The unexpected occupation of Complexo do Alemão and Vila Cruzeiro unearths more than weapons, drugs and bandits.
After a week of violence, fear and uncertainty, this past Monday Rio de Janeiro had calmed down enough for an emotional thank-you from mayor’s Eduardo Paes’ waiter to state public safety secretary José Mariano Beltrame. Gyleno dos Santos, age 73, commented that morning to the mayor that for the first time in his life he’d set out for work unafraid, now that the Complexo do Alemão favelas had been “taken” from drug traffickers by police and army troops, and that he’d like to thank the man responsible. By chance, Beltrame was expected for lunch at the City Palace.
“At lunch, Gyleno asked for a moment and hugged Beltrame,” Paes told O Globo. “He was moved to tears. If you know Beltrame, you know he’s a strange fellow. He doesn’t laugh or cry. He’s got that closed expression of someone totally focused on work. Gyleno expressed everybody’s sentiments.”
In the story’s accompanying picture, Gyleno poses holding a tray of water glasses, wearing a gold-buttoned white jacket with a Nehru collar, one arm behind his back.
Now look at the picture accompanying this October 2010 New York magazine article about New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s cubicled workspace for 52 people. Would a white-jacketed fellow manage to flit around in there with trays of coffee, tea and water, the way waiters and the traditional coffee ladies do in the Brazilian workplace? RioRealblog so far hasn’t managed to discover if Bloomberg has a waiter, hug-distributing or not, but a Brazilian who recently showed her Manhattan apartment to Bloomberg says the Big Apple turned up alone to see it, tape measure in hand. “He didn’t even bring an architect,” she marvels.
Separate and unequal
On Wednesday, secretary Beltrame and other public safety officials visited the liberated complex of favelas wearing the official shirts of their favorite soccer teams, in an evident bid to reduce the socioeconomic gulf between people like Gyleno — who actually doesn’t live in the Complexo, just near enough to be terrified– and themselves. With four good-sized teