Brazil | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2006

2006 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Brazil's civil liberties rating improved from 3 to 2 due to continued governmental steps to enhance racial equality.


President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva's Worker's Party (PT) and its coalition partners were wracked by a series of highly explosive scandals mixing money and politics in 2005. Questions about da Silva's knowledge of the illegal acts, along with a sluggish economy, led to a decline in his popularity ratings. As levels of violence spiraled upward in many of the country's urban and rural districts, the failure of a nationwide referendum to ban the sale of guns-aimed at stemming one of the world's highest firearms murder rates-revealed citizens' growing reluctance to leave their own security in the hands of the state. Meanwhile, the government continued to take measures to close the significant racial gap in employment, education, and living standards.

After gaining independence from Portugal in 1822, Brazil retained a monarchical system until a republic was established in 1889. Democratic governance has been interrupted by long periods of authoritarian rule, most recently under the military regime that was in control from 1964 to 1985, when elected civilian rule was reestablished. However, civilian rule has been marked by frequent corruption scandals. The scandal with the greatest political impact eventually led the Congress to impeach President Fernando Collor de Mello, who was elected in 1989 and removed from office in 1992.

In early 1994, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a market-oriented, centrist finance minister in the interim government that followed Collor de Mello's resignation, forged a three-party, center-right coalition around Cardoso's Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). In October 1994, Cardoso won the presidency with 54 percent of the vote, against 27 percent for Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, the leader of the leftist Worker's Party (PT) and an early front-runner. However, Cardoso's coalition did not have a majority in either house of the Congress.

Cardoso embarked on an ambitious plan of free-market reforms, including deep cuts in the public sector and massive privatizations of state enterprises. He also ushered in a new era of dialogue with international human rights and good-govern-ment groups. His popular tenure in office allowed Cardoso to secure a constitutional amendment permitting presidential reelection.

In 1998, Cardoso's first-ballot reelection victory (nearly 52 percent of the votes cast) over former labor leader and political prisoner da Silva, his nearest rival, was tempered somewhat by a less convincing win at the congressional and gubernatorial levels and by published accounts of corruption among senior government officials. The PSDB's legacy of reform was further tarnished by a 2001 energy crisis, which drove a wedge between it and its fractious coalition partners.

Brazilians increasingly saw political corruption that severely limited the government's ability to address difficult problems as part of a national picture that included rampant street crime, urban sprawl, rural lawlessness, and the devastation of the Amazon basin. Violence in several major Brazilian cities, most notably Rio de Janeiro, involving rival drug gangs and the sometimes outgunned police, was fueled by the volume of cocaine and its cheaper derivatives consumed locally. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, Brazil had become the world's second-largest consumer of the illegal drug, after the United States.

During the 2002 presidential campaign, da Silva campaigned by attacking both the government's economic record-which included $260 billion in foreign debt and soaring unemployment-and the effects of globalization, while abandoning his party's previous anti-free-market stance and its willingness to default on Brazil's debt obligations. After far outdistancing his rivals in a first-round ballot on October 6, da Silva received 52.5 million votes-more votes than any presidential candidate in Brazilian history-in the runoff election held three weeks later, besting Jose Serra, a center-left former PSDB health minister, 61 to 39 percent. However, the PT won fewer than 20 percent of the seats in both houses of Congress, while other parties won all-important governorships in the five largest of Brazil's 26 states.

On January 1, 2003, da Silva was inaugurated as president. Amid high expectations, he focused throughout the year on tackling the country's economic crisis, including the huge foreign debt, corruption, and racial inequality. With a mandate for change conditioned by his coalition's lack of a congressional majority, da Silva defied expectations by controlling inflation through fiscal discipline and tight monetary policies, which in turn boosted investor confidence and resulted in a $30 billion credit line from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He also instituted anticorruption measures, maintained cordial relations with the United States despite his independent foreign policy, and quickly established himself as one of the world's foremost voices for developing nations. Brazil's progress, however, was marred by frequent police abuses, including torture and murder, and marked increases in the use of narcotics and their illegal sale by heavily armed gangs.

In 2004, the top two executives of the Brazilian Central Bank were accused of tax evasion and fraud, a claim that forced the number-two official to resign. The air of scandal grew to include da Silva's health minister and his vice president, the latter of whom was accused by a federal prosecutor of stock manipulation.

In October, the PT expanded its sphere of influence and consolidated its power in nationwide municipal elections, winning in nearly 400 cities, double the number it had won four years earlier, including in rural areas where the party has been weakest. However, the victories were overshadowed by the losses in the party strongholds of Sao Paulo, which with 10 million people is South America's largest city, and Porto Alegre, where it had ruled for 16 years. The victor in the Sao Paulo mayoral contest was former presidential candidate Serra, whose centrist PSDB also won a total of five state capitals.

