Czar of Rio’s Underworld

of Rio's Underworld

    Rio’s new Public Security Secretary, Anthony Garotinho, makes
    an impression and reduces the city’s appalling crime rate,
    the road will be open once again for the next presidential race.
    Garotinho could win this fight against crime by using his populist
    approach. He is a former radio host and an evangelist.
    by: John


    of the most surprising results of last year’s presidential election
    was the performance of Anthony Garotinho, who came third, with around
    17 percent of the vote in the first round. His performance was impressive
    because he was a late starter in the race, and his political base—the
    PSB (Partido Socialista Brasileiro – Brazilian Socialist Party)—was
    weak compared with those of the other three candidates. At one point,
    there were even expectations that he would pull out of the race, as
    his campaign had literally run out of cash. However, Garotinho—which
    means "little boy" in Portuguese—stayed on course and
    ended up ahead of the other outsider, Ciro Gomes of the PPS (Partido
    Popular Socialista – Popular Socialist Party).

    week, Garotinho has bounced back into the headlines, as he was named
    to one of Brazil’s toughest jobs—that of Secretary of Public Security
    in Rio de Janeiro state. While most observers would regard this as a
    poisoned chalice, the ever-confident Garotinho has seized it, perhaps
    because it was offered by his wife who is now state governor, but also
    certainly because, if he makes an impression and reduces or ends Rio’s
    appalling crime, the road will be open once again for the next presidential

    the last six months or so, the city of Rio de Janeiro has experienced
    a crime wave that, at times, has looked like a challenge to the state.
    There has been much talk of Brazil becoming a second Colombia, but this
    is an exaggeration. Much of the blame has been laid at the feet of Brazil’s
    most infamous criminal—a drug trafficker known as Fernandinho Beira-Mar
    who was extradited from Colombia, where he had been involved with left-wing
    guerrilla groups. Beira-Mar is currently in prison, although few would
    be surprised if he were freed in a jailbreak.

    ongoing crime wave has seen official buildings attacked by machine gun
    fire and hand grenades, while other prominent spots such as famous hotels
    and even the cable car to Corcovado have been targets. Commerce in whole
    neighborhoods, including upper class tourist areas like Ipanema and
    Copacabana, has shut down en masse after being ordered to do so by gangsters.
    Two senior judges have been murdered, along with large numbers of policemen
    and, of course, civilians. Things became so bad that in March, the army
    was brought in to handle part of the security at this year’s Carnaval.  

    Impossible? Not for Garotinho…

    Garotinho do anything to halt this? I think he can, and give him a 50-50
    chance of bringing off Mission Impossible. My reasons may strike the
    onlooker outside Brazil as a little cynical. But I am sure most Brazilians
    would understand them.

    of all, levels of crime in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil, as a whole, will
    always be high as long as society is so unfair. Brazilians are used
    to this and take appropriate measures, such as living in apartment blocks
    with 24-hour security, carrying minimal amounts of cash and valuables,
    driving armor-plated cars or hiring bodyguards if they are rich enough,
    and being constantly aware of danger.

    one expects Garotinho to end crime in Rio de Janeiro. Brazilians are
    also aware that in many cases, the police are even involved in criminal
    activities, as are politicians and civil servants. For example, an investigation
    is under way involving top-level officials from Garotinho’s own former
    state administration, which preceded the current one headed by his wife.
    The officials are alleged to have been involved in money laundering
    and sending funds to Swiss banks. Garotinho, of course, has denied any
    knowledge of these events, yet few people in Rio de Janeiro have complained
    that this former governor, whose administration is accused of crime,
    has now become the new crime buster.

    and Stick Approach Could Reduce Crime…

    therefore, does not need to end crime—just reduce the current,
    at times spectacular wave of crime. By forcing or persuading gangsters
    to stop attacking high profile targets, he can claim success. He has
    already spoken of rooting out police corruption, putting more police
    on the beat, and trying to keep young people from becoming involved
    in drugs, but it is doubtful if measures like these will make any difference.

    Garotinho could win is by using his populist approach and communications
    skills. He is a former radio host, a man with simple solutions to complex
    questions, an evangelist, and—like the TV entrepreneur who runs
    Brazil’s second-largest network, Silvio Santos—has credibility
    among the poorer, less educated section of society. He could work openly
    by publicly offering to meet gang leaders, perhaps in their favela
    strongholds, and making some kind of public peace treaty.

    the criminals would need some sort of amnesty or pardon, but that would
    not be difficult for someone with Garotinho’s chutzpah. He could visit
    Beira-Mar in jail, and persuade the gang boss to issue some type of
    appeal for peace. While this would scandalize respectable Brazilian
    society, it would show the poor that at least someone was facing reality
    and negotiating with the leaders of what is a powerful force. Alternatively,
    Garotinho could arrange a secret deal in which crime bosses were either
    bribed to lay off a bit, or granted some alternative benefits. 

    Soon—The (Little) Boys from Brazil…

    thing is certain: win or lose, Garotinho will be around for a long time.
    He is a professional politician who can come back after a beating. He
    has amazing self-confidence, and from what he has shown the public so
    far, a complete lack of a sense of humor. He actually does believe the
    nonsense he speaks. 

    loves to make simplistic gestures and fantasy statements—such as
    the cheap restaurants he set up in Rio offering meals for R$1 (about
    US$0.33), or his claim during the election campaign that he would reduce
    interest rates to a single digit. He also claims God appeared to him
    after he was involved in an accident. Brazilians beware: Garotinho is
    only 43 years old, and could easily be around for another 30 years.
    As he said in an interview with the O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper:
    "I can be a (presidential) candidate in three, eight or 12 years’
    time. Sixteen years from now, I will be the same age as Lula. Time is
    on my side."

    this is not bombast but the truth. To make things worse, not only is
    Garotinho’s wife a senior politician with national recognition, but
    the couple has nine children. That’s a lot of up-and-coming "little
    boys", certainly enough to start yet another of Brazil’s all too
    common political dynasty, like the Magalhães in Bahia, the Sarneys
    in Maranhão and the Neves family in Minas Gerais.


    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 Comunicações—, which
    specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian
    and foreign clients. You can reach him at

    John Fitzpatrick 2003

    article appeared originally in Infobrazil, at 











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