An old-time resident of Diadema tell his side of the
By Elma Lia Nascimento
How could this happen? To Otávio Lourenço Gambra’s neighbors
in the quiet middle-class district of Vila Paulicéia in São
Bernardo do Campo, in greater São Paulo, the handsome, tall, blue-eyed
38-year-old policeman was a dedicated father and devoted husband. A man
who would take time off his busy schedule to take the children to the doctor
or to spend some leisure time with his wife and two teenaged daughters.
A father who spared no sacrifice to maintain those daughters in a private
How could this happen? To his employers in several part-time jobs where
he worked to supplement his income, he was a model of respect and self-denial.
The owner of a butcher shop where Gambra worked as a security guard praised
the fact that he would always insist on paying for every piece of meat
he took home from the place.
How could this happen? During 12 years working for the military police,
the member of an evangelical church received 30 honorable mentions for
good deeds and extreme courage, such as when he saved the life of a 9-day-old
baby whose crazed father was trying to strangle the child. In the Diadema
Military Police 24th Battalion, 2nd Company, Gambra had the respect of
superiors and colleagues alike.
How could this happen then? In a secretly-filmed videotape, that via
CNN, BBC and other channels has been seen the world over, Gambra is shown
leading a beating session in a roadblock at the favela (shanty town)
Naval in Diadema and then shooting at a car and killing one of the passengers
who he had just tortured and robbed. The exemplary citizen—everyone in
Brazil now knows—is a monster known as "Rambo" to the favela’s
How could this happen? That’s what Brazilians have been asking themselves
since the Diadema incident and another similar tape from Rio’s Cidade de
Deus (God’s Town) have been shown repeatedly on TV. In the Cidade de Deus’s
incident taped the night of March 23, 11 people lined against a wall are
shown being beaten by six military police officers, who also insult and
threaten the victims and steal their money. Not that the population hasn’t
heard or even experienced firsthand police brutality. But the gratuity
and violence of it all being exposed on prime time was enough to nauseate
In the aftermath of the national outrage, President Fernando Henrique
Cardoso sanctioned a bill that for the first time in Brazil makes torture
a crime. Pressured by the popular uproar Cardoso has also signed a decree
creating the National Human Rights Secretariat to be headed by José
Gregori, the former Justice Ministry chief of staff.
Rambo and the nine colleagues who participated with him in the blitz
from hell are now jailed at the Romão Gomes prison in Santana, in
the north zone of São Paulo. (A blitz is an unannounced roadblock—a
tactic commonly used by urban police in Brazil.)Gambra stands accused of
murdering Mário José Josino, the Xuxa. His brutal alter ego
was preserved on tape on three unforgettable nights on March 3, 5, and
Besides Rambo, the tape shows Rogério Neri Bonfim, 26, who is
seen slapping people; Maurício Gomes Louzada, 29, who has been accused
of murder; Nélson Soares da Silva Júnior, 26, who is very
active with his nightstick in the film; Paulo Rogério Garcia Barreto,
32, who counts the money that is stolen from the victims; Adriano Lima
de Oliveira, 21, who doesn’t participate in the aggressions (it was his
first blitz); Demontier Carolino de Figueiredo, 28, who only watches the
violence; João Batista de Queiroz, 36, who takes his name from his
uniform; Ricardo Luiz Buzeto, 28, who has been indicted for violence; and
Reinaldo José do Santos, 37, who has been investigated for five
All those who know Gambra agree that he has changed a lot since he started
to work as a policeman. After working the day shift for many years, Gambra
moved to the night shift on a schedule in which he worked 12 hours and
then rested 36. Busy in the police force only from 7 PM to 7 AM, he was
able to find alternate jobs to supplement his meager income, as most of
his colleagues do. But according to Lieutenant Edmílson Staff, who
has known him for more than six years, this could have contributed to his
erratic behavior. Says Staff, "His new schedule might have had a big
influence on his violent attitude."
The $400 or so in extra income that Gambra was able to add to his $550
a month salary as a policeman apparently wasn’t enough. At the Favela Naval
he became famous for taking $50 or even less from his terrified victims.
A resident from the shantytown revealed to the weekly magazine Veja:
"He would come many times by himself, when he wasn’t scheduled to
work, and would lean against a pole, crossing his arms and observing people
coming up and down the street. Then he would approach somebody and take
money, a watch, or whatever the person had." A teenager revealed that
Rambo once put out a cigarette on his head.
A RELUCTANT WITNESS
For Jefferson Sanches Caputi, 29, life has also changed dramatically.
He was the man driving the car in which Josino was killed. Since the murder
he hasn’t had a quiet night’s sleep. At the employment agency where he
works in São Bernardo do Campo, he locks the door of the office,
and at home, he is constantly bickering with his wife.
