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Brazzil - Life - April 2004

Another Day in, Cough, Paradise Brazil

Killings and deaths are a strong component of Brazil's daily
diet of news. Justice will never be done and no-one expects it.
The dead will be buried and the killers will walk free. If they are
unlucky they might get caught and spend some time in a grim
prison, but they will either escape or be released in a short time.

John Fitzpatrick

When I was a young reporter in the Northeast of Scotland I felt I had earned my spurs when I covered my first murder. It was a sordid affair involving a disabled, alcoholic, ex-professional footballer who was beaten to death by his nephew in a drunken brawl.

The local police caught the killer within a matter of hours and charged him. Under the Scottish sub-judice laws there was virtually nothing we could report until the trial at the High Court a couple of months later. Since the killer pleaded guilty, the whole affair was over in a flash.

In journalistic terms it was a bit of a non-story and I had to wait another two years before I became involved in a real crime story. This one left half a dozen people dead, including the killer who had been rightly dubbed the "mad axe-man".

A few years later I was in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia (as present-day Zimbabwe was known for a short period) and attended a court session in which murder trials—generally involving witchcraft—were so routine that the local paper did not even report most of them.

Brazil comes somewhere in between and, for good or bad, no young reporter in Brazil needs to hang around for a couple of years to get a "good" crime story. Here are a few of items from the crime pages of the local papers to give you a taste of life—and death—in Brazil.

Police in Rio de Janeiro kill six alleged drug traffickers, one of whom may have earlier killed a policeman.

In São Paulo, a 20-year man is being questioned as a suspect in the murder of his father and his father's second wife.

Yet another suspect in the killing of the American couple, Todd and Michelle Staheli, is freed as police continue to botch up this investigation. Last week the head of security in Rio de Janeiro state, Anthony Garotinho (a former state governor and a man with presidential ambitions) sat next to the alleged killer during a news conference. A day later the alleged killer was released by a judicial order. Garotinho blamed the police.

A shoot-out in a computer games shop in São Paulo leads to three deaths. One was a young police investigator who killed two robbers before the rest of the gang killed him.

Police in Manaus are accused of torturing a 16-year-old suspected thief to death. The police said they had earlier saved the boy from being lynched after he had been caught stealing a radio from a car.

The death toll in the São Paulo zoo killings has now reached over 70 animals. The victims include an elephant, an orangutan, five camels and three chimpanzees. Police think employees, linked to rare bird and egg smugglers, are responsible.

A soap opera actor was shot dead in the street in Rio after an argument at a party. His family only found out when they went to the police to report that he was missing.

If these events had happened in western European countries they would dominate the headlines but they are run-of-the-mill stuff here. Justice will never be done and no-one expects it. The dead will be buried and the killers will walk free. If they are unlucky they might get caught and spend some time in a grim prison, but they will either escape or be released in a short time.

As the Staheli case shows, you cannot depend on the police at all. The suspect, whom Garotinho paraded in front of the cameras, was not even under suspicion for the Staheli murders, but was caught by chance while trying to break into another house.

Meanwhile on the Political Front....

The thieves and murderers on the streets are not the only ones who benefit from this inefficiency and corruption. The political criminals are sitting pretty too, knowing that they will never spend any time behind bars and will be able to go on using the public purse for their own ends. We could easily present many other examples of politically-linked crimes and mysteries which have still not been answered. Here are three:

How much did chief of staff, José Dirceu, know about the goings-on of his former assistant, Waldomiro Diniz, caught on film soliciting bribes?

How did Maranhão state governor, Roseana Sarney, amass R$ 1.3 million (US$ 430,000) in R$ 50 notes, which police found in the safe of a company she owned in March 2002, when she was a possible presidential candidate?

How does former São Paulo mayor and state governor, Paulo Maluf, manage to top an opinion poll to be mayor again despite almost daily newspaper reports of his alleged involvement in dubious financial dealings involving offshore bank accounts?

Parreira the Pariah of Paraguay

Remember Brazil's brilliant World Cup victory over Germany in 2002? Well don't expect it to be repeated in 2006. In fact, don't assume that Brazil will even be in the finals. In their latest qualifying match against Paraguay, Brazil could only manage a pathetic 0-0 draw in a game which was so boring that television sets were switched off by the million as viewers headed for bed.

The most interesting part of the game occurred within the first two minutes when the lights failed. This gave the Brazilians a chance to laugh at those hopeless, disorganized Paraguayans. (Although those of us with better memories still recall a year of electricity rationing during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government.) Or was it a ploy to unsettle the Brazilian boys? If it was, it worked and jinxed the likes of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaká and Robert Carlos, the so-called golden trio.

However, incredible as it may seem, one Brazilian was rather pleased with the result—the team manager, Carlos Alberto Parreira, who felt Brazil had done well to gain a point away from home. The fact that Brazil are in third place in the qualifying tables and their fate will depend on the final game in June against their historic rivals, Argentina, did not concern him a bit.

Those of you who think that Latin Americans are hot-blooded creatures should think again. When it comes to sang-froid, Parreira is in a league of his own in Brazil. One can imagine him in a previous existence as a stiff upper-lip English army officer in the Khyber Pass stirring his tea as a mob of turbaned Pathan tribesmen attack his post. "Steady on chaps. Don't let the blighters get you down." Famous last words.

Bird Breakthrough

Despite the horrors at São Paulo zoo there is excellent news if you are interested in birds. A field guide to the birdlife of the greater São Paulo area, containing over 200 photographs and a brief text in Portuguese and English, has just been published.

What's the big deal about that? Well, believe it or not, although Brazil contains some of the world's most varied species of birds, there are virtually no guide books available. There are some scientific tomes, of various degrees of quality, but no handy reference books.

I remember traveling through the Pantanal region once and having to rely on my binoculars, notebook and a handful of colored pencils. When I saw a bird I would quickly sketch it and try and fill in the colors. Since I was living in Europe at the time, I had to make comparisons with European species. It was interesting since I had to rely on all my qualities of observation. However, it was also frustrating I could not verify what I had seen.

The new guide Aves da Grande São Paulo is by biologist Pedro Devely from São Paulo University's ecology department with photographs by Edson Endrigo. The book is a little pricey at R$ 50 (US$ 16) but it is an initiative worth supporting. More information can be found at www.avesfotos.com.br


Since becoming a regular contributor to Brazzil I have received hundreds of e-mails from readers. It is always good to get feedback and, although I try and reply to most people, I cannot always do so. I hope those correspondents who do not hear from me will appreciate my position.

At the same time, I would like to point out that I cannot provide advice on finding jobs, houses or—as has happened—sexy Brazilian girls who would make ideal wives. Nor can I help people who claim to be journalists but are too lazy to find information themselves and think I am an unpaid researcher.

The latter are particularly irritating since they generally do not even have the courtesy to say thanks despite the efforts I have often made on their behalf. Colleagues at another site to which I contribute have had the same experience.

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 Comunicações - www.celt.com.br - which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian and foreign clients. You can reach him at jf@celt.com.br
© John Fitzpatrick 2004

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