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A Lesson Passed from Father to Son in Brazil: He Who Doesn’t Steal Is a Sucker

Father and son Distinguished reader, lovely lady reader, put yourself in the shoes of someone who has to write every week. I am not referring to the obligation to produce a text regularly without fail. Sometimes, like everything in life is a little boring, but with experience this is a piece of cake, there are tricks and tips learned informally over the years and this is no sweat for the old hand.

What’s really boring, in my opinion, is the “hook,” the need that the text be based in the surrounding reality. Of course, nothing prevents you to write something entirely fanciful or delusional, but the usual is that the article or report is elicited by the daily life, something that is going on, or is drawing attention.

That’s right. Today, once again, what’s the hook? Whether you read the newspaper or hear on the corner, all we talk about is thievery. Widespread thievery, embezzlement, commissions, kickbacks. We steal everything, everywhere. We steal government funds in the Union, states and municipalities.

We steal humanitarian donations and emergency funds to help disaster victims. We steal material, we steal fuel, we steal whatever can be stolen. What’s the hook then? It can only be thievery. There is no other, at least that I see. It is the theme of the day, no use trying to choose another, it imposes itself.

Today I believe there isn’t a single Brazilian man or Brazilian woman (from time to time I do it right when using the new rule to distinguish between the genders) who do not have the conviction that at least most of the rulers, in the three powers, are made of abusive privileged people and thieves, in the broadest sense the term may have.

We got used to it, it’s part of our daily routine, nothing surprises anyone anymore. Even the most jaw-dropping offense may be true. And  we’re also used to the fact that nothing happens to the thieves. They not only stay out of jail, as they must carry on living happily with their stolen money, because we never hear any news about money being returned.

That is, as much as someone in authority tells us expressly to the contrary, using a dubious legalese and warped statistics, the truth is that in Brazil, crime pays. I assume that even the most inept burglars have at least a vague perception that all powerful people steal, so it is once again proven that he who doesn’t steal is a sucker.

Sometimes it almost seems that there is a central location where fraud programs are written, because the thieves’ ingenuity knows no bounds, and today, analyzing the dirty tricks applied in one or two ministries would require a skilled professional with years of study and experience. As soon as an organ or budget is created, a gang appears dedicated to stealing that organ or make away with that money.

We are suspicious of everything from public works to lotteries, from the police to the courts. We can count on the fingers of one hand the rulers in any of the three powers, that we still believe we can trust – and there’s growing mistrust in them, as well as the cynicism and apathy in the face of a situation that seems insoluble as someone who meets a bad fate and can never get rid of it.

It would not be unreasonable at all to say that we are a lawless society. In some ways, we really are, because our laws have no teeth, they don’t bite anyone. Even in the case of a murder being solved, which is far from the rule, we are tired of seeing murderers get away with practically no punishment thanks to labyrinthine and woefully formalist network of appeals, legal niceties and super short sentences.

The possibility of even a confessed murderer never being truly punished, just very lightly, is something that happens every day. Killing here becomes more and more trivial and many assailants shoot for the pleasure of shooting, kill for the pleasure of killing.

I do not know where else in the world the individual enters a police station carrying the corpse of the victim, showing the murder weapon and confessing being guilty of the crime, to be released soon afterwards, surrounded by lawyers and maneuvers to avoid jail time.

Hard to believe, even knowing that this is a documented fact. If the guy is a first-time offender, has known address, a job etc he goes home almost as if nothing had happened, perhaps even exchanging a handshake with the police chief, as I picture. I mean, it’s crime, but killing in Brazil comes easy, the price is very affordable.

And this situation is not just for the rich anymore because others are also learning, as was the case of a young robber in São Paulo, that many of you have seen on TV. He presented himself at a police station voluntarily, he’s first time offender, has fixed residence. etc.. Although he put the blame on the victim because the person reacted, he confessed the crime.

He was released shortly thereafter, leaving the police station with a big smile. And if one day he ends up convicted, he’ll have a sea of resources at his disposal, having added to this the benefits to which he’s entitled while serving his sentence.

I have already said that the best way to murder someone in Brazil is to get drunk, get out with your car and run the victim over. Getting drunk is an aggravating factor anywhere else. In Brazil, however, it  seems to work as a kind of mitigating circumstance.

We start discussing whether the homicide is willful or grossly negligent, if the Traffic Code or the Penal Code should be applied to the case but, at the end, what happens is that perpetrator pays bail, goes home and waits, at worst, to be considered guilty in one of those toothless laws and then serves his sentence in freedom, or close to that.

Which, in addition to what is said above, leads to the conclusion that, among us, crime pays. And perhaps thanks to the examples given by parliamentarians and other leaders, we are witnessing the democratization of impunity, which gradually stops being a privilege of the wealthy and powerful to become a right for all. We’re good to go.

João Ubaldo Ribeiro, member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, is a renowned Brazilian novelist, journalist, script writer and professor. Two of his most celebrated books are Viva o povo brasileiro (Hail the Brazilian People) and A casa dos Budas ditosos (The House of the Blessed Buddhas). He has lived in the US (as student and professor), Portugal and Germany.

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