Many friends turned their backs on him, blaming Caputi for the death
of Josino. According to them and the police version, Josino would be alive
if Caputi had stopped his car. After seeing the videotape, however, these
friends came back, when they discovered that Caputi was telling the truth.
Caputi’s Diadema house is closed. He has moved with his wife and two children
to his parents’ home in São Bernardo. But he would love to move
still farther away if he could.
He doesn’t like to talk about the night of the killing. "It was
around 11 PM," he recollects. "I was coming back home in my black
Gol (car) together with Xuxa (Mário José Josino) and Antônio
Carlos Dias when we were stopped by officer Otávio Gambra, the Rambo,
and his men. They started hitting us the moment we stepped outside the
car. I was hit 34 times with a club by soldier Júnior. He even hit
my soles with a nightstick. That was for me not to go there again, he told
me. After being beaten and let go, I heard the sound of the shots and noticed
that my car’s rear window had been shattered. Soon after that, Xuxa’s mouth
started to bleed. I didn’t stop till we arrived at the hospital where he
died from a gunshot in his neck."
Caputi had to take his dying friend inside the hospital himself with
the help of Dias. Police officers on duty and nurses refused to help, apparently
worried that they would stain their uniforms with all that blood. From
the hospital, Caputi went to the police, only arriving home at 7:30 AM.
He and his friend spent hours at the police station giving statements and
identifying his aggressors. The police didn’t do any anything to hide their
identities and so avoid a possible retaliation from the policemen being
accused. Caputi was less interested in denouncing anybody than in exculpating
himself for the murder.
As expected, the officers denied any wrongdoing and insisted that no
shot was fired. An inquiry was opened, the six weapons used by the policemen
were confiscated for ballistic tests and the victims—only they—were asked
to undergo a toxicological test. When they refused to take the test, this
was used against them. But that was all. There was no effort to go back
to the favela for witnesses or to search the officers’ homes.
The 24th Battalion commander, Lieutenant-colonel Pedro Pereira
Matheus, who has since been demoted from his post, didn’t think the case
was serious enough to deserve even a day of suspension for the accused
Only 20 days after the fact, when he was called for a new deposition,
Caputi saw the videotape of the incident. Still fearing a possible retaliation
from the police gang, he told reporters, "I would like Rambo and Júnior
to know that I wasn’t the one who told on them. It is not my fault that
I had a body in my car. The ones who informed on them were those who filmed
them beating, extorting, and then shooting at Josino."
Caputi fears for his life: "Rambo’s brother has been spreading
the rumor that we are drug traffickers and that we were there that night
to pick up drugs. I am afraid that they will kill me, throw my body in
the favela with some drug that they will put in my pocket, saying
that I was shot in a battle between drug traffickers."
Josino, 29, father of a nine-year old boy, a man who loved to dance
and win dance prizes with his wife Josélia, was buried March 8.
His assassination seemed destined to become just another statistic in the
fight of police against crime, or at least that’s what the police thought.
Nobody knew then that there was a tape that would rally the people behind
a demand for posthumous justice for Josino.
THE ANATOMY OF A TAPE
The story of how the contents of the three-hour tape were disclosed
wrote an entirely new chapter in the book of the São Paulo’s Military
Police chaos. The first person to see the tape was Édson Pimenta
Bueno, lieutenant colonel of the 8th Military Police Battalion,
on March 25, six days before the tape was made public on network TV. Instead
of telling his superiors about the finding he decided to call the commander
of the ABCD military police, Colonel Luís Antônio Rodrigues.
Rodrigues was appalled by what he saw and took the tape to Matheus,
the Diadema police chief. "The first thing I thought," revealed
Matheus later, "was that it was like the book 1984, with Big
Brother filming everything." It was Rodrigues that called Matheus’
attention to the fact that this was not an appropriate time to think about
literature and that the film might end up on TV. He convinced the Diadema
commander that something should be done immediately.
The soldiers involved were then called in and interrogated. The next
day, prosecutor José Carlos Guillem Blat saw the tape and asked
for the detention of all ten officers. "Each one of the officers has
a unique profile and this is very clear," Blat commented later. "Gambra
is always holding his gun, he seems to have a real admiration for his weapon.
Júnior is always using his nightstick. And Bonfim is always slapping
people while the corporals do the backing up." Soon after, all hell
would break loose when Globo TV, the largest and most powerful Brazilian
network, showed three crucial minutes of the torture and death session
on prime time television.
