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Brazzil - Violence - July 2004

Brazil: Rio, Stop the Civil War!

According to United Nations' numbers, Brazil has 2.8 percent
of the world's population and 11 percent of the planet's homicides.
Brazil has the distinction of having 40,000 murders a year,
a number much higher than the deaths in the Iraq war and in
the whole Middle East. What a little sign can do against this?

Beatriz Kuhn


Picture I'm a psychoanalyst for 20 years and for a few months now I have become an activist for citizenry, which, in Rio, is oddly divided in four tribes. The first one is composed by those who use alienation as defense mechanism against the horror experienced with the growing trivialization of evil.

As soon as the shootout at Rocinha favela ended, those who belong to the alienated club went back to the "normality" of our pathological daily life, indifferent to its perversity.

The second tribe is made up by those who get depressed due to the brutal violence and the feeling of having been abandoned. Hopeless, they keep on walking, resigned to our tragic reality. Exhausted and abulic, they simply refuse do fight. Here hopelessness is the mother of surrender.

The third group reacts in a paranoid way. The fear and the hate they feel in face of the danger produce a mental short circuit that makes them think that they will be victims of retaliations if they do protest. They look at the danger from far away, and terrified, take refuge in their private bunkers.

A minority is composed by those who resist and set out to work: they are relatives of the victims of violence, charity workers and indignant citizens. They sound off because they understand that "normality" in Rio de Janeiro is in reality a civil war.

They know that in an emergency it doesn't matter whose obligation is to take care of the problem or who is to be blamed. All that matters is who can do something—and now. And united the irreplaceable power of public opinion can make it happen. And a lot.

Recently, I changed my attitude and adhered to the fourth group. Luckily, my indignation wasn't determined by personal tragedy. It found its limit in the drama the city lived during Easter.

Depressed and leaning over my flat's balcony, opposite the Morro Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers Hills), I was lamenting my impotence face this unacceptable state of affairs.

Suddenly I became aware that I wasn't that impotent: after all, the "wailing balcony" is a huge billboard in an area with a heavy traffic in Rio's South Zone.

I decided to put a sign with the words "Basta" (Enough). And transformed my terrace into the "revendication balcony."

Since nobody is brave the whole time, in a first moment, I was apprehensive with the repercussion my act would have, and, emotionally went back a few steps, paying a visit to the third group.

A few residents in my building, and habitués of this tribe, feeling threatened by the sign, and fearing retaliation by the drug traffickers, asked me to take it out. Apart from them, nobody else seemed to have noticed.

From my viewpoint, the whole city seemed in a daze as in the fables. It seemed like a negative and collective hallucination (a hallucination in reverse with people not being able to see what was clearly obvious) prevented people from noticing a red, 23-by-7-feet sign. I landed without a parachute in the second group and, depressed, I started to lose hope.

I didn't pester anyone with "my" campaign, as I hear sometimes. Everybody thought the idea was great, but very few joined in heartily. I never insisted.

One week after the shootout, people, theoretically lucid, appeared to suggest that the expiration date in "my" issue was over. After all, everything had gone back to normal. I started to feel quixotic.

Ten days after having put the sign, disillusioned and running the risk of becoming a permanent member of the second tribe, I receive a call from a reporter from O Globo newspaper, asking me if anyone in my family had been killed for me to be doing that.

I laughed and answered that it was to prevent anyone from being murdered. Encouraged by the kind article she wrote, I started to recover hope. It didn't last long though.

That same day, residents from the building, frightened by the article's repercussion, gave me an ultimatum. The "Enough" sign had to go from my balcony.

That Friday night, even though I already had 1,000 stickers printed and a website being built, I took my indignation from my façade. And gave up.

The next morning I woke up with the scream of my six-year-old son.

"Rush to the balcony, mom, the neighbor across the street has put up a sign like ours."

That morning, suddenly, everything was worthwhile. Still on my nightgown and even before brushing my teeth, I started to jump and to cry while waving to the unknown neighbor who had definitely taken me back to the fourth group.

My sign is back, now high in the veranda, inside my apartment. Notwithstanding, I have already told my neighbors that I will not commit the violence of an imposition. It the majority so wishes, I will take it out so that democracy may prevail. I may remove my sign, but I won't do the same to my indignation.

The city, as if waking up from its fabular enchantment, starts little by little to offer its solidarity. The movement is beginning to get strength and to build an interesting interdisciplinary bank of ideas.

I'm hopeful, but I'm also realistic because I know how hard is to pull out people from their emotional bunkers.

But if I have to choose between utopia and surrender, I will pick the former without a second thought. Because for me it's Enough! Really.

Beatriz Kuhn is a member of Rio's Sociedade Brasileira de Psicanálise (Brazilian Association of Psychoanalysis). You can find the movement she started www.basta-ja.com.br. You can email her at faleconosco@basta-ja.com.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by Arlindo Silva.

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