Brazil: In São Paulo, It’s Always Killing Season

Brazil: In São Paulo, It's Always Killing Season

    Killing has become a sad routine in São Paulo, South America’s
    largest city. Criminal bands have
    been attacking police stations
    on a daily basis. The chances of a killer being caught are remote.
    If he
    is caught the chances of justice being done are slight. If he is
    a gang leader, he will continue to run
    his activities from prison.


    John Fitzpatrick


    As I write these words and you read them someone is planning to kill someone else in São Paulo. The killer might be
    targeting an individual because he is a rival in love or drug trafficking or he might just be setting out on a day’s work as a
    criminal, which will end with the death of a victim.

    The victim may be a fellow criminal, a policeman, a motorist, a bank clerk or a pedestrian who just happens to be in
    the way of a passing bullet. The victim will be mourned by his or her family and quickly buried. There might be a brief item
    in a newspaper but the crime will be forgotten and become another statistic.

    The chances of the killer being caught are remote. If by chance, he is caught and given a prison sentence the chances
    of justice being done are slight. If he is a low-level criminal, he will be crammed into an overcrowded cell and left to rot
    for a couple of years, and then be released to return to his criminal ways.

    If he is a gang leader, then he will continue to run his activities from prison, using cellular phones, corrupt officials
    and other means to get his orders onto the streets. If the authorities crack down, he can order the murder of prison directors,
    judges, guards, lawyers, witnesses or arrange for prison riots and mutinies to break out.

    He may be transferred to another prison, even a tough top security place, but this will make little difference. He will
    continue to issue his orders and, in any case, there will be other leaders left behind to continue the pattern.

    São Paulo has been almost a city under siege over the last week. Criminal bands have been attacking police stations
    on a daily basis. They have used machine guns, pistols and hand grenades, and killed three policemen and wounded many
    others. The city’s security chief said the attacks were the desperate last efforts of a criminal faction called the PCC (Primeiro
    Comando da Capital—Capital’s First Command).

    Needless to say this remark was met with contempt by the general public and the criminals themselves, who have
    shown no sign of letting up. As I write, there have been two more attacks and the city is becoming more like Baghdad every
    day only we don’t have the US Marine Corps to rescue us.

    A survey by the Instituto Futuro Brasil showed that, of the 5,000
    paulistanos (São Paulo city resident) questioned, 22.8
    percent had been threatened at gunpoint and 21.8 percent had been robbed or physically attacked while 22.2 percent said they
    had actually been attacked by the police.

    Slavery in Brazil?

    One of Brazil’s most prominent politicians, Inocêncio Oliveira, has been condemned by a court of employing
    workers in slave-like conditions on a farm he owns in the state of Maranhão. Oliveira, a Northeasterner of the free-market PFL
    (Partido da Frente Liberal—Liberal Front Party), has been ordered to pay around R$500,000 (US$ 166,000) in compensation to
    53 workers involved and regularize the conditions of all his employees.

    He has denied the allegations and claimed that a previous inquiry by the Labor Ministry had cleared him of any
    involvement in the affair. Maybe Oliveira is correct and he personally knew nothing about the conditions under which the
    workers were kept, but a less defensive response would have been more convincing. Why did Oliveira not visit the farm and take
    reporters with him to show them the reality?

    Why did he not apologize or show contrition instead of getting an adviser to claim in a statement that the judgment
    was part of a "process to defile the image of the deputy with more than 40 years of clean and correct public life." It is ironic
    that, while these allegations were being made that slavery still existed in Brazil, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was in
    Africa acknowledging Brazil’s debt to the millions of slaves transported from their homelands.

    Bureaucratic Bungle

    "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." The Social Welfare Minister, Ricardo Berzoini, should have this
    familiar phrase hung above his desk. Berzoini’s department had
    the excellent idea of trying to crack down on pension fraud by confirming suspicions that as many as one-third of pension
    claims for people aged over 90 were phony.

    It was believed that the "claimants" had actually died but pensions were still being paid to relatives or stolen by
    corrupt officials. However, some bureaucrat, who has never had to queue up in an official government department in his life,
    decided that the oldsters should prove that they were still alive by reporting to the local pensions office.

    The press had a field day showing confused, frightened old people, some in wheelchairs, clutching documents,
    trying to ensure that their pensions would continue to be paid. Instead of having the grace to admit that his department had
    boobed, Berzoini hummed and hawed before apologizing after being rebuked by Lula from Africa.

    Football Fight

    A battle is raging between some of Brazil’s top football commentators over the relationship between sport and
    advertising. In one corner we have a band of stalwarts who believe that their role is to describe and comment on the game, the
    players and related matters. On the other hand, we have a band of people who think they are doing their job by pushing brand
    names on the air.

    One particular commentator, Milton Neves, spent the first 10 minutes of his program mentioning so many products
    that the Carta Capital magazine said it looked more like a tele-shopping program than a sports broadcast. After 10 minutes
    the program stopped for—that’s right—a commercial break. This mixture of advertising and comment is also found in the
    printed media.

    For example, every week the Estado de S. Paulo
    newspaper presents a column by former player and TV
    commentator, Casagrande, in which he mentions the name of the restaurant where the interview takes place. For more on this see the
    current issue of Carta Capital. I won’t give the web site address because I don’t want anyone to think I am advertising the magazine.

    Forget Reality

    Finally, no comment would be complete without a tidbit from the social page of the
    Estado de S. Paulo. Forget the homeless, the beggars, the criminals, the cracked pavements, the maniac drivers, the noise, the pollution and the anarchy which
    make up the reality of daily life and cheer up with this news: "Ski and snowboard lovers can start taking their equipment out
    of the cupboard. Just three weeks before the opening of the ski season at Aspen the first 27 cm of snow has fallen." Race
    you to the piste!


    John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987 and has lived in São Paulo since 1995.
    He writes on politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic
    which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian and foreign clients. You can reach him at

    © John Fitzpatrick 2003

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