Francisco Romeu, better known as Pica-Pau (Wood Pecker), is the man
behind the camera that filmed the favela Naval incident. He had
worked as a cameraman for Bandeirantes TV in the past, but he was unemployed
and doing free-lance work for more than one year when he made the video
at the Diadema favela. During a party, he heard about the atrocities
that were being committed there and decided to film the scene. Pica-Pau
was able to find a house in which to place the camera, a mere 33 feet from
For his tape he received $10,000 from Globo TV. He got another $15,000
for an exclusive interview with Bandeirantes TV. Even though just a few
minutes of the tape were shown, Romeu has made three hours of most revealing
cinema vérité. On the first night of taping, March 3, three
men taken from a car are beaten repeatedly, despite the fact that they
do not offer any resistance. A little later, a man, after being punched,
is taken behind a wall by three policemen who continue beating him until
Otávio Lourenço Gambra, the Rambo, shoots him, slightly injuring
the man. On March 5, a policeman is seen taking the wallet of a victim
and confiscating its contents.
But the worst atrocities would occur March 7. A driver, who the world
would later know was called Jefferson Sanches Caputi, is stopped by the
officers. He is slapped in the face as soon as he gets out of his car.
Two policemen then beat him with a nightstick, one hitting his torso and
the other the soles of his feet. Released, just before running away in
his car, Caputi screams, "I wrote down the number of your police car."
Incensed with the comment, Rambo shoots twice at the car while another
officer shoots into the air. Pica-Pau, however, slept that night without
knowing his camera had captured the images of a murder.
DISREGARD FOR LIFE
Even though TV was fundamental in revealing the Diadema violence, television
and the media in general have adopted and supported the prevailing attitude
of "criminals have to die," that, according to some experts has
been partly responsible for the public apathy after previous massacres
like the one in the São Paulo’s Carandiru prison when 111 prisoners
Besides, some of the most popular programs currently being shown on
TV seem tailor-made to please the police and justify the violence. They
have names like "Na Rota do Crime" (In Crime’s Way) from Manchete
TV, "Cidade Alerta" (Alert City) on Record Television, and "190
Urgente" (911 Urgent) on CNT/Gazeta TV. They all have that how-brave-our-officers-are
In the aftermath of the Naval scandal, many people have summoned the
courage and seized the opportunity to tell their own horror stories. The
daily O Estado de São Paulo bore witness to some youngsters
who talked about an encounter with police. There were seven of then playing
soccer when a patrol car arrived. Two policemen ordered the children against
the wall, smelled their fingers for traces of marijuana, opened wallets,
and distributed several slaps and insults.
Eduardo, who is black, recalled one of the dialogs:
—Where do you live?
—Just across the street.
—In the favela?
—I knew it. You know something? That’s why Brazil doesn’t advance, because
of people like you.
Unable to find anything wrong with the youngsters, the officers forced
them to do the "pião" (top) also known as the fura-asfalto
(pierce-the-asphalt), an exercise in which the person touches the pavement
with the tip of the fingers and then starts spinning the body around that
place without lifting the fingers. When the boys were sufficiently dizzy,
an officer screamed, "Now, scram. In two minutes we are going to start
shooting. To kill!" Two of the children fell down when fleeing. The
policemen laughed and shot into the air.
In Santa Madalena, a São Paulo favela that is home to
some drug traffickers, residents were asked to name the people they fear
the most. They cited the police first. In the favela Jardim Planalto,
people don’t forget the night police cut the electricity and entered
the neighborhood shooting and knocking doors down. Besides the gratuitous
police violence, they are revolted by the fact that officers normally do
not go after criminals to arrest them, but rather to extort money.
A poll taken by O Estado soon after the favela Naval display
of violence was presented on TV, revealed that 64% of people making less
than $500 a month were afraid of police. For those making $2,000 or more,
the fear rate was 52%. Despite the action being taken to punish the guilty
policemen shown in the Diadema videotape, 59% of Paulistas do not
believe that the officers will be punished in the end.
And they have plenty of reason to think this way. In one classical example,
the massacre of 111 inmates at the Carandiru penitentiary in São
Paulo on October 2, 1992 by the military police hasn’t resulted in any
punishment for the perpetrators. Colonel Ubiratan Guimarães, the
man who led the invasion of the prison after the inmates rebelled against
mistreatment, has become a state legislator. Today he is a member of the
inquiry committee that investigates Diadema’s police abuses.
Another infamous massacre by the police occurred in April of last year
in the northern state of Pará, where 19 landless peasants were summarily
executed. Rio de Janeiro’s infamous Vigário Geral mass slaughter
is another massacre carried out by the MP. The August 30, 1993, police
raid into the Vigário Geral favela resulted in 21 deaths,
including women and children. The case is still dragging its way through
the justice system. Widows and orphans ultimately may receive a meager
$28,000 from the state in compensation for their anguish. But no money
will be paid before the policemen who have been indicted are deemed guilty
by the court. Thirty-three officers have been formally accused of having
participated in the raid, but only 17 cases are ready to be heard by the
courts. Fourteen of these policeman are free and say they did nothing wrong.
