Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Monday launched a massive US$3 billion initiative to tackle high levels of violence in a country that records more than 40,000 homicides per year.
The Citizens' National Security Program is a five-year plan that primarily targets juvenile delinquents and aims to use expanded social and preventive policies to divert them from lives of crime.
The plan establishes a 500-strong national security force to deploy in cases of extreme violence and boosts police salaries, invests in the corrections system and cracks down on police brutality and organized crime.
Lula declared at a news conference that he planned to "confront and conquer the geography of violence and crime which threatens to divide the country."
He said violence had created "an apartheid of fear and oppression" in Brazil's crime-ridden slums and shantytowns.
Brazil has one of the world's highest murder rates. Recent figures show there were 43,847 homicides in 2005, or a rate of 23.8 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, the justice ministry said.
"We have 420,000 people in Brazilian prisons, 65 percent of whom are between 14 and 24 years old and 70 percent of whom are recidivists," said Ronald Teixeira, the secretary-general of the new initiative.
Meanwhile federal police said they launched a major operation on Monday in five states to crack down on an international drug gang that hid cocaine in fruit shipments.
One woman was arrested in Bahia state and authorities said they were searching for an unknown number of people in the states of Sao Paulo, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul and Ceara.
The Agencia Estado news service identified the suspect as Ana Lucia de Araujo Lima, the manager of farms where mangoes, melons and grapes were grown to smuggle the cocaine.
On Saturday, five Colombians and two Brazilians who allegedly belong to the ring were arrested in Uruguay with 480kg of cocaine. Police said they were headed to the Netherlands.
Among those detained was Gustavo Duran Bautista, whom Uruguayan police said led the criminal organization. Bautista owns three ranches in Brazil and abroad, as well as an import-export company in Europe, authorities said. Police told local media his wealth is estimated at nearly US$100 million.
Authorities seized a small airplane and a helicopter allegedly used to transport the drugs, as well as large amounts of cash hidden inside Bautista's luxurious house in Sao Paulo.