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Brazzil - Crime - May 2004

In Brazil, Criminals Are Our Heroes and Saints

On the day of drug lord Lulu's death, businesses in Rocinha
closed as a sign of mourning. Lulu was interred to the applause
of a small multitude. The secretary for security in Rio, Anthony
Garotinho, in another fit of histrionics, talks about indicting those
applauding. Will he indict the whole favela for mourning?

Janer Cristaldo


Picture Over the course of ten days, beginning with Holy Week, twelve people were killed in Rio de Janeiro, as a consequence of the war between drug traffickers for control of the favelas. A national scandal. The press is already talking about civil war.

The State government is pretending to ask the Armed Forces to intervene in the city, the Minister of Justice is pretending that he is going to send soldiers to confront the war between the favelas. As there is no interest on the part of the state government in intervention by the Armed Forces, nor any interest on the part of the federal government in sending soldiers, what was said might as well not have been said, and that's all there is to it. Each actor recites his part, without any consideration for the audience. This is April in Rio.

Until a few years ago, every Tuesday, the daily O Estado de S. Paulo would publish a little note tracking the massacres in greater São Paulo, between midnight on Friday and midnight on Sunday. The average number of murders was fifty people per weekend. Sometimes there were sixty or more killed. Rarely, fewer than fifty.

The number was always far greater than any weekend in Bosnia or Israel, whether during the war in Bosnia or the permanent war in Israel. No scandal. The statistics—which finally ceased being published—were like a monotonous mantra of urban violence, which surprised nobody. Why does a dozen corpses in Rio cause so much commotion?

It happens that, in the midst of the Easter firefight, the traffickers committed a fatal error. Three members of the middle class, residents of the South Zone, were killed. When poor wretches in the periphery are killed, that is statistics. When three from the middle class are killed, we are facing a civil war.

The traffickers Luciano Barbosa da Silva, or Lulu, who controlled the drug traffic in the favela of Rocinha, was killed, in a confrontation with the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro, and buried the next day, in the São João Batista cemetery, with an aura of sanctity. Ten buses accompanied the corpse.

On the day of his death, businesses in Rocinha closed as a sign of mourning. Lulu was interred to the applause of a small multitude. The secretary for security in Rio, Anthony Garotinho, in another of his usual fits of histrionics for the press, talks about indicting those applauding incitement to crime. Will he indict the whole favela for mourning?

There is nothing new here. For a long time the favela has mourned its heroes. And the mourning is required not only in the favela, but in the streets as well. In the favela the mourning is spontaneous, and shows the sorrow that those in the favela feel for their meritorious benefactors.

Since, in the absence of the State, the traffickers had the brilliant idea of supplying social assistance to the people in the favelas. In the streets adjacent to the favelas, mourning is compulsory. Woe to the merchant that does not observe it. Recently, for the edification of younger generations, the traffickers have even ordered mourning in the schools.

Lulu da Rocinha leads us to Pablo Escobar Gavíria, one of the greatest murders of the last century, now revered in Colombia, as a hero or a saint. Born in Medellín, he was one of the great capi of the drug trade in Latin America. He even managed to become senator, and recently was the subject of a film, Citizen Escobar (a reference to Citizen Kane, by Orson Welles.)

The trafficker had so much power in the mechanisms of the state that he even managed to construct the prison where he was kept, so that there would be nothing lacking for his comfort and leisure. Revering gunmen is becoming a trend in this pitiful continent.

A Long Tradition

It began with Lampião, in Brazil. It continued with Luis Carlos Prestes and, more recently, we had Lamarca and Marighella. This is not even to mention the Argentinean adventurer responsible for the longest-lasting dictatorship on the planet, revered in Bolívia as San Ernesto de la Higuera. I am talking, of course, about Che Guevara, the latest thing in fashion in New York.

It has been a long time since the public authorities—whether municipal, state or federal—lost control of the favelas in Rio. They became Bantustans, where only those permitted by the traffickers may enter. Territories without law, say the newspapers. Not at all. Territories with other laws. In this fraying Brazil, there are laws for white, laws for Indians, laws for blacks, laws for the so-called landless and laws for favela-dwellers, and there are still those who think that the country is running the risk of splitting up.

Now, the country has been split up for a long time. While a white must obey all the laws in force, an Indian can kill, rape, and take hostages, and won't go to jail. A black can get ahead in the line for the vestibular (college entrance exam) without fraud. The landless can invade private property and buildings at will; that is social justice.

And the favela can sell drugs when and how it wishes, and no one is looking. The great novelty has just been discovered: the drug traffic runs rampant at the entrances to the favelas, next to the police stations. The press simply forgot to say that drugs are on every corner in the big cities, for anyone who wants them and only the police doesn't know where they are.

In the midst of this, Fernando Henrique Cardoso seems to have discovered America. "If there is drug trafficking and smuggling it is because there are consumers" said the ex-president. If he had left it at that, it would be nothing more than a prosaic Acacianism, scarcely elegant for such an erudite intellectual.

But the president seems to have been contaminated by the PT syndrome, their blessed mania for blaming the rich for all the world's ills. "This is a middle-class problem," he continued. "Drug users are rich, not poor." In two sentences, he committed two errors unworthy of an academic. He confused the middle class with the rich, when being rich was always the dream of the middle class. And he denied the obvious fact of drug consumption by the poor, who, moreover, are the most dangerous consumers of drugs. If they don't have money for drugs, they do not hesitate to rob or even kill to get their fixes.

"Specialists foresee the return of drug trafficking to Rocinha," says a Reuters headline. As if it were necessary to be a specialist to imagine that a market with a monthly turnover of 50 million reais (US$ 17 million) could be restrained because a few men from the police went up the hill into the favela.

There is only one way to end drug trafficking in Brazil and the violence that is inherent to it: legalizing drugs. If reality is inescapable, let us be realists. No one is going to stop using drugs because of educational campaigns.

When the user can buy pot or cocaine at the pharmacy, the 50 million reais will disappear from the favelas and enter the legal, taxable economy. Without 50 million reais at stake, there will be no reason to carry guns and kill.

The day will come in which perplexed historians will peer at the press of our decades and will ask how our contemporaries did not eliminate so much violence with one stroke of the pen. Until this day arrives, the newspapers will continue counting corpses, the politicians will continue talking about civil war, and the traffickers will continue to enrich themselves with illegal drugs.

Janer Cristaldo—he holds a PhD from University of Paris, Sorbonne—is an author, translator, lawyer, philosopher and journalist and lives in São Paulo. His e-mail address is cristal@baguete.com.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by Tom Moore. Moore has been fascinated by the language and culture of Brazil since 1994. He translates from Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian and German, and is also active as a musician. He is the librarian for music, modern languages and media at The College of New Jersey. Comments welcome at mooret@tcnj.edu.

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