Favela dwellers have known for too long the dangers of encountering
the police. "I am 38 years old and since I was 10, I have seen police
beat up and kill my neighbors and friends," said one of the victims
of the Cidade de Deus videotape to the weekly magazine, Isto É.
He is only identified as G. Like most people who denounce policemen, he
fears for his life and hides his identity.
A BETTER POLICE?
The Diadema showdown coupled with the encouragement given by the authorities
and the creation of special telephone lines for people to anonymously report
police violence has given rise to a series of denunciations against police
violence across the country, not only in Rio and São Paulo. People
too afraid or just convinced of the uselessness of any revelation against
police brutality have been emboldened and are revealing some painful secrets
about their dreaded executioners.
Journalists have been poring over the imprecise police statistics to
discover, for example, that from January 1993 to June 1996, the 1403 special
police blitzes in Rio resulted in at least one death per operation. This
number, compiled by the Legislative Assembly Public Security Committee,
does not include clandestine operations by members of death squads and
other extermination groups linked to the police.
In Paraná state, in the south, a pastor accused of drunk driving
was beaten to death. In an effort to clear the air, 100 officers were expelled
from the force in 1996. Another 256 were also indicted and ended up receiving
light sentences or mere reprimands. In the northeastern state of Pernambuco,
an effort to clean the military police ranks of torturers and extortionists
has resulted in 280 expulsions in three years.
A blitz by a colonel in a small Alagoas town, in the northeast, ended
with a group of people, including the local priest, lying face down on
the main square pavement while the police frisked them. Last year, 121
police officers from Alagoas were accused of using violence and torture.
Not coincidentally, it is also in Alagoas that police officers have not
being paid since November of last year.
The state of Minas Gerais has also made an effort to improve the image
of its police force. Since 1993, the state has been experimenting with
the so-called Polícia Comunitária (Community Police) inspired
by police work developed in Canada, Japan and the United States. The efforts
seem to be paying off. In the poor neighborhoods, police officers have
earned goodwill credits by doing good deeds such as serving food to the
poor. As a result, polls have shown that 84% of the Mineiro population
trust their men in uniform.
In the northeastern state of Sergipe, the cleaning up promoted by Security
Secretary Wellington Mangueira, who as a member of the PCB (Partido Comunista
Brasileiro—Brazilian Communist Party) was often tortured during the military
dictatorship, has transformed that state into a model. Amnesty International
points to the state’s achievements as an example for all of Latin America.
There, 236 officers have been expelled or suspended from the police force
and police officers get lessons in human rights, citizenship, and psychology.
On the darker side of the equation, the NGO (non-governmental organization)
Human Rights Watch/Americas just released a report entitled "Urban
Police Brutality in Brazil" listing people killed by the military
police of Belo Horizonte, Recife, Salvador, Natal, São Paulo, and
Rio in the last two years. "There are strong indications that these
were all summary executions," says James Louis Cavallaro Junior, the
group’s coordinator in Brazil.
The São Paulo Military Police currently has a force of 78,000
officers. According to the state constitution, this number should be 92,000.
In Rio, the current MP force of 28,000 is considered 1/3 smaller than it
should be. Estimates by the federal Secretaria Nacional de Assuntos de
Segurança Pública (National Secretariat for Public Security
Affairs) indicate that Brazil would need to increase its police force by
10% to reach the world average of one policeman for every 500 citizens.
The ratio now is one officer for 550 people. Even with this shortage, however,
the Paulista MP has earned the title of the most violent police
in the country. Last year, they killed 183 people and injured another 229.
The average death rate of 15 people a month in 1996, has increased to 19
per month in the first three months of this year.
As bad as these numbers appear, they are a dramatic improvement compared
to years past, according to official statistics. Benedito Domingos Mariano,
the auditor of São Paulo state police, a new post that only exists
in São Paulo, reports that in 1992 there were 1,470 people killed
in São Paulo by the military police. Mariano says that part of the
problem with violence has to do with the low regard the population has
for the police profession.
Some human rights activists, however, don’t think the recent police
statistics should be trusted. They believe that the official number of
deaths decreased only because the police have been more careful in hiding
the bodies of the people they kill. One of these activists, member of the
House of Representatives Hélio Bicudo, accuses the police of deception:
"The military police violence, which was centered before in the so-called
death in service, commonly registered the killings as the result of resistance
on the part criminals to police action. Now these same deaths are being
more and more attributed to extermination groups. The most common artifice
now is to blame these deaths on battles between drug traffickers."
