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.
One 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 basethe 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, Garotinhowhich means "little boy" in Portuguesestayed
on course and ended up ahead of the other outsider, Ciro Gomes of the
PPS (Partido Popular Socialista - Popular Socialist Party).
This week, Garotinho
has bounced back into the headlines, as he was named to one of Brazil's
toughest jobsthat 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 race.
Over 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
criminala 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.
The 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.
Not for Garotinho
Can 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.
First 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.
No 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.
Carrot and Stick
Approach Could Reduce Crime
does not need to end crimejust 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.
Where 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, andlike the TV entrepreneur who runs Brazil's second-largest
network, Silvio Santoshas 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.
Obviously 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.
(Little) Boys from Brazil
One 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.
He loves to make simplistic
gestures and fantasy statementssuch 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."
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.
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
specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian and
foreign clients. You can reach him at email@example.com
© John Fitzpatrick
This article appeared
originally in Infobrazil, at www.infobrazil.com