My Story About Violence in Brazil Has a Happy Ending

Although I was born in Brazil, I lived many years abroad. I am an international correspondent based in Rio de Janeiro and once was granted an interview by a big shot Brazilian executive.

Flashback: Since I was an adolescent I cultivate friendships with poor people. I had a friend who died recently at the age of 80. Actually he did not know his real age since he was born in a poor God forsaken rural area and his parents never registered his birth.

He had no teeth, spoke flawed Portuguese, but I learned more from him than from my professors at European universities. This man, Alcides, had a Doctorate from the University of Life. We spoke a lot and he used to tie (unwillingly) my brains into a knot due to his philosophical very wise sayings. He was a kind fellow, knew everything about medicinal plants and exuded love.
Well, back to the interview. As I sat waiting for the executive to grant me the interview, a huge black fellow approached me and said that he wanted to speak with me in private. We went to a corner of the waiting room and he asked: "Can I tell you a secret and trust that you won't tell anyone?" "If you tell anyone I will lose my job here." Curious, I said, "Of course, go ahead, I will be as mum as a priest in confession."
The fellow, let's call him João said: "I read the CV you sent to the executive. I am his jack of all trades. Don't waste your time interviewing him. He is false and he does drugs." I thanked him and went directly to his secretary, said that suddenly I wasn't feeling well and had to postpone the interview. Many apologies. Would call later for another appointment which of course I never did.
Two months later I was held up at gun point and was going to be robbed. Nothing unusual here in Brazil. Suddenly, out of nowhere a figure appeared and with a a left hook to the robber's chin, worthy of Muhammad Ali, he knocked the fellow down.

Yes, you guessed it, he was the same guy from the office. I asked him why he risked his life to save me. He said:" Because I saw that you took my words seriously and canceled the appointment. You respected me, which is not common for a poor black guy in this racist country with much prejudice against poor people and I am a former boxer."
I wonder how many middle class people would have placed themselves in harms way to save a person they barely knew….
We became friends and I occasionally have a beer with him.
Yeah, I know some of Brazzil's readers have written "don't tell me about racial prejudice in Brazil, I am white, married to a black woman etc. etc."
Suggested reading:  Dreaming Equality: Color, Race, and Racism in Urban Brazil (Paperback) by Robin E. Sheriff (Author) "It has been estimated that in the course of the transatlantic slave trade, three and a half million Africans were sequestered in Brazil."
Has slavery ended in Brazil? In 2004 the government acknowledged to the United Nations that at least 25,000 Brazilians work under conditions "analogous to slavery." The top anti-slavery official in Brasí­lia, the capital, puts the number of modern slaves at 50,000.
Your humble writer would multiply this figure five fold. Governments tend to under play bad, embarrassing news about their countries.
Now, the question is not racial, but social. Many of the people working under conditions "analogous to slavery" are poor white men and women without speaking about widespread child labor, which is illegal. The place of children is in school not working or begging in the streets.
Who knows perhaps the guy who tried to rob me was a street kid with no opportunity for living a life of opportunities.

Peter Howard Wertheim is a veteran international journalist specializing in covering South America's petroleum and power sectors. He is based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and is fluent in English, Portuguese and Spanish. Comments welcome at or


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