In a recent officers’ profile made by order of the military police force
itself it was revealed that 46% of the officers have only completed elementary
school or studied a couple of years in high school. Sixty-two percent are
married, 35% moonlight outside the force, and 61% don’t own a house. Forty-one
percent wear their uniforms off-duty so they can take the bus for free.
While 36% said they chose the MP because they love the job, 50% complain
that there is too much punishment for the officers.
Other studies made by the military police show that 14% of officers
35 years of age or older are cut from the force because of one of several
forms of psychological disturbances. Another 9% have to leave because of
alcoholism. In the last five years, there were 199 cases of suicide among
the officers, a disturbingly high number.
The starting salary for a São Paulo MP officer is $357 per month.
In other states like Bahia, the salary can be as low as $100 a month. With
such a miserable salary, the police cannot ask a lot from the candidates
who want to join them. And they don’t. All a candidate needs is an elementary
school diploma, which in many cases means they barely know how to sign
their own names. The low salary also forces the policemen to find other
jobs. Since the secondary job often pays an average $700 a month, it is
common that it becomes the main source of revenue for the officer while
the police work turns into a moonlighting job. Recent studies already presented
to São Paulo governor Mário Covas—in theory the supreme chief
of the Paulista MP—show that an officer would need a minimum monthly
salary of $1050 to attend to basic needs.
Nationally, the average salary for someone just starting in the police
force is $300 a month. The average salary for an officer from São
Paulo, the richest state in the federation, is only $500 a month, a little
more than $6,000 a year since Brazilians receive a 13th monthly
salary at year’s end. Compare this to the starting salary of $36,959 a
year for a policeman in Los Angeles. Consider also that food, housing,
and gas, among other necessities are more expensive in São Paulo
than in L.A..
There are 15,000 officers, i. e. 19% of the police force, who live in
shacks and favelas as miserable as the ones terrorized by them.
In many cases, these officers, terrified themselves, hide from their neighbors
the fact that they are policemen. In some shantytowns being a drug trafficker
and a criminal is more honorable and less dangerous than wearing a police
According to corporal Wilson de Oliveira Morais, president of the Associação
dos Cabos e Soldados da Polícia Militar do Estado de São
Paulo (São Paulo State Military Police Association of Corporals
and Privates), police work is the second most stressful job in the country,
losing only to the work in mines. "The stress and the low wages contribute
to worsen the quality of the service," he says. "There is no
use in investing in cars and equipment and forgetting the men."
LEAD YEARS’ LEGACY
The military police as it exists today in Brazil, was an invention of
the military dictatorship and was created by the Lei de Segurança
Nacional (National Security Law) in 1969. According to Universidade de
São Paulo (USP) sociologist Heloísa Rodrigues Fernandes,
the MP was created to combat the "internal enemy", that is, leftist
activists. "The Public Force was a little army controlled by the governors,"
says Fernandes. "Taking it from the state jurisdiction, the military
regime weakened the governors’ power. With the defeat of the urban resistance
movement, the enemy wasn’t the communist anymore but the criminal."
Human rights groups are insisting again that police should be demilitarized
and that their crimes should be tried in civilian courts and not in military
tribunals as is the case right now. "We don’t want the end of police,
but of the militarism that exists today," says Jairo Fonseca, the
OAB (Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil—Brazil Bar Association) president for
human rights. "The police we have now are trained to kill and conditioned
to obey orders without thinking." Fonseca sees in this authoritarianism
the main source of police violence.
Antônio Carlos Mariz, former security secretary in the state of
São Paulo, accuses the MP of being a state inside the state that
has become uncontrollable. The military has its own secret service, called
P-2, and the information it gathers is being used as political power, he
In an interview with Jornal do Brasil, jurist and federal
deputy (member of the House of Representatives) Hélio Bicudo, who
for years has championed a more compassionate and disciplined police force,
declared that President Fernando Henrique could end the lawlessness in
the military police force if he only wanted to. Bicudo blames the military
dictatorship for starting in 1969 the present system in which the military
police is investigated and punished by the military justice system instead
of the civil courts. He’s been trying to reverse this situation since that
time without any success.
The politician blames the difficulty in making any changes on a powerful
lobby maintained by the 500,000 officers across the country. "In the
senate there are more than 20 or 30 senators who were once governors and
who want to be a governor. All of them want to live well with the MP. Without
political will from governors and the president, legislators, and even
the judiciary, we will never solve the problem of police violence,"
According to the just-released Edge of the Knife—Police Violence
in the Americas by American author Paul Chevigny, a law professor at
New York University, Brazil’s record of police violence is the worst in
the Americas. Chevigny, an expert in police violence, compared the work
of police forces in New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Jamaica
and São Paulo. His conclusion: in two years alone (1991 and 1992),
the Paulista police killed eight times more people than the Brazilian
military dictatorship during its 20 years in power. While 240 political
activists were killed and 140 others disappeared during the period from
1964 to 1984, the São Paulo police force killed 2,554 civilians
in ’91 and ’92. During the same period, 51 people were killed by the New
York police and 48 lost their lives at the hands of the Los Angeles police.
