By Gabriel Stargardter
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – The number of homicides in Brazil, which hit a world record in 2017, has continued to fall in the first three months of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s term, according to preliminary state crime data compiled by Reuters.
Between January and March, there were 5,711 murders in 11 of Brazil’s 26 states and the federal district around Brasilia, down 27 percent from 7,783 homicides in the first quarter of 2018.
The decline in murders is a boost for Bolsonaro but cannot be attributed to him, said Robert Muggah, research director of the Igarape Institute, a Brazil-based think tank.
Homicides have been falling since a 2017 peak, when nearly 64,000 people were murdered as gang wars raged across the country. State data compiled by news website G1 showed the number of murders in 2018 fell 13 percent from the previous year. It said on Thursday that murders fell about a quarter in the first two months of 2019.
“There is no evidence that (Bolsonaro’s) administration has had anything to do with improvements,” said Muggah. “To the contrary, there are signs that certain forms of violence, not least police-related killings, may have increased since the election.”
In Rio de Janeiro state, which Bolsonaro represented as a federal congressman for nearly three decades, the number of people killed in confrontations with security officials rose 18 percent to 434 in the first three months of this year.
Nonetheless, the partial data provides a boost for the president. Elected on vows to end years of rising violence and corruption, the former army captain’s early poll numbers have fallen amid struggles to impose discipline within his government and gain traction for his legislative agenda in Congress.
In an Instagram post on Thursday, he cheered the decline in murders, which he said came “despite the terror spread by some people that there would be an imminent explosion of violence after my election victory.”
The data compiled by Reuters is only partial, as timely public crime statistics are inconsistent between states. Still, the states counted by Reuters, including three of Brazil’s four most populous — Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais and Bahia — encompass about half the country’s roughly 210 million people.
Sao Paulo, the country’s most populous state, has not reported March data, but murders fell 3.4 percent in the first two months of the year.
Muggah attributed the decline to three factors: the growing nationwide dominance of the First Capital Command gang, better state policing methods and a potential “chilling effect” of federal security deployments to the most violent states.
On taking office, Bolsonaro immediately sent federal forces to the violent northern state of Ceará, while federal forces supported security efforts in Rio de Janeiro for much of 2018.
(Additional reporting by Pedro Fonseca; Editing by Dan Grebler)