Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind

Encontros imediatos do quarto grau [clicar para português]

Whose city is it?

You’re driving slowly on a small street in Rio’s south zone, with two cars visible in your rearview mirror. Suddenly a fourth car appears, blocking your way. Three men get out and each one flourishes a gun in a driver’s face. You hand over your belongings and the car keys; the criminals take the wheel.  The police take fifteen minutes to get there, because cariocas don’t pull over when they hear a siren.

You live in Madureira and have been hearing gunshots in the neighboring favela, for days. You and your family can’t go to work, school, or just plain take a walk.

You leave your house in Serrinha, the favela where the shooting is going on – a war between gangs. You don’t know when you’ll be able to come home. From what you can see, the police only show up when there’s shooting.

Meanwhile, the elite squad occupies 13 favelas and fresh military police recruits go in to pacify them; some drug traffickers are arrested, but others get away. Favela residents say they’re happy; at last there’s peace.

What kind of public safety policy is this? In blogs and on Twitter, cariocas are complaining. It’s not just about trauma and inconvenience; death is at hand.

The latest crime statistics are from the month of August (and show so far a general drop in city crime). There are still no numbers to describe the “wave of arrastões” that O Globo and VejaRio have reported on in recent weeks, but the sense of danger is growing.

State public safety secretary José Mariano Beltrame hasn’t spoken on the subject since early October. What we have are only the suppositions of experts, mostly unnamed, that the drug traffickers are committing robberies either as a response to pacification, or as a way to make up for the losses it’s causing them. Soon, we’ll have the September numbers.

We all know that Rio has a long way to go until it’s a safe city. There are too few police officers, social programs, pacification units; too little time and money. There’s too much fear.

The fear comes from encounters between criminals and victims. It’s rooted in the social apartheid we all experience and that itself feeds division. But the fear can be mitigated by way of another kind of encounter—one that’s been missing for centuries in Brazil.

In the video below, kindly lent by actress and activist Regina Casé with exclusivity for RioRealblog (and sadly, without English subtitles), she asks south zone cariocas if they’ve ever been to their maids’ houses.


Maids know their employers’ lives and homes down to the tiniest detail, but employers rarely do the reciprocal. So Regina invited a young tennis player to visit the home of his ball boy, who lives in the Santa Marta favela. This was four years ago, before the police pacification unit came in. The encounter revealed a great deal. The video is moving, and worth watching even if you don’t know Portuguese.

Poor people live in the Rocinha favela because it’s cheaper. They put up with irregular water, power and sewage service. They throw trash down the hillsides. Rich people live in buildings along São Conrado beach, near Rocinha. On rainy days the trash comes down the hill, blocking pipes, polluting the beach. Rich people drive (or take a helicopter) to homes on other beaches, far from the dirty and dangerous city. Poor people go to the beach in front of the buildings where rich people live.

To whom does Rio de Janeiro belong?

We can and should criticize governor Sérgio Cabral’s public safety policy. But his recent reelection shows that no one has a better idea. The police pacification units are multiplying and spreading. It may be that the state government will slowly deal with other public safety challenges.

This isn’t much for people stuck at home listening to gunshots, or those who have madly struggled with a seat belt with a gun pointed at them.

Meanwhile we all end up rethinking urban life.  “Did you hear about Marvelous Tijuca ?” asks Captain Bruno Amaral, who heads up the police pacification unit in the Morro do Borel favela, contiguous to Tijuca in the north zone. “We had businesses and stores in Tijuca as sponsors, activities for kids, the elite squad and the armored police tank, the caveirão. The idea is to integrate the favela with Tijuca; there were jeep tours, people from Tijuca could visit the favela. People see it and change their ideas. Ninety-nine percent of the people from favelas are good people.”

Your son comes home to the  Jardim Botânico neighborhood and tells you about his day at the Encounter Museum School, a project created in 2010 by Regina Casé, anthropologist Hermano Vianna and multimedia artist Gringo Cardia. He and a fellow student from Serrinha went to Madureira to photograph the new park. After, they returned to the school, located in the revitalized port area, and worked on the material for the museum’s Nature Room. There, cariocas and tourists will see, as Cardia prophesied years earlier, that the museum is “a laboratory for what’s happening around the world” because “Rio de Janeiro is Brazil’s most miscegenated city”.

[RioRealblog heard about the Encounter Museum School at a special presentation at the Casa do Saber, by way of the Rio de Encontros series, organized by O Instituto and CeSec with support from Globo Universidade as well as Casa do Saber]


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About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Porto Rio de Janeiro, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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