Monthly Archives: October 2012

Voters in fifty cities, including 17 state capitals, headed back to the polls on Sunday in the second round of Brazil’s municipal elections, to decide on their prefeito (city mayor). The municipal elections have also served as a mid-term litmus test on the popularity of the parties looking toward the 2014 presidential race.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and new São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad, photo by Antônio Cruz/ABr.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and new São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad meet at the Planalto, Brasília, a day after his victory in the second round of municipal elections. Photo by Antônio Cruz/ABr.

The second round involved cities with populations over 200,000 where no candidate had reached the fifty-percent threshold in the first round held on October 7th.

The win by Fernando Haddad (PT) as mayor of São Paulo against rival José Serra (PSDB) was perhaps the best news for the party.

However, the PT did not fare as well nationwide, losing control of much of the northeast, including Salvador, Recife and Fortaleza.

The PT is now leading in bigger cities while the PMDB is in smaller ones, and half of the elected candidates are from the three leading parties – the PT, PMDB and PSDB.

Also in the full article on The Rio Times (click here):

  • Did the Mensalão scandal affects the number of votes the PT received?
  • Who will be in the running for the 2014 presidential elections after Serra’s disappointing result in São Paulo?
  • What will now happen to the political landscape in Brazil?

I’ll admit it: I’m no longer leading a singleton’s life and, as a result, I don’t go out drinking all that much anymore. But when I do, I’m always a bit taken aback by the amount of beer you manage to get through during a night-out in Brazil (taken aback by the number of bottles on the bill, anyway), and how little it feels at the time.

One-litre bottle of Skol

That’s the way they like it: a big one-litre bottle of beer, better known as a litrão.

Unlike in the UK, where you normally either buy a round of pints (or whatever) or go along buying your own drinks, in Brazil on a night-out there is normally little place for anything other than beer. Lots of it.

And with men reigning so firmly over bars in Brazil, there’s rarely any argument over how the beer is served up: in one-litre bottles of Skol, with everyone getting a little 200ml glass.

Now, I went to Cologne back in December 2008 and I remember that beer was drunk in similar-sized glasses there, but you’d buy your €2 Kölsch separately or in rounds, and because of that notion of paying for each one, you take your time a little more over it.

In Brazil, particularly if you’re in a group of four or more, a litrão – the big one-litre bottle of choice – doesn’t go very far, and because you finish your 200ml glass quickly, it of course gets filled up much more often (and, perhaps more to the point, often gets topped up by someone else without you noticing) than if you were drinking pints in the UK.

Of course it’s all relative, but in the UK I probably wouldn’t drink more than about four pints (unashamedly, probably of cider) on a proper night-out, and certainly no more than one or two for a post-work quickie.

In Brazil, because of the way you drink, you drink considerably more and definitely a lot more socially – with your fellow drinkers seemingly bending over backwards to fill up your glass and get to the bottom of the bottle, just in time to catch the waitress’s eye to ask for a couple more litrões.

That said, a litrão in a cheaper Curitiba bar normally costs around R$6-7 (around £2 or $3-3.50) so you probably won’t spend as much in Brazil even if you do go mad with the beer.

As the beer is generally pretty good in Brazil, who’s complaining…

Although relatively speaking Brazil doesn’t attract that many foreign visitors a year, the image it manages to project to the outside world is overwhelmingly positive: samba, impressive nature, happy-go-lucky, vibrant, sexy, full of optimism, with a nothing-can-bring-me-down attitude. In a word: Rio.

Carnaval in Rio

The Rio/Carnaval image that Brazil projects to the world

For the lucky few, this is perhaps a reality. Even for some outside Rio. Money helps – as long as you’re locked away snug in your closed condominium. Even the masses get a break in February to dance and forget their problems (read: get drunk) in the dizzying Carnaval holiday.

For the foreign visitor, staying just a couple of weeks, this is the impression you’re likely to leave with. And if that person were someone like me, who is besotted with nature – this place is unrivalled. It’s a paradise. When I’m in the forest surrounded by toucans and parrots, I don’t want to be anywhere else.

