By James Davenport
So a 17 year-old British tourist in Brazil has been murdered, dismembered, and the limbs and head disposed of separately to the torso. Police have the torso, still looking for the rest, though they have a 20 year-old man who has apparently confessed to killing her.
Brazil is the most violent country in the world. The surprise is not that a British tourist has, tragically, been murdered, but that it occurred far from Rio or Sao Paulo.
Few British tourists stray from these two cities, which coincidentally are the most violent of them all. But every city in Brazil, even Brasilia (though a long way out of the city) has favelas. These slum areas are marked by the most extraordinary poverty, the people living in wood and tin shelters packed tightly together. Mostly roads do not exist, people making their way between the buildings across wooden walkways over open sewers and drains. You've not seen poverty until you've seen it Brazilian-style.
So it's not entirely surprising that there is a massive level of crime. The favelas themselves are to a great extent no-go areas for the police, who instead largely pursue a policy of containment.
Although many of Brazil's criminals live in the favelas, it is certainly not the case that criminals (or crime) are limited to them. You can, if you are not careful and do not seek local advice, quite easily find yourself the victim of a mugging or worse. The greatest danger is not having cash in your bank account. Frequently a victim will be marched to the cashpoint and ordered to empty their account. If they can't or won't, they are simply shot.
Brazil does not have the death penalty, although the number of extra-judicial executions by the police are almost enough to worry the great man Donal Blaney. Arguably, however, Brazil has a far more frightening deterrent - it's prisons. They really are as bad as the portrayal in the 2003 film Carandiru, an account of the events and conditions in the prison of the same name leading up to the infamous 1992 massacre.
Having seen a Brazilian prison (from the outside, I hasten to add), I can vouch for the realism. Indeed that film was shot in the prison itself, shortly before it was demolished.
Yet crime remains at an incalculable level. Murder, violence and robbery are everywhere. It seems even the concentration camp conditions of Brasil's prisons do not deter.
So what to do about the terrible level of (mostly violent) crime in Brazil? How can this most wonderful of (partly) tropical paradise be rescued from endemic crime?
It seems to me that the answer lies in Brazil's greatest resource: the Amazon rainforest. There has been much talk of the developed world paying the developing countries with rainforest to preserve them. The argument is that, since the rainforest is an environmental resource for the whole world, the whole world must contribute to its preservation. The very poor nations on whose territories the rainforests are located cannot reasonably be expected to forgo the economic benefits of exploiting the resources that the rainforests hold, without compensation for doing so. This could be done by diverting the mostly wasted existing aid budgets, and I believe is a reasonable demand.
In Brazil, as in the other rainforest states, the funds could be used to do something dramatic: invest in the country's poorest. The funds could be used to build decent housing, with roads, sewers, fresh water and legitimate electricity connections. After this capital investment the continuing flow of funds could, combined with an expansion in open markets*, provide the kick-start to Brazil's economy that it needs to lift its people out of poverty. A hand up, not a hand out, to coin a phrase.
I must declare an interest here. My partner is Brazilian and Brazil has a very special place in my heart. I love the country and its people. It is a place where, despite astonishing poverty, a guest is made almost embarassingly welcome. Brazilians know how to live - their food, music, parties and hospitality are second to none. Having travelled into the Amazon, up the great river itself, I can speak for the beauty of the land and the greatness of its people.
Brazil is a nation of monumental contrast - the beauty of its environment and its people, against the ugliness of its crime and its poverty. By investing in the future of the human race and of our planet itself, we can at the same time give this most wonderful of nations the means to fulfil it's potential.
*Sadly the lastest WTO talks have collapsed. Maybe one day our politicians will see sense.