In order to compare populations in these three cities we can use the World
Almanac that projects a population of 25.354 million people in the greater
metropolitan São Paulo by the year 2000 compared to 14.648 million
in New York and 10.714 million in Los Angeles.
José Gregori, who will be heading the National Human Rights Secretariat,
intends to open a national debate about police violence and change the
way police are prepared. He cites Interamerican Development Bank figures
that show Brazil as the third most violent country in the world behind
only Colombia and El Salvador.
"The problem of violence in Brazil is very grave," he says.
"But you cannot change this routine with government policies only.
If there is no collective commitment, no one can have a clear conscience.
You have to stop the violence. But the government can only do this with
the help of society."
Diademenses have tough luck. Diadema is the "D" in the greater
São Paulo industrial park known as ABCD that includes also Santo
André, São Bernardo do Campo and São Caetano. An industrial
town between the megalopolis of São Paulo and the rich municipality
of São Bernardo, Diadema has grown too fast for its own good. In
the last two decades it became the favorite place for people without the
resources to own a decent home and who wanted a place to settle down.
Of its 323,000 residents, 80% live in favelas (shantytowns).
Diadema residents deny there are so many people living in substandard conditions,
even though these were the numbers published by the media after the airing
of the infamous Naval tape. The official number puts close to 20% of the
population living in shantytowns.
Life seems to be too cheap here. Last year, there were 296 murders,
a rate of 92 murders per 100,000 people. This is more than double the São
Paulo rate, which is 40 murders per 100,000 and much worse than Rio’s statistics
where there are 66 murders per 100,000 people. This is even worse than
the 69 murders per 100,000 of New Orleans or the 80 murders per 100,000
in Washington, DC. Diadema loses also to infamous Cali, in Colombia, where
there are 87 assassinations for each 100,000 residents.
The place has made some international headlines before, in August 1987,
after police chased and killed Fernando Ramos da Silva, a teenager who
in 1981 at the age of 11 starred in Pixote, director Hector Babenco’s
tale of the criminal life of a band of minors in the streets of Rio and
São Paulo. Ramos da Silva was raised and then killed in a Diadema
favela after having been accused of robbery. He was hiding under
his bed when hit by the police bullets.
In this most inhospitable town, the favela Naval, in a neighborhood
called Vila São José, is probably the worst place to live.
Spread across eight streets and 500 brick and wood shacks, 2500 people
live there. Most work at factories in the area. On the brighter side, all
streets are paved with asphalt, there are two public telephones, and there
is public sewer service even though it empties into a nearby brook. The
place is rich only in hole-in-the-wall bars: 15 of them. The shantytown
has two evangelical churches, the Assembly of God and Igreja Universal
do Reino de Deus (God’s Kingdom Universal Church) and the Catholic Santa
Rita. The commerce of cocaine and crack is conducted in the main street,
also called Naval.
A preliminary study by the Legislative Assembly Inquiry committee, which
is investigating Diadema’s violence, revealed that 12% of the 414 officers
working at the 24th Battalion have been accused of crimes from
beatings to murders. But, now at least, Diadema favelados are breathing
easier. They seem more willing to go out at night without the fear of being
stopped and beaten by police. Many also have finally found the courage
to reveal past violence. In a show of open hostility against the police,
patrol cars have been hit by stones on the city’s streets.
For a time the situation became so flammable that the 24th
Military Police Battalion decided to take the patrol cars out of the streets
at night. Complaining to Rio’s daily O Globo, a soldier identified
only as Santos, his last name, talked about his own fears: "People
are humiliating us in the streets. They curse at us, they jeer at us. Even
our families are being offended. Corporal Goes’s wife was verbally threatened
when taking her daughter to school. We have here 414 men who are not responsible
for what a gang of 20 crazy people did."
April 2nd, when the soldiers caught on the infamous tape were taken
from prison to a hearing at Diadema’s 2nd Police District, close
to 1,000 disgruntled residents waited for them outside the police station.
They screamed, "Murderers", asked for the death sentence for
them (something that does not exist in the Brazilian legislation), and
threatened to lynch the officers. They stopped short of any lynching, however,
because of the sheer power of dissuasion posed by dozens of vigilant policemen
armed with machine guns. This didn’t stop them, however, from throwing
stones at the bus that transported the policemen.
