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In Brazil, It’s Three Beers or Your Life

 In Brazil, 
                It's Three Beers or Your Life

Bribe fishing, is nothing
new in Brazil, having been incorporated
into Brazilian culture decades if not centuries ago. Things are
getting worse, however. Being honest and not choosing to play
the corruption game can endanger the life of anyone who defies
the "system". The bribery industry is installed at all levels of society.

By Leila
Cordeiro

Apart from the eight o’clock TV soap, the topic which most unites people at
social gatherings in Brazil’s larger cities, especially Rio and São
Paulo, is violence.

Everyone has an unpleasant
story ready to tell, whether as a first-person victim, or as a relative or
friend of someone who has been touched by violence.

The stories about kidnappings
are the most harrowing. The experience of passing days or even months in captivity,
defenseless in the hands of kidnappers and not knowing how the situation will
end, is an indelible trauma for those who have been through it.

Stories of lightning kidnappings
(seqüestros relâmpagos) are becoming increasingly more common.
The victim is often forced to drive around all night with the kidnappers until
they have amassed a sufficient amount, rarely more than 1000 reais (US$ 348),
from various ATMs.

It seems that these days
anyone is a potential kidnap victim: all it takes is to be in the wrong place
at the wrong time and to have a bank account. The balance is not important.

When these stories are
being swapped, there are also lighter and more curious but nonetheless disturbing
tales told. Such is the case of Bia and Claudinho, a young Rio couple who
fell into the clutches of a traffic policeman at an intersection in Rio’s
South Zone. Note how the exchange between them builds in emotional intensity:

"Damn! I think the
traffic cop parked in front of that bar is going to give me a ticket for running
the red light."

The policeman blew his
whistle and signaled Claudinho to pull over.

"Hang on", said
Bia, "All he has to do is get your license number and send a ticket in
the mail."

A little worried, Claudinho
pulled over. He was tired, having just got off work and stopped off at Bia’s
place to pick her up. The policeman approached slowly, radiating absolute
authority, and ready to do damage to the wallet of his victim. And that’s
exactly what happened.

"Good evening, young
man. Are you aware that you just ran a red light and could have put lives
at risk?"

"Yes, sir. No problem.
I know I made a mistake and I’m perfectly willing to pay for it. Write me
a ticket."

"Slow down. Take
it easy. We can deal with this right now. You don’t need to pay a ticket.
We can fix it right here, just between the two of us."

"But officer, I’m
sorry. I know I screwed up and have to pay for it."

"Wait. I’m not sure
that I get what you’re saying. You want to give money to Cesar Maia (the mayor
of Rio) who is rich, instead of showing that you understand that I need it
more than him? Enough for three beers and everything is cool."

"Don’t get me wrong,
officer, but I’d prefer to get a ticket", said Claudinho, pretending
not to understand what was being suggested.

"OK then. I’ll write
you a ticket. But listen up and pay attention. I’ve got your address here.
I know where you live, but….OK."

This story is scary, not
for the bribe fishing, which is nothing new, having been incorporated into
Brazilian culture decades if not centuries ago, but for the policeman’s veiled
threat.

Being honest and not choosing
to play the corruption game can endanger the life of anyone who defies the
"system". On the other hand, if everyone in the world behaved like
Claudinho, would our society be better?

Amongst the many conclusions
to be drawn from this story is the realization that the bribery industry is
installed at all levels of the social scale. And that in this industry, the
cost may be several million reais, diverted to offshore tax havens,
or simply the price of three beers.

This article was originally
published in Portuguese by Direto da Redação – http://www.diretodaredacao.com/.


Leila Cordeiro has extensive experience as a TV reporter in Brazil. She
is also an artist and published author. She can be contacted at leilacordeiro@diretodaredacao.com.

Mike Allan
translated this article. He worked as a translator in Rio de Janeiro from
2001 to 2004, and is currently based in Vancouver, Canada, where he continues
to translate, as well as working in international education and playing
guitar. He can be contacted at mikeallan@uol.com.br.

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