bahia state, in police custody on suspicion of at least two murders.
The Brazilian tv reporter Marcelo Rezende, known as Águia Dourada, at the crime scene of an homicide in Fortaleza, capital of northeastern Ceará state. Analysts attribute the rise in violence in the region a culture of violence born through impunity, weak state institutions and centuries of savage inequality, exacerbated by drug trafficking networks which have expanded greatly throughout the North East region in recent years.
MANAUS, BRAZIL – APRIL 18, 2019: Homicide victim in Manaus, who had recently been released from jail, wears an electronic ankle tag. He was shot close to his home. With a population of just over two million, the city regularly has upwards of five murders a day. According to local security officials, the majority of murders in the city are connected to the drug trade. Victims are overwhelmingly young men of colour with little schooling from poor neighbourhoods killed with small firearms sold on the local black-market.
Tommaso Protti is an Italian photographer based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He started his photographic career in 2011 after graduating in Political Science and International Relations in Rome. Since then, he has devoted himself to photography and journalism focusing on themes of conflict, violence, environment and inequality. He received awards from the Carmignac Photojournalism Award, Picture of the Year International and the Getty Images Reportage Grant. His work was published by The New Yorker, The New York Times, Time Magazine, National Geographic, Washington Post, Geo Magazine, Newsweek, Internazionale, Der Spiegel, The Guardian, and other publications. He is a regular contributor for The Wall Street Journal and Le Monde.
Selection by Managing Editor Alejandra Martinez Moreno