eight months of research, 123 murders were committed in the
state of Maranhão, the greatest number occurring in the month
of May and the lowest incidence in August, with an average of
15.37 homicides per month.
Most victims were males (88.94%) between 20 and 30
years of age (46.9%).
A New Maranhão, Without
Violence, Is Possible
Sunday, the weekend. In
other words, sun, sand, song, and cold beer on the “Island
The Island of Love?
Not exactly. Peace and tranquility are no longer part of the social life
of people in Maranhão the way they were in earlier times when
it was possible to safely come and go from parties and playing
music into the early morning.
to an inquiry conducted by the Sociedade
Maranhense de Direitos Humanos (the Maranhão Society for
76.9% of the murders in Maranhão reported in the press occur
in the coastal capital city of São Luís, on the weekends
(53.62%), with 37.08% occurring during the early morning hours
and 30.37% at night. The most frequent location for homicides is on public streets
(50.33%), followed by the victim’s residence (14.26%).
Knives and switchblades are the most common murder
weapons (48.41%), while another 42.02% of murders are
committed with guns.
eight months of research, a total of 123 murders were
committed, the greatest number occurring in the month of May
and the lowest incidence in August, with an average of 15.37
homicides per month. Most
victims were males (88.94%) between 20 and 30 years of age
(46.96%). In the
month of February there was a greater incidence of children
below 10 years of age among the victims (16.67%), while the
number of victims over 50 years of age reached 4.46%.
Another notable fact regarding the profile of murder
victims in Maranhão is related to illicit acts – 14% of the
victims had been involved in previous illicit acts.
Also among the victims were those who were unemployed,
merchants, students, and police officers.
regard to the perpetrators, all of the homicides reported in
the two newspapers over the course of eight months were
committed by males. In half of the cases, the newspapers did not provide the age
of the perpetrator, while in the cases in which they were
identified a significant proportion were between the ages of
20 and 30 (28.46%). 29%
of the perpetrators were involved in illicit acts, 9.23% were
partners or ex-partners of the victims, 8.57% were relatives
or people who were close to the victim (colleagues), and 4.16%
were police officers. Additionally,
6.99% of the perpetrators were involved with gangs.
of the homicides were attributed to the settling of scores
(27.38%), including retaliatory resolution of conflicts, but
excluding murders to settle scores between gangs, which
accounted for 9.70%. The
second most common motive involved criminal activities,
especially hold-ups or robberies (16.42%).
Victims defending themselves against criminal acts
accounted for 6.01% of murders, and jealousy accounted for
of the data reveals how vulnerable the population is at night
and during the early morning hours, times when most of the
city’s cultural and entertainment activities take place.
There is also a marked attempt on the part of the
population to resolve crimes themselves, including settling
scores. This may
be related to a lack of access to justice and a lack of trust
in the police and the efficiency of institutions to solve and
punish conflicts, which feed a culture of violence and the
devaluation of life.
the victims and the killers are mostly young men who are poor
and involved in criminality.
They tend to be active in gangs, groups of poor youths
from the socially excluded neighborhoods of greater São Luís
who are denied human rights and citizenship, and for whom
liberty, equality, and justice are meaningless words. This research has shown that the world of crime and gang
activity has set a fast pace of self-destruction creating a
continual cycle of violence that cuts lives short.
To overcome this destructive cycle, this hard reality
must be faced; state institutions must be restructured to
completely invert the current priorities by making human
dignity, quality of life, and institutional integrity the
central organizing principles.
is the challenge. It
is necessary to implement public policies that promote,
protect, and reinstate the human rights that have been
violated, that make it possible for the poor populations from
both the rural areas and the cities to have homes, clean
water, sewage treatment, garbage collection, as well as
adequate income and education and a healthy environment, and
that invert the relationship of land ownership and income
is only by changing the dramatic economic and social
inequalities that the indices of violence and criminality will
also be reversed.
new Maranhão is possible through the creation of a new
standard of conduct, one in which relations are founded on the
principles of solidarity and citizenship, breaking the cycle
of fear, impunity, and retributive conflict resolution,
thereby reestablishing trust in institutions and opening up
a transformation is possible because criminality is a social
phenomenon caused by social exclusion, discrimination,
corruption, and impunity.
Therefore, the situation can be overcome, and this
recuperation will be a victory for those who strive for human
rights and citizenship.
Gamba is a lawyer for the Sociedade
Maranhense de Direitos Humanos (Maranhão Society for
Human Rights) and the Organization and Projects
Coordinator for the Movimento
Nacional de Direitos Humanos (MNDH, the National
Movement for Human Rights).
The city of São Luís is located on an island, and is
promoted as “the Island of Love.” – Transl.
The data presented here are drawn from news reports
published between January and August of 2004 in two large
newspapers in the state, O
Imparcial and the Jornal Pequeno. The Sociedade
Maranhense de Direitos Humanos is part of the Banco
de Dados sobre Violência Criminalizada (Databank on
Criminal Violence) developed by the Movimento
Nacional de Direitos Humanos (MNDH, the National
Movement for Human Rights) and organized at the state
level by agencies affiliated with the MNDH network.