Lieutenant-colonel Rubens Casado, the new 24th Battalion
commander, has an urgent challenge to respond to: to repair the badly damaged
image of his institution in Diadema. "I am going to start by visiting
associations, churches, and favelas," he declared. "I
want to show that the military police have their good side. If the officers
are spurned, the people are going to suffer the consequences because the
bandits are going to take over the streets. We are going to show the population
that we are here to punish the bad professionals. The problem is that the
favelas’ residents have imposed a law of silence on themselves and
they don’t reveal what they know. Anyone who wants to tell us what the
officers have done can trust us and be certain that their anonymity will
Used to a Thrashing
By Agamenon, the alter ego of comedian Bussunda
Similar to the samba, the lundu, the maxixe, the bumba-meu-boi
(a folkloric celebration), feijoada (the black-bean national dish),
cachaça (sugar cane liquor), and the funk balls, police violence
is part of the Brazilian cultural tradition. The thrashing started in the
slave ships, where the black slaves from Africa were beaten on their way
here so they would start getting used to it.
The military police violence is no Paulista (from São
Paulo) monopoly. Thanks to the Real (the new currency) Plan, Brazilians
are eating more chicken and raising galos (roosters, but also lumps)
on their heads. In reality, the MP is only following a neoliberalizing
worldwide trend when it globalizes the citizens’ beatings.
The problem is that the police only hit the poor. But I can understand
that. The poor, like the round, the shank, and the rump, is cheap meat,
which you have to beat well in order to make softer. The poor are a kind
of punching bag for the Brazilian society. They get beat by police because
they are not carrying their documents, they get beat because they are carrying
their documents, they get beat because they are on the streets, and they
end up being beat by their wives when they get home for staying out so
late getting beat.
I understand perfectly well the lack of concern of São Paulo
and Rio’s governors. After all, which is the politician who isn’t scared
to death of the police?
An excerpt from Agamenon’s column published on Sunday,
April 13, by Rio’s daily O Globo.
An old-time resident of Diadema tell his side of the
Living in Diadema since 1952, I feel comfortable writing these comments
on the recent worldwide-reported events involving the Military Police.
First of all, I would like to tell you a little about Diadema’s history.
By 1700, the Jesuits built a posada. It was the first known structure in
the area. Merchants going from Santos in the littoral to Embu or Santo
Amaro used the place as a resting stop. After the Jesuits were expelled
from Portugal and Brazil in 1759 by order of Marquis of Pombal, the religious
order’s properties were taken by the monarchy.
It was Pedroso de Oliveira, known as Antônio Piranga—his name
is on the city’s main avenue today—who started a settlement by building
in 1830 the Bom Jesus da Pedra Fria (Cold Stone Good Jesus) chapel. In
1922, the Empresa Urbanística Vila Conceição acquired
the lands that belonged to Piranga, dividing it in lots. It was created
the Vila Conceição, an homage to Our Lady of Conception,
the place’s saint patroness till this date.
It was to this Vila Conceição that I moved in 1952. We
had then a little village with rural properties that was a district of
São Bernardo do Campo. There was no electricity, running water,
sewage service or telephone. Since the roads that connected the village
to São Paulo or São Bernardo were not paved, there were serious
problems of transportation every time it rained.
On December 25, 1958, the place was incorporated as municipality with
the name of Diadema. The main leaders of the emancipation movement were
Evandro Caiaffa Esquível, a teacher who would become Diadema’s first
mayor, and renowned jurist Miguel Reale, among others.
In its first years as a municipality Diadema endured serious difficulties
because there was no source of tributes to fund municipal investments.
It was then that the city started a policy of fiscal incentives to bring
industries here. In exchange for installing their factories, entrepreneurs
had a few years of tax exemption. Industries, for the most part small and
medium, came in droves, mainly during the so-called "Brazilian miracle"
in the ’60s and the beginning of the ’70s. Many of these industries involved
auto-parts, something very convenient due to a developing car industry
installed in the so-called ABC, embracing the municipalities of Santo André,
São Bernardo, and São Caetano.
The presence of the industries changed Diadema’s profile. Migrants mainly
from the Northeast started to flow to the city in search of jobs. Many
of them, without professional qualification, couldn’t find good jobs and
went to live in favelas (shantytowns). The economic crisis that
started at the end of the ’70s and continued throughout the ’80s, exacerbated
the situation, causing a drastic rise in poverty not only in Diadema, but
all over Brazil. With the most economically disadvantaged without a job,
the favelas grew rapidly during this period. Starting in 1970 the
population grew in a disorganized and explosive way, as the table below
Due to the national economic crisis, collection of taxes from the industries
went down. To worsen the situation the municipal administration didn’t
know how to apply the scarce resources. During this time, it appeared in
the area union leader Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva. The
population, mainly the workers, saw in him a leader and an inspiration
to fight against poverty and oppression. From the ABCD (now including Diadema)
union movement resulted the creation of the PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores—Workers’
Party). Lula, who was the party’s first president, would twice become a
candidate to the presidency of the country.
