Altamira: how a quiet Amazonian town became Brazil’s murder capital

altamira brazil amazon
Open sewage on the banks of the Xingu River. Photo: A. M. Teixeira/Shutterstock

On Monday, a prison riot in the city of Altamira, in the northern state of Pará, resulted in the deaths of at least 58 people. Just 20 years ago, such unrest and violence would have been unthinkable in Altamira, but the city has undergone one of the most shocking descents of any of the world’s municipalities.

Altamira is a peculiar place. It is the largest municipality in Brazil by area, spreading over 160,000 square kilometers, which makes it bigger than Greece. It serves as the gateway to the Xingu River—one of the main tributaries to the Amazon—and it is a...

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