But then the road inevitably turns back to the cities and their dark goings-on. My heart sinks every time.

I’m not a city boy – although I lived in London for five years and grew up just a few miles from the quaint city of Canterbury in England’s southeasternmost corner. I’m much more at home around forests, fields and coastlines.

And I’m sure it’d be true of the vast majority of cities in Brazil, Latin America and further afield, but for me that place is my city in southern Brazil – Curitiba, with its “modern, European” ways (words we’re all continually force-fed here – whoever thought these words up has never been anywhere modern or European). All that is wrong with the world comes into sharp focus as it brazenly wanders down the street in the light of day.

Forget the discourteous people that blight any city, and particularly Curitiba. Forget the over-tattooed, disgusting massive-hole-in-the-earlobe crowd which seemingly represents half the population here. Forget things like bent politicians and not recycling enough. Forget graffiti, traffic and the taste of the air pollution in the back of your throat as the environmentally-friendly buses chug thick, black smoke into the already-polluted air.

I mean, the real wrongs of this world – homelessness, prostitution, destructive vandalism, violence, muggings, drug-taking – it’s all far too easy to see here. Knife and gun crime is rife in many places – and although I haven’t yet come face-to-face with it here, I have friends here who have and have been lucky on most occasions only to come into contact with the former.

Just walk around the area near Rua Treze de Maio – 13 May Street – a date, by the way, that is meant to set off visions of the end of slavery in the minds of Brazilians.

On one side – prostitutes, not just at dusk but all day long. Some of them are painfully young, their pimps striding around them. All the phone booths here are laced with calling cards. There seems to be no shame in it. In fact, all you see on the pavements right now are bits of paper promoting hookers (and politicians).

Smoking crack from a can

A young Brazilian smokes crack out of a can

On the other side – a teenager smoking crack out of a can. I’ve seen this a number of times and I feel I am getting desensitised to the sight. Look too long at someone and they think you’re looking to score drugs.

The rate of homelessness is Curitiba is also sky-high. People come in from the rest of the state – some say they are bussed in by other cities – and just hang around the parks and squares. The sight of someone putting their hand in a bin and pulling out a half-smoked cigarette or a tin can they can sell off, as it was unusual, used to repulse me in London. I see it every 10 minutes here.

On the corner of Treze de Maio stands a mugger, biding his time until the next victim walks into his web. Today it was my other half – the thief waited until the road was quiet and then threatened him, apparently harbouring a gun under his jacket. Luckily, he escaped unharmed and none the worse for the ordeal.

Depending on the survey, Curitiba ranks between first and sixth most violent city in Brazil. And although this is centred largely in one very dodgy area in the suburbs, the city is not a place to walk around after 10pm or so.

I am aware that these things can be found in most cities, but they are so on show, so easily seen here, that I forget how horrific they are.

And so what? Big cities in Brazil are like that: deal with it or go elsewhere. Okay, but these cities are going to be broadcast to the world from next year – with the FIFA Confederations Cup beginning, and then to massive audiences in 2014 (World Cup) and 2016 (Olympics).

Despite my complaints about Curitiba and Brazil’s shortcomings – “I complain therefore I am” would go well on my gravestone, my other half would say – I care. Obviously, I care. That’s why I complain. I have strong opinions about this place – and although I could easily up-sticks and skedaddle, I just wish people would take the opportunity, the billions of reais of opportunity, and do something with it that would benefit people.

Why do I care? Because although I have met a lot of lazy, lying, underhand people here – most of them have been landlords – I have met many more nice people and it saddens me that they have to put up with it, particularly when politicians are syphoning off the money that could be sorting it out.

I’m being too simplistic, I know. But it’s so frustrating when you see that Brazil has the potential to be an AMAZING country, if only it were to take the bull by the horns and sort itself out, without wasting money on looking fancy, trying to keep up with the Gonzálezes and the Wongs with predictable wastes of money like bullet trains and 4G networks.

Sometimes I feel like a parent berating a child. It’s so obvious to me that what you’re doing is wrong. But then perhaps I’m wrong, and there’s a better way… with improvements having started deep inside the system that will soon come to the surface. Parents don’t always know best. Butt out, gringo.

