NATAL: A SAFE CITY
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Update April 2005.
A recent official survey concluded that Natal is the safest capital city in Brazil.
Other parts of Brazil are often in the headlines because of violence, but Natal is a very safe city.
In the bigger cities of south, notably Rio de Janeiro, there is an organized crime which controls the drug and/or gun market, and employs violence to keep their dominance (the movies City of God portrayed this scenario very well); it's common to hear that an important criminal which was arrested or killed was promptly replaced by someone else (usually younger and even more violent). In contrast, crime in Natal is still commited by individuals (several passional crimes) or, occasionaly, two people; crimes in Rio are scheduled, crimes in Natal just happen.
Of course, poverty plays an important role in the levels of criminality. There are poor people all around the country, but some diffences are noticeable: for the poor, cost of living is much lower in northeast than in south (in extreme conditions, someone in Natal could survive eating coconuts and cuscuz, which are very cheap; because of scarce space, house rents are expensive in Sao Paulo, a cold city in winter, whereas one could live for free in the beaches of Natal); poor people in Natal have, even if little, support from their families, where as they are all by themselves in Sao Paulo (many people regret their migrating to the south, but can't even afford a ticked to go back home); the poor youngsters in south have more materialistic ambitions: they see their friends joining the criminals and making money to buy them clothes, cars, whatever; the simpler way of life of Natal helps keeping the youngsters, even if poor, away from criminality.
Police in Natal are more ostensive. You see the police everywhere in Natal, before crimes happen (in Rio, because crime is already established, police spends most of time chasing criminals); there are several fixed police posts (usually a trailer with an improvised office); random blitzen are very common: drivers are stopped and papers and cars are thoroughly checked; policemen in motorcycles are always going about the streets of Natal, bringing mobility and agility which are not possible in the chaotic traffic of bigger cities.
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