In 1982, Diadema elected the first Brazilian PT mayor, worker Gílson
Menezes. Inaugurated in 1983, he would start a radical transformation in
Diadema, where 80% of the population didn’t have running water, sanitation
services and asphalt. Using wisely the municipal resources, which by now
were substantial, he invested in health, education, transportation and
urbanization. His successor, dr. José Augusto Ramos, also from the
PT, followed on his steps after taking over the city in 1987. In 1992 once
again the PT, with candidate engineer José Di Fillipi Júnior,
won Diadema’s election.
In 1996, Menezes came back as mayor, even though, due to political bickering,
he left the PT and was elected by the PSB (Partido Socialista Brasileiro—Brazilian
Socialist Party). Today 100% of the streets have water, sewer and asphalt.
Child mortality, which was 82.93 per 1,000 born children, has decreased
to 25.26 per 1,000, a number lower than the average of São Paulo,
the richest state in the country. Diadema has around 300,000 residents
spread throughout its 30 km2, resulting in one of the biggest demographic
densities in the country. The city’s budget was $170 million in 1996.
Before you read the rest of this article I would like you to know that
I am not an activist for the PT or any other political party. This is only
a summary of my personal observations:
Thanks to three PT administrations, there was a huge improvement in
Diadema’s life quality. Municipal schools are better than the ones from
the state; our municipal medical service is much better than that from
the state or from the union. Many cultural and sports centers were built.
The favelas were urbanized, with paved streets, public light and
sanitation services. Today, what we can see are not shantytowns with precarious
wood shacks, but poor neighborhoods with mostly workers living in modest
brick houses. The poorest people today are offered a model program of popular
housing that is praised all over the world. Today, Diadema’s quality of
living is better than in many São Paulo neighborhoods.
Naturally, as any other large and medium-size city in the country, Diadema
faces the problems associated with poverty such as criminality and drug
trafficking. As everyone knows this is no "privilege" of poor
countries. Drug traffic presents itself as a parallel power to the official
one. Mirroring what happens in Rio de Janeiro in a graver and more ostensive
way, drug traffickers exert a strong influence over the poor neighborhoods
in the city’s periphery. It was in one of these peripheries that the lamentable
case of military police violence occurred.
The military police that, together with the civilian police belong to
the state administration, are responsible for fighting crime. These officers,
however, are ill-paid and ill-prepared. A MP soldier earns the equivalent
to $570, not enough for a decent living. Many of these officers are forced
to live in favelas themselves because they cannot pay rent and much
less buy a house. In a shantytown ruled by drug trafficking, they cannot
show their uniforms without risking their own lives and that of their relatives.
They have to hide them. The majority of these men need to supplement their
salaries by moonlighting. They might drive a taxi or work as a security
guard. This situation of poverty and stress leads, frequently, a minority
of officers into corruption and crime.
Crime repression almost always involves violence and the constant contact
with it together with a lack of psychological preparation cause in some
policemen a kind of "mental anesthesia". For them violence becomes
something banal. Besides, crimes practiced by the MP are tried by the Military
Justice, what most of the time means guarantee of impunity. Such crimes
are not exclusive from Diadema as Rio’s events have proved.
For Diadema, the episodes’s impact was tremendous because of the airing
of the tape by powerful Globo Network, which according to rumors is Brazil’s
real ruler. Globo, as well as all the media that covered the case, was
terribly unjust to Diadema, portraying the city as a 300,000 strong huge
favela (shantytown), not mentioning even one of the city’s many
positive aspects. Evidently, Globo Network has no sympathy for the PT and
no interest in divulging their accomplishments, as worthy as they might
be. Cases of violence probably occur more frequently in the extremes of
the east and south zones of São Paulo where misery and lack of infra-structure
are even worse than in Diadema. Just look at the statistics about massacres
linked to drug trafficking.
Police violence is a structure problem, essentially linked to the country’s
socio-economic system, in which there is a moronic elite, which obstinately
concentrates wealth, but is forced to live in houses that seem more like
prisons and drive in bullet-proof cars. Or in some well known cases, these
superrich move to Miami or Paris because they are afraid of the situation
they created. Meanwhile $15 billion are spent to help some bankrupt banks.
Hélio Shimada is a geologist at the Intituto Geológico
in São Paulo, Brazil. You can E-mail him at