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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 September 2006, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Crime concerns of Brazil's voters
As part of his series on President Lula's Brazil ahead of the 1 October presidential elections, the BBC's Steve Kingstone talks to Sao Paulo residents to see how crime is affecting their lives.

Firefighters spray a burned out bus in Sao Paulo
A wave of violence gripped Sao Paulo in July
The queue forms early at Bourbon Street. A doorman checks guests' names against a list, while a squadron of eager valets parks their cars.

Inside, a renowned American saxophonist is the headline act. The whisky is flowing for up to $400 (210) a bottle.

The smart crowd at this respected music venue is mostly young and mostly white. Many guests have come straight from work. This is upmarket, successful Sao Paulo - these are the kind of people who worry about crime.

"We are living through a very dangerous situation and we're all a bit fearful," explains Andre, a 35-year-old events producer.

"For example, if I go on a date and have to wait for the girl on the street in my car, I feel that something will happen. It's not a good feeling."

When the traffic light is red I never come to a complete stop
Thais, 29, says she keeps her car windows closed and is wary of anyone who comes near the vehicle.

"When the traffic light is red I never come to a complete stop. Instead, I brake early and keep moving slowly until the light changes."

For millions of residents in this sprawling metropolis the rhythm of daily life is dictated by worries about security. They drive cars with blacked-out windows, and live in secure apartment blocks behind iron gates topped off with electric wire.

The very rich send their children to school in bullet proof cars, and one elite school has even begun electronically fingerprinting its students.

Police grievances

"Along with unemployment, public security is the most important issue in this election," explains Denis Mizne of the human rights organisation Sou da Paz.

It's kids of 12 and 13 who've been killing our colleagues
Paramilitary police officer
"Brazilians, especially the middle-classes, feel the government hasn't done enough to protect them," he says.

"So the most popular solutions at election time are the ones that show blood. Tougher policing, longer sentences for offenders - the classic right wing package for dealing with crime."

Statistically, violent crime in Sao Paulo is falling. State-wide, there were 7,276 murders in 2005, a drop of nearly a fifth on 2004. The number of rapes and armed robberies are also down.

But what changed everything in 2006 was the wave of devastating attacks by the First Command of the Capital (PCC), an organised crime network controlled from within Sao Paulo's jails.

In May, it bombed banks, torched buses and targeted the police, who responded with firepower of their own. Together with follow-up PCC attacks in July and August, the violence claimed nearly 200 lives.

Security cameras
Security is a priority for those who can afford it
"I've never known organised crime on this scale," says a 21-year career veteran of Sao Paulo's paramilitary police, who prefers not to be identified.

"This thing got bigger than anyone expected, and the police are still extremely vulnerable," he explains. "The PCC even mock us by giving advance warning of their attacks. They're having a laugh."

The police complain that Brazilian law provides near impunity to the PCC's teenage foot soldiers, who only assume full criminal responsibility for their actions when they turn 18.

"We arrest them, and the justice system lets them go," sighs the officer. "It's kids of 12 and 13 who've been killing our colleagues."

Political rivalry

With fear comes blame. As the election looms, rival politicians have accused each other of failing Sao Paulo.

Responsibility for public security is shared: Brazil's federal government is charged with tackling organised crime, but most hands-on policing is directed by state governments.

"When the attacks began, the federal government merely offered 'help' to the state of Sao Paulo, as if it wasn't part of the problem," says Denis Mizne of Sou da Paz.

Grajau - on the city's periphery

"At the same time, the state government politicised things by refusing any assistance. At times like this people need to see their leaders sitting down and working together, not fighting politically."

Complicating matters is the fact that the main opposition challenger for the presidency is Geraldo Alckmin, until recently the governor of Sao Paulo.

Although Mr Alckmin stepped down before the PCC struck, he was the architect of the state's now-exposed security strategy.

Some in the federal government have appeared content to watch him squirm.

For their part, Alckmin supporters have hinted at grassroots links between the PCC and the governing Workers Party (PT) of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Reportedly based on wiretap evidence, the accusation has not been proven, and has been furiously denied by the PT.

Better education

Such political in-fighting plays badly on the streets of Grajau, a densely-packed district on Sao Paulo's periphery, where 50,000 residents live in slum housing (favelas) and the PCC has deep roots. Far from the luxury condominiums of the city centre, this is the sharp end of Brazil's crime problem.

We need better schools for these kids... If they don't get proper schooling they won't get jobs, and that will only generate more violence

"Crime starts with the politicians themselves because they're all corrupt," says Luiz Carlos, a 35-year-old market trader.

"They're not interested in solving our problems, only in stealing our money," he says as other traders nod in agreement.

Driving past favelas with exotic names - Blue Lagoon, Little Beach, Tiny Slice of Heaven - my guide explains that drug traffickers used to have their own CCTV system here, so as to know when the police were coming.

Casually, he points out youthful dealers and a safe-house apparently used by the PCC. "If we try to go in there," he grins, "you'll come out horizontal."

Here, the middle-class formula of tougher policing is quickly dismissed, on the grounds that it fails to address the social causes of crime.

"If you look at the First World, public security isn't just about policing," explains Jose Eduardo Teixeira of the local residents association, "it's about investing in education and jobs. You can put 10 extra cops on the beat, but if there are 10 poor, hungry people around you will still have crime."

Few residents will talk openly about Grajau's crime problems, but most agree that the long-term solution lies in better education.

On the doorstep of her rundown home, 35-year-old Maria glances nervously at teenagers loitering nearby.

"We need better schools for these kids," she mutters. "If they don't get proper schooling they won't get jobs, and that will only generate more violence."

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