The losses of the major Sao Paulo and Porto Alegre mayoralties ultimately denied da Silva the boost in political capital that would have helped push through his legislative agenda in a fragmented Congress-led by one of the president's most outspoken opponents-and better position him for a run for reelection in 2006. Observers said he needed to stimulate greater economic growth, as well as to overhaul antiquated labor laws and excessively high taxes that form part of the "Brazilian cost"-those expenses to business that make the country less attractive to foreign investors. In addition, festering corruption scandals and high levels of violence in many of the country's urban and rural districts further dampened the president's popularity.

In March 2005, in a move that signaled Brazil's economic recovery, including record trade and budget surpluses, the government announced it did not need to renew a standby credit agreement with the IMF. However, da Silva's prospects for reelection-as well as his standing as an international leader-were weakened after high-ranking members of his own party were snarled in accusations that they offered legislators millions of dollars in bribes, had paid for party campaigns across the country with illegally obtained funds, and were engaged in kickback schemes involving public works. Although da Silva promised a full investigation and a package of anticorruption reforms, a still sluggish economy together with the resignation of top PT leaders, including the president's chief of staff, seriously tainted his own image and fractured the PT. By August, da Silva was assuring supporters that he would neither resign nor commit suicide.

As the country confronted a nearly 40,000 annual firearms death rate-25 percent higher than the firearms death rate in the United States, even though Brazil has 100,000,000 fewer citizens-nearly two-thirds of Brazilians voting in an October referendum on gun sales rejected the commercial ban on sales called for in the vote. Violent crime, corruption, and incompetence, together with a state of impunity built upon laggardly judicial processes, highly centralized federal legal codes, and mistrust of the police, have left citizens feeling impotent to assure their own security and scrambling to retreat behind fortress-like private security. The same month as the gun ban vote failed, Amnesty International issued a report saying that the use of death squads and torture was common police practice.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens of Brazil can change their government democratically. The October 2004 municipal elections were free and fair. A new constitution, which went into effect in 1985 and was heavily amended in 1988, provides for a president to be elected for four years and a bicameral National Congress consisting of an 81-member Federal Senate elected for eight years and a 513-member Chamber of Deputies elected for four years. A constitutional amendment adopted in 1997 permits presidential reelection, a measure that was touted as enhancing presidential accountability.

Based on the size of congressional delegations elected in 2002, the largest Brazilian political parties, in descending order, are the Workers' Party (PT); the Liberal Front Party (PFL); the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB); the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB); the Brazilian Progressive Party (PPB); the Liberal Party (PL); the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB); the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), and the Democratic Labor Party (PDT).

Each of these won at least 20 seats; 10 other parties are also represented in Congress.

Despite a constitutional right of access to public information, Brazil does not have specific laws to regulate and guarantee the principle of transparency provided for in the constitution. Corruption remains a serious problem in Brazil, which was ranked 62 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The constitution guarantees freedom of expression. The press is privately owned, but foreigners can acquire only a 30 percent share of a media company and are restricted in their ability to influence editorial decisions or management selection. There are dozens of daily newspapers and numerous other publications throughout the country. The print media have played a central role in exposing official corruption. At the same time, reporters are frequently the target of threats, assaults, and occasionally even killings, especially those who focus on organized crime, corruption, or impunity issues. On July 1, 2005, police reporter and anticorruption radio journalist Jose Candido de Amorim Filho was murdered two months after being wounded in another attack. On September 8, the offices of a newspaper and two radio stations were set ablaze by unknown assailants acting in coordination with one another. On a positive note, in 2005, a court convicted the murderers of Tim Lopes, killed in June of 2002 when the TV Globo reporter was searching for information about parties sponsored by drug dealers in a Rio de Janeiro slum. The government does not impose restrictions on the use of the internet, although federal and state police have begun to monitor the internet to detect online recruitment by sex traffickers and to check on the activities of hate groups.

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and the government generally respects this right in practice. Evangelical Christian communities have grown significantly in recent years, from 9 percent of the population in 1991 to 15 percent in 2000. The government does not restrict academic freedom.

The rights of freedom of association and assembly are generally respected, as is the right to strike. Industrial labor unions are well organized; although they are politically connected, unions tend to be more autonomous of political party control than is true in most other Latin American countries. There are special labor courts.

Few Brazilians have not been affected by violent crime in their country, and in 2005, the country's criminal justice system appeared on the verge of collapse, even as the police conducted military-style raids against drug traffickers in the hills of Rio de Janeiro. The climate of lawlessness is reinforced by a largely independent but weak judiciary, which is overtaxed, plagued by chronic corruption, and virtually powerless in the face of organized crime. Because the judiciary uses its independence above all to resist reforms and stop outside investigations of judicial corruption, judicial reform has progressed less than in any other large country of the region. In addition, judges regularly employ legal formalisms to overturn government modernization efforts, including those aimed at privatizing state-owned industries and reforming the ineffective but expensive system of public welfare. Public distrust of the judiciary and ineffective policing in the neighborhoods have resulted in poor citizens taking the law into their own hands, with hundreds of reported lynchings.

Brazil has the highest rate of homicide caused by firearms of any country not at war-more than 70 percent-and the yearly number of gun deaths has more than doubled since 1992. Police say that most violent crime in the country, perhaps as much as 70 to 80 percent, is directly or indirectly related to the illegal drug trade, including most of the 37,000 annual murders. An estimated 200,000 Brazilians are employed in the narcotics business, with at least 5,000 heavily armed gang members working for various drug-trafficking groups in Rio de Janeiro alone. Since 1994, the federal government has deployed the army to quell police strikes and bring order to Rio de Janeiro's 400 slums, most of which are ruled by gangs in league or in competition with corrupt police and local politicians.

Brazil's police are among the world's most violent and corrupt. Torture is used systematically to extract confessions from prisoners, and extrajudicial killings are portrayed as shootouts with dangerous criminals. Death squads operating in at least 15 of Brazil's 26 states, often composed of off-duty state police, terrorize shantytown dwellers and intimidate human rights activists attempting to investigate abuses. In the rare instances when police officers are indicted for such abuses, convictions are not obtained; typically such indictments are dismissed for "lack of evidence." The prison system in Brazil is anarchic, overcrowded, and largely unfit for human habitation, and human rights groups charge that torture and other inhumane treatment common to most of the country's detention centers turn petty thieves into hardened criminals. Some 200,000 people are incarcerated in Brazil, nearly half of them in Sao Paulo.

Racial discrimination, long officially denied as a problem in Brazil, began to receive both recognition and remediation from the government of President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva. Afro-Brazilians earn less than 50 percent of the average earnings of other citizens, and on average, Afro-Brazilian university graduates earn less than others with only high school diplomas. In a precedent-setting series of actions, upon taking office da Silva named four Afro-Brazilians to his cabinet, appointed the country's first Afro-Brazilian Supreme Court justice, and pressed for the adoption of a Racial Equality Statute to redeem his pledge that Afro-Brazilians would make up at least one-third of the federal government within five years. In July, a court ruled in favor of an Afro-Brazilian man who claimed racial discrimination in his dismissal by a hotel in Rio de Janeiro in 2003.

Large landowners control nearly 60 percent of the country's arable land, while the poorest 30 percent of the population share less than 2 percent. In rural areas, land invasions are organized by the Landless Workers' Movement (MST), which claims that the lands invaded are unused or illegally held, but many of the properties invaded are legally owned by others. The courts have increasingly supported the eviction of such land invaders, and some owners have resisted such grassroots efforts by force. The MST is a grassroots movement. It is not formally affiliated with the PT but has enjoyed some PT support.

Although Brazil abolished slavery in 1888, in 2004, the government acknowledged that at least 25,000 Brazilians work under "conditions analogous to slavery," with other estimates putting that figure as high as 50,000. Landowners who enslave workers face two to eight years in prison, in addition to fines. However, fines are minimal, and few, if any, of the modern-day slavers ever spend a day in jail.

Violence against Brazil's 250,000 Indians mirrors generalized rural lawlessness.

A decree issued by former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso opened Indian land to greater pressure from predatory miners and loggers. In some remote areas, Colombian drug traffickers have been using Indians to transport narcotics. In September 2003, the new head of Brazil's Indian agency promised that the government was serious about demarcating wide swaths of ancestral lands as the first step in converting the land into indigenous reserves. Suicide is common among Indian youths.

In August 2001, Congress approved a legal code that for the first time in the country's history makes women equal to men under the law. In January 2003, a new civil code took effect, formally replacing a 1916 text that contained myriad discriminatory provisions concerning social behavior in government, in business, and at home; the new code gave women the same rights in marriage as men. Nevertheless, violence against women and children is a common problem, and protective laws are rarely enforced. Forced prostitution of children is widespread. Child labor is prevalent, and laws against it are rarely enforced. Brazil is a source country for victims of both domestic and international trafficking of human beings, the majority of whom are women and girls. An estimated 600,000 Brazilians have HIV/AIDS. In June 2001, a decree granted same-sex partners the same rights as married couples with respect to pensions, social security benefits, and taxation.