But I fear that, with nosey journalists and visitors soon coming to Brazil in much bigger numbers, more harm will be done to the country’s image than good, and that would not be good for the country as a whole – in terms of investments and tourism.

And where London 2012 brought a sense of pride back to the British people, I can just foresee a situation where a slew of behind-the-scenes stories will emanate from Rio 2016, shaming Brazilians and doing nothing for their optimism – which I see as the one thing that gets them through these sometimes shocking conditions – not to mention the country’s more abstract new-found sense of place on the world stage.

Twenty years ago, on 2 October 2012, a riot broke out in São Paulo’s notorious Carandiru prison. The subsequent carnage and the savage response by the state’s military police left at least 111 prisoners dead.

Carandiru Massacre, photo: "Rebelião II" by Mônica Zaratini, Jornal da Tarde

The stand-off between police and rioters in Carandiru prison. Photo: “Rebelião II” in the Jornal da Tarde by award-winning photographer Mônica Zaratini.

A vicious fight between inmates had escalated into a riot in Carandiru Block 9 and 68 officers from the state military police were called in to intervene and quell the situation, led by the now-famous Colonel Ubiratan Guimarães.

The entire truth about what ensued will probably never be known, but even the most conservative accounts of what happened tell of a bloodbath that left an indelible mark on recent Brazilian history, and one that still haunts those working in the prison system.

Survivors of the massacre say that on that day in 1992, police stormed the prison and started shooting prisoners in a bid to force rioters into back down.

But witnesses say they soon started shooting indiscriminately, turning on those who had surrendered and were cowering in their cells. Witnesses also say the official death toll of 111, horrific as it is, was actually higher. There were no police deaths in the massacre. Nine of the prisoners were stabbed to death by other inmates.

Colonel Ubiratan Guimarães’ intervention was labelled “disastrous and ill-prepared” and was initially sentenced to 632 years in prison in 2001 for 102 prisoner deaths caused by the riot squad he was commanding.

Colonel Ubiratan Guimarães was sentenced to over 600 years in prison for the deaths of 102 prisoners at the hands of the riot squad he was commanding, but was later acquitted.

However, a mistrial meant he was eventually acquitted on appeal in 2006 and turned into something of a celebrity – being elected later to office as a state deputy for the city, much to the disgust of survivors and human rights campaigners alike.

But fate had it that Ubiratan Guimarães would meet a sticky end in 2006, murdered in an apparently unrelated attack. The words “aqui se faz, aqui se paga” – “if you do it here [on earth], you pay for it here” – were daubed on the wall of the building where he lived in reference to the massacre.

Pictures of his body, with fatal gunshot wounds, are still easy to find online.

Widespread anger from fellow inmates is said to have motivated the creation of a criminal organisation called the Primeiro Comando da Capital, formed in 1993 to avenge such prisoner deaths; its members are said to be behind the death of the prison director at the time, José Ismael Pedrosa.

The organisation has tried to get conditions improved for the half-a-million people incarcerated in Brazil’s penitentiary system, with methods nearly always involving violence and serious threats of some kind.

São Paulo notorious Carandiru Prison before it was demolished.

São Paulo’s notorious Carandiru prison before it was demolished in 2002.

Brazil’s Prison Service said that deaths in Brazil’s prisons have since fallen: from 522 in 1999 (the equivalent of 1% of the prison population at the time) to 377 in 2006 (0.3%).

The whole affair surrounding the Carandiru Massacre has sparked outrage among human rights campaigners, who insist Brazil’s prison population far outstrips the country’s prison capacity, with cell overcrowding a real issue. Others have accused the justice system of coddling the police at the time – something they say exists to this day.

Twenty years on, a hundreds-strong protest has been held in São Paulo with relatives and campaigners calling for justice to be served on those involved, alleging the officers shot many of the unarmed prisoners at point-blank range.

The officers involved have said they were simply following orders.

I’m sure I’ve heard that somewhere before…

Scene from film on Carandiru massacre. Divulgação.

A film about the massacre, titled Carandiru (pictured above), was released in 2003.