Glamorous and so dependent on tourism, Rio de Janeiro is also among those cities of the world with a serious homelessness problem. The difference between Rio and most other urban centers is that sometimes the city's state-run military police deal with the homeless by shooting them dead.
According to eyewitnesses, hooded policemen did just that to seven homeless children in Rio last week. Police death squad attacks on youngsters is not unusual; what is unusual is that this time three officers were arrested. The executioners no doubt believed that nothing would happen to them. After all, 4,611 children were killed in Brazil from 1988 through 1990; on average, about two are now murdered each day.
In Rio the typical victims are uneducated black or mulatto adolescents who survive through begging or petty theft. They sleep in the doorways of downtown stores.
Some frustrated merchants and residents hire off-duty policemen to exterminate the street children. Most often, the youngsters are kidnaped and then shot on the outskirts. But this time the overconfident thugs massacred five kids outright in the heart of the city and then killed two more after hunting them down like animals in a chase through the streets.
This gruesome insanity must stop at once. The Brazilian authorities must find and convict both the executioners and those who pay them for their crimes. Moreover, these merchants and their hit men must understand that, in our global village, their barbaric acts do not pass unnoticed. The whole world is watching.
Before long, Brazil will begin to feel the pressure. How many people will want to spend money in a country where such atrocities have become a daily occurrence--and, worse yet, often go unpunished?
The number of troubled children in Brazil is appalling: some studies estimate that 30 million now survive on less than $1 a day and more than 4 million do not attend school. Government and private agencies must address the issue of their welfare, education and security. Concerned Rio business people ought to spend their money not on hit men but on helping these poor kids escape the streets.