02/28/2007 03:33 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Which Are Worse: Brazil's Bandits Or Its Leaders?

Three French NGO workers were stabbed to death Tuesday at their group's headquarters in Rio's Copacabana neighborhood. Christian Pierre Doupes, his wife Delphine Douyere, and Jerome Faure ran Terr'Ativa, which helped children in poor communities. They were allegedly murdered by three men, one of whom was Tarsio Ramirez, an accountant for Terr'Ativa who had been accused of embezzling 80,000 Reais from the group (roughly $38,000). According to O Globo newspaper, Ramirez was a homeless child who was rescued from the streets of Rio ten years ago by the agency. The murders were especially violent and Jerome's body showed signs of torture.

The grisly slayings of Christian, Delphine and Jerome reflect a disturbing trend in Brazil, which has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Not only is violence out of control, but torture is becoming commonplace as an accompaniment to killing. Criminals, especially members of gangs, often see cruelty as a mark of machismo. They take pride in being indifferent to the suffering of their victims, which was also shown in a hideous crime that shocked the country on Feb. 7.

That day, six-year-old Joao Helio Fernandes Vieites was killed when thieves stole his family's car. His mother couldn't undo Joao's seatbelt and the boy dangled out of the car when the bandits took off. Allegedly, the assailants were fully aware of this and did nothing about it. Joao was dragged for miles through the streets of Rio and his mangled body was unrecognizable by the time the gunmen abandoned the car. Brazil went into national mourning because of the terrible crime, and many Carnaval revelers last week wore black arm bands or observed moments of silence before festivities to remember Joao.

There are some Brazilians who say the international media only reports the bad news about their country (shades of Spiro Agnew and George W. Bush). But when a country suffers out-of-control violence, it should be reported. Brazil had 48,374 reported murders in 2004 (the actual number could be much higher), a rate of some 27 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, according to a report by the OIS, the Organization of Iberoamerican States. The state of Rio de Janeiro alone had 7,391 murders and a homicide rate of 49.2 per 100,000 in 2004, according to the OIS.

That same year, the USA had 16,692 reported murders in a larger population, a 5.6 rate, while most European countries had far lower rates. Brazil has the fourth highest homicide rate after Colombia, Russia and Venezuela, according to Reuters.

After Joao's death, Brazilian politicians expressed sympathy and outrage. Many called for lowering the age for juveniles to be tried as adults (one juvenile was involved in the crime). Many Brazilian citizens seem to be near a breaking point regarding crime here. Just how bad is it going to get before the country does something about it?

Probably, it will get worse before it gets better. Corrupt politicians and bureaucrats in Brazil divert billions of Reais, money that is desperately needed to pay police decent salaries, maintain humane jails, improve public schools and provide other essential social services that help prevent crime in the first place. There has been one big political scandal after another in recent years, yet none of the big players go to jail. Usually, they get reelected. A poll in the Jan. 31 issue of "Veja" magazine showed that Brazilians are extremely cynical about their leaders and see them as lazy, dishonest, opportunistic, and insensitive to the needs of the population.

Brazil's epidemic of violence will rage until something is done about the national congress in Brasilia, which is as much at fault as the criminals. The senators and deputies vote themselves gargantuan pay raises, maintain huge staffs at public expense, and are audaciously corrupt, all while they are indifferent to the suffering of their nation.