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 trialsgenerally involving
witchcraftwere so routine that the local paper did not even report most
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 lifeand deathin 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
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
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 resultthe 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.
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
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
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 oras
has happenedsexy 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 email@example.com
John Fitzpatrick 2004