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Brazzil - Crime - September 2004

In Brazil, It's Always Killing Time

The recent killings of homeless people in São Paulo led to
politically correct indignation and a demonstration organized by
the Catholic Church and the Workers Party. This protest showed
the nauseating sight of Mayor Marta Suplicy helping to carry a cross,
trying to compare the sufferings of the homeless with those of Jesus.

John Fitzpatrick


Picture The Brazilian media has devoted a lot of space recently to the killings of homeless beggars in the old center of São Paulo. There are thousands of these people in the city and many of them congregate in the downtown area around the Praça da Sé and Anhangabaú regions.

Most Paulistanos could not give a damn since the down and outs are generally filthy, smelly, uncouth and, at times, menacing. I once made the mistake of walking under the Viaduto do Chá when about 20 of them were hanging around.

They were nearly all male alcoholics and I found myself being pursued and harassed virtually up to the Banespa building in Avenida São João. No-one has any sympathy for this type of homeless person and there are some people who would be glad to get rid of them in any way possible, even if it meant killing them.

There are, of course, more sympathetic cases, such as the women you often see who have been abandoned by their worthless male partners and left to cope with hordes of children. There are also old people, the mentally ill and hundreds of homeless children.

The killings led to politically correct indignation and a demonstration organized by the Catholic Church and the Workers Party (PT). This protest presented us with the nauseating sight of Mayor Marta Suplicy helping to carry a cross which presumably was meant to compare the sufferings of the homeless with those of Jesus.

This antic was particularly distasteful since Marta comes from a wealthy background and is as much a socialite as a socialist. Although she is personally responsible for running the city, she tried to pin the blame on the PSDB state governor, Geraldo Alckmin, since the state is, in theory, in charge of security.

Who Did It?

Conspiracy theories also abounded as to the identities and motives of the killer or killers. Take your pick from the following list: a mentally unbalanced serial killer, a motorbike gang, a two-man team, one black and one white, operating by car and motor bike, a gang of skinhead racists although how anyone can be a racist in a country where more than half the population is of mixed race or black is beyond me, policemen or professional killers hired by shopkeepers etc. Naturally the foreign press picked the story up and Brazil's reputation abroad was tarnished once more.

It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Brazilian police to learn that no-one has been arrested in connection with these killings. The police say they are investigating and they have questioned a number of suspects but to no avail.

The story is already fading and giving way to another horror story involving a serial killer who has been hiring taxis in Minas Gerais to drive him to São Paulo. Along the way he has murdered the drivers and stolen their vehicle.

In one case, the police failed to identify the body and the driver was buried in a common grave alongside the unclaimed bodies of beggars and the homeless. The toll so far is six and the killer is still on the loose. It's always the killing time in Brazil.

X-rated Mayors

Municipal elections will be held across Brazil in October and the campaign is in full swing. In big cities like São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte the race is being seen as a kind of opinion poll on the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

People in São Paulo can choose their next mayor from a list of qualified people with hands-on experience such as the incumbent, Marta Suplicy, former presidential candidate, José Serra, former mayor, Luiza Erundinha, and former mayor and state governor, Paulo Maluf.

Whether you like or loathe them you must admit that they are credible candidates. However, in some smaller places in more remote regions, voters do not have the same choice in terms of quality.

Readers in Europe or North America may not believe this, but in many parts of Brazil people who are barely literate are standing for positions which will give them power to run municipalities and distribute the financial resources.

Thousands of would-be candidates have taken literacy tests and many have failed. Even those who have passed have levels f literacy which would not be accepted in a more developed country.

It may seem unfair to prevent people who are illiterate, through no fault of their own, from standing for office but how can someone who can barely read or write understand what he is "reading" or documents he is "signing"? The X should be for the ballot paper not the mayor's signature.

Another survey, just released by the TSE electoral supervisory body shows that of the 377,000 candidates standing as mayors and local counselors, 30% have the basic grade of education, 27% have medium grade and only around 16% have college grade.

If people were to be prevented from standing for office because of their lack of education then Lula would not be our current President. No-one would want this but, at the same time, this low level of education and the worrying levels of semi-literate candidates shows that Brazil has a long way to go before becoming a developed democracy.

Elis Lives

To happier matters. Brazilian music has a rising new star called Maria Rita who is the daughter of Elis Regina, the singer who died in 1982 when she was in her late 30s. Maria Rita looks and sounds like her mother and has won many fans among people who recall Elis Regina as well as the younger generation.

Her debut CD has been a great success and I would recommend it to readers. On top of this, she has just won a Latin Grammy award as an up-and-coming new artist and for the best CD of MPB (Música Popular Brasileira—Brazilian Popular Music). (By the way Milton Nascimento won the prize for the best Brazilian song, with "A Festa.")

It's still a little too early to say whether Maria Rita will go on to establish herself. Although I like her style, I feel her repertoire is a bit repetitive and rather old-fashioned.

A friend of mine who is a fanatical admirer of Elis Regina told me she was impressed but wondered if the daughter had the staying power. Let's hope so because we need a new voice to follow Gal Costa and Marisa Montes.

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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