More than ever, security is a top concern among international travelers.

Sample Safety Profile

4th Quarter 2007 | Air Security International |  Rio de Janeiro,  Brazil
Security Brief for: Brazil
Focus on: Rio de Janeiro
Country |City |Security Situation |Crime |Kidnapping and Carjacking |Drug trafficking |Demonstrations |Police |Airport |Hotels |Ground Transportation |Fire Safety |Communications |Cultural Tips |Serving Airlines

Risk Status:   Medium  (Brazil)
Crime Threat:   High  (Rio de Janeiro)


The most influential country in the region, Brazil covers almost half the continent of South America and borders every South American country except for Chile and Ecuador. Brazil is rich in natural resources, most notably the vast rainforests of the Amazon River basin. These resources and the land they lie on or under, however, are controlled almost exclusively by a very small percentage of the people. With 35 million people living in poverty, the gap between rich and poor in Brazil is one of the world's greatest and is a constant source of tension.

President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva has succeeded in improving the living conditions of many Brazilians, which is why his popularity rate has remained fairly high throughout his past and current administrations. His government, however, has been plagued by a series of corruption scandals that have involved key members of his Cabinet and the Workers' Party (PT), his political party.

A key issue the current administration has to face is the fact that even though the economy is improving, the unequal distribution of wealth continues to affect Brazilian living standards, while crime, racism, corruption and poverty continue to be rampant despite the efforts to control these issues. On the other hand, business and labor unions, which are demanding more government intervention in the economy, are continuously going on strike and demanding pay hikes. This situation is not likely to improve in the short-term and will continue to affect security conditions throughout the country in the foreseeable future.

The Pan American Games will be held in Rio de Janeiro between 13 and 29 July 2007. Delegations and journalists are expected to remain in the city between 5 and 30 July. Those scheduled to visit the city during the month of July should make hotel reservations well in advance, as hotel rooms are being booked for the athletes attending the games, as well as by many companies, should their executives need them.

Rio de Janeiro is known for its large industrial and financial sectors as well as for its fine beaches and exciting nightlife, especially in the Copacabana and Ipanema neighborhoods. The city also has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest crime rates in the world, which is attributable to high rates of unemployment and poverty.

Rio is laid out in districts. From north to south the main districts are: Centro (the central business district), Lapa, Gloria, Catete, Flamengo, Botafogo, Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon and Gavea. These districts lie between the hills and the ocean; the shantytowns climb the hillsides that dot the city.

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Security Situation
The principal security concerns in Rio are crime, express kidnappings, drug trafficking, police corruption and demonstrations.

Crime is a serious problem in Rio, and caution is advised in all areas of the city. Most violent crime occurs in the North Zone and in hillside shantytowns, while more affluent and tourist areas in the south suffer mainly from petty crime.

Petty crime throughout Rio is a serious concern and the number of incidents continues to be on the rise despite police efforts. At times, petty thieves are quite brazen and will not hesitate to use force if a victim shows any resistance during a robbery. Criminals are often armed with knives or guns. Petty thieves frequently target foreigners and tourists are frequently referred to as "filet mignon" for the ease with which they are robbed. To reduce the risk of becoming a victim, visitors should avoid giving the appearance of a lucrative target to local criminals. Travelers should minimize outward signs of wealth (like watches and other types of jewelry), walk in groups whenever possible, and avoid isolated areas. Caution is advised near hotels, at beaches and other sites frequented by tourists particularly at night, although many incidents occur in broad daylight.

Kidnapping and Carjacking
Kidnapping for ransom is a relevant concern in the city. The primary targets are wealthy Brazilians, although several longtime foreign residents and joint venture partners have also been kidnapped. Family members of businessmen, government officials, and sports celebrities are also targets. Multinational personnel are usually secondary targets for kidnappers, and usually only those who leave themselves in a vulnerable position are abducted. Foreign tourists are generally not kidnapping targets. Most victims are taken when leaving work or home on workdays, with fewer kidnappings occurring on the weekends. Most kidnappings go unreported to police for fear of retaliation. The abductors are usually well organized and well armed; they typically employ paramilitary methods to abduct their victims.

Express kidnappings, in which criminals force the victim to withdraw money from several ATMs, are prevalent, with more than 100 cases reported each month. Some victims have been killed after their bank accounts have been emptied. Carjackings and robberies of individuals in cars are also common in Rio. These attacks frequently occur at stoplights. Visitors are advised to keep doors locked and windows rolled up in vehicles at all times. This technique, however, does not always dissuade robbers; gunmen sometimes place their guns to the glass to force the driver to roll down the windows. Wealthy-looking individuals stuck in traffic or at red lights, especially after dark, are particularly targeted.

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Drug trafficking
Drug-related violence is a significant concern in Rio. Drug lords dominate favelas in Rio, and their influence is spreading to the entire city. All areas of Rio (including Ipanema and Copacabana) have obeyed drug lord orders to close their doors for business, and crime sprees have resulted in shootings and low-power bombings of buildings in even the wealthiest areas of the city. Poverty, corruption, inadequate law enforcement, lack of drug-fighting equipment, fewer border and customs searches due to the Mercosur trade pact, and a weak judicial system all contribute to the booming drug business. Shantytowns continue to be the site of an ongoing war between traffickers and military/civilian police.

Drug traffickers are increasingly turning violent and using powerful weapons to carry out their attacks, which can be often compared to acts of domestic terrorism. Main avenues in Rio de Janeiro have been closed several times during shootouts between drug-traffickers and security forces, including Linha Vermelha, the road connecting Rio with the airport.

Strikes and demonstrations are common in Rio de Janeiro, although they are usually small. Protests by transportation providers, called "perueiros" are common, and have led to several confrontations with policemen. Usually, strikes and protests are announced in advance, making it imperative that visitors keep abreast of local developments and avoid places where such activity is taking place. It is also advisable to plan alternate routes when traveling somewhere.

The police department in Rio has had a reputation for corruption and violence for many years. The Civil Police, Military Police and the Tourist Police make up the three law enforcement branches in Rio. Rio's police forces are inadequately funded and are characterized by slow response times. In order to enforce police control, police officers will not hesitate to use firearms against criminals, who often shoot back, even though the streets might be filled with pedestrians. When this occurs, it is often hard to find shelter because most shops and stores immediately shut down until the shoot out ends. This situation poses a threat for visitors who could potentially be trapped in the crossfire.

Despite the apparent success of the Tourist Police, it is still advised to avoid contact with the Rio police force to minimize the possibility of extortion. Most officers do not speak English.

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Antonio Carlos Jobim, also known as Galeao International Airport, is located 15 mi/24 km north of downtown Rio. Taxis, the subway, limousines, airport shuttles and helicopters are available for transport to the Centro and the wealthier southern suburbs. If using a taxi, use the taxis at the prepaid taxi booth and avoid the taxis waiting right outside the baggage claim area. Taxi drivers most of the time speak only Portuguese and accept local currency. Some drivers overcharge passengers, which can be avoided by pre-arranging the fare or by asking the driver to use the meter. Travelers should keep in mind that the roads leading to and from the airport are extremely dangerous; therefore, flights should be scheduled to arrive or depart during daylight hours whenever possible.

Depending on the on-duty immigration officer, U.S. citizens entering Brazil will be fingerprinted and photographed at the airport. These measures were implemented in response to US VIST, a U.S. law enacted in 2004 that requires the majority of foreign visitors entering the United States to be fingerprinted and photographed.

Caesar Park Ipanema, Excelsior, J.W. Marriott, Copacabana Palace Hotel, Le Meridien.

Ground Transportation
There are concerns with all forms of ground transportation in Rio due to extremely heavy traffic and the threat of carjacking and robbery of motorists. The subway, which runs north of Botafogo, is clean, efficient and a better alternative than walking between close destinations in the Centro, but shootouts have occurred at subway stations. Visitors should only employ prearranged transportation through a reputable source. Reputable taxi companies include Transcopass, Cotramo, Copatur and Aerocop.

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Fire Safety
Select a hotel room between the second and seventh floors, as a higher floor may be out of reach of fire equipment. In case of fire, do not use the elevators. Be able to find the fire escapes in the dark.

Urban telephone service is adequate. Public pay phones are not operated by coins but by phone cards (cartoes telefonicas), which can be bought at street kiosks. Numerous public phones, however, do not work due to vandalism. To reach an English-speaking international operator, dial 000111. The national operator is accessible at (area code) + 121; local assistance can be obtained by dialing 102. To make collect international calls, dial 107 + ask for operator, or dial 000107.

Cultural Tips
Brazilian culture is recognized for being vibrant and outgoing. In social and familiar situations, women are customarily greeted by friends and family with an embrace and kiss on alternating cheeks. Men greet one another with a handshake and a pat on the back. The "thumbs up" sign is used to show approval; the U.S. "OK" sign, with the thumb and index finger forming a circle, is an offensive gesture. When walking on the street, it is common for men to whistle or call out to women. In general, this behavior is harmless and is best ignored. For informal meetings or with close friends, it is generally acceptable and often expected to arrive late. By the same token, one can expect to stay later than planned. Brazilians are extremely cordial, and casual discussion is a very important means of socializing. Brazilians begin using first names fairly quickly. Conversational space is closer in Brazil than in some other countries. In addition, a Brazilian conversationalist may rest a hand lightly on a listener's forearm. Even during business meetings, there is an amount of physical contact that might surprise foreign visitors. Brazilian men enjoy vigorous conversation, speaking quickly and expressively and interrupting frequently. Eye contact is important. Patting people on the shoulder is a sign of friendship. Travelers should be prepared for frank personal comments, e.g., "You're really fat." These are not intended as insults or harassment. In addition, travelers should be prepared for people to use epithets that exaggerate personal traits. Business dress is elegant and conservative. Suits are normally worn to business meetings. Nice casual attire is also worn, and many Brazilians are fashion conscious. Appearance is very important and often will determine the way an individual is perceived and treated. Avoid wearing athletic shoes or sandals with socks; these identify travelers as foreigners, inviting robbery. Travelers should also avoid wearing yellow and green together; these are the colors of the flag, and look silly to Brazilians, as they only wear these colors during the Soccer World Cup. Clean, pressed denim jeans are common informal wear. Brazilians favor natural fabrics, which are cooler in the heat. Business entertaining usually takes place in restaurants rather than in homes. For the most part, Brazilians do not eat anything with their hands. Even when eating a burger and fries, most people use a fork and knife, or at least a napkin to handle their food. Along the same lines, Brazilians do not drink directly from glass bottles, as they are perceived to be dirty. Public restrooms usually charge an entrance fee. Used tissue is discarded in a basket, as water pressure is very low.

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Serving Airlines
Aerolíneas Argentinas, Air France, American Airlines, Avianca, BRA, British Airways, Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, Gol, Iberia, Lan Airlines, Pluna, TAAG, TAM, TAP, United Airlines, Varig, Webjet.

4th Quarter 2007