Brazil can be a dangerous
place for foreign dreamers. We have
seen a good example recently of how things can go terribly wrong.
A 56-year-old Swiss language teacher was thrown from the seventh
floor of his apartment in Rio. A 30-year-old manicurist who was
his long-term girlfriend admitted being involved in the crime.
About 18 months ago, a reader sent me an e-mail asking for practical advice
about a town in the Northeast of Brazil which is notorious for its sex tourism
He said he was planning
to spend a couple of weeks there with a girl he had "met" through
the Internet and if they got on well he might marry her. He also asked if
he would be able to buy a Portuguese phrase book on arrival since he spoke
no Portuguese and the girl spoke little English.
This man was middle aged,
divorced and had a grown-up daughter. I was astonished by his naivety and
carelessness and, although it was none of my business, I warned him he could
find himself in great danger and should be extremely careful.
I don’t know if he ever
found happiness and a new wife but, as I have written before ("Dream
on. This is not Brazil!" – https://www.brazzil.com/pages/p143mar03.htm),
many naïve foreigners dream of coming here and escaping from reality,
generally in the arms of a luscious brown-skinned tropical beauty.
While she is catering
to his sexual fantasies, the sun is shining in a cloudless sky, the surf is
rolling onto a nearby deserted beach, the palm trees are swaying gently in
the breeze, an ice cold caipirinha is within reach on the bamboo table
in their beach hut.
And the berimbau
is twanging away hypnotically in the background where the local lads are practicing
capoeira on the whitewashed ramparts of an old colonial fort, the fishermen
are returning with their catch which will shortly be served up as a moqueca
capixaba in the local restaurant by a smiling mulatta waitress with gleaming
white teeth and swaying hips, and all is well with the world.
Maybe a place like this
does exist outside the imagination of these frustrated males but in reality
Brazil can be a dangerous place for these foreign dreamers.
We have seen a good example
recently of how things can go terribly wrong and the Brazilian dream becomes
a hideous nightmare. Reto Franz Ullmann, a 56-year-old Swiss, who worked as
a language teacher, was thrown from the seventh floor of his apartment in
Leme right in the heart of Rio de Janeiro’s tourist district.
A post mortem revealed
that he had been tortured before being flung out of the window. He had been
gagged, strangled with telephone wire, slashed with a knife and some of his
fingers had been broken. For once the police were efficient and arrested two
girls, one a teenager, who admitted being involved in the crime.
One of them, Regina da
Silva, was the man’s long-term girlfriend, a 30-year-old manicurist, who police
say planned the killing to get hold of US$ 16,700 the victim had brought from
Switzerland just two days previously.
This sum is an absolute
fortune in a country like Brazil where the official minimum wage is around
US$ 85 a month. Someone earning the minimum wage would have to work for 16
years to attain this amount.
A manicurist is one of
a typical dead end "job" for girls who have dropped out of school.
Other alternatives are becoming a domestic maid or a prostitute.
Although the manicurist
had been going around with the Swiss for five years police say she had a local
boyfriend who was a convicted robber and drug trafficker. She tricked the
Swiss into believed that her boyfriend wanted German lessons and he entered
the flat with her.
She said her boyfriend
attacked the older man because he would not reveal where the money was. She
also claimed the victim had jumped out of the window. The boyfriend is still
on the run and is believed to be hiding in the Morro São João
favela in the north of the city where he is, to all intent and purpose,
beyond the arms of the law.
Two other cases spring
to mind. About four years ago I met a young Norwegian student while waiting
for someone outside the MASP museum in São Paulo. We got chatting and
he told me he was on a study exchange and had been here three months.
He enthused about the
local girls and said he had been pleasantly surprised at how easy it had been
to find a girlfriend. We exchanged cards and went our way. About a year later
I saw his picture staring out of the crime pages of a newspaper.
According to the story,
he had been missing for five weeks during which time no-one had heard from
him. College friends said he had gone off with a girlfriend who lived in the
interior of the state and had just disappeared.
I never learned the fate
of this young man but think there is a fair chance that he was lured or kidnapped
to some deserted spot by the girl and met a bloody end at the hands of her
real boyfriend or associates.
A more recent case which
gained more publicity concerned a middle-aged Irishman who was a director
of the British school in São Paulo. According to news reports at the
time, he spent much of his spare time hanging around gay bars and had a liking
for rough trade. One evening he returned to his apartment in the company of
a younger man and was brutally murdered.
What is interesting in
these three cases is that the victims were living here and presumably had
legal permission. The two older men obviously spoke Portuguese and were familiar
with Brazilian culture yet they paid a price for mixing with the kind of people
they would not have spent a moment of their time with in their own countriesyounger,
uneducated criminally-inclined people from poor backgrounds.
If these people can lose
their direction in Brazil what must it be like for someone like my correspondent
who thought he might come down here and find a wife in a matter of weeks.
Foreigners are not the
only victims of this kind of crime. Older Brazilian homosexuals are often
tortured and murdered by younger toughs and kidnapping is very common.
However, foreigners are
often easier victims since they are generally better off, have fewer prejudices
than Brazilians, are often politically correct and are far from the restraining
influences of their home cultures.
One final example shows
that even people who should in theory be completely safe can end up losing.
About two years ago a group of six Portuguese businessmen came to the Northeast
to have a good time. They were met at the airport by a Portuguese who was
related to one of the men.
He had been living in
Brazil for a couple of years and had urged his relative to come and have a
holiday and bring some friends. Instead of going to their hotel the Portuguese
said he had arranged a meal in a local restaurant owned by a friend where
there would be lots of sexy girls.
When the group arrived
at the so-called restaurant instead of being hugged and kissed by local lovelies
they were trapped in a room by a gang which shot and bludgeoned them all to
No mercy was shown even
though some of the men pleaded for their lives and offered to hand over all
their money and goods. Within hours of arriving in Brazil the bodies of this
group from the "mother country", all of whom spoke the language
and were expecting to receive lavish hospitality, were being dumped into a
mass grave which was concreted over.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
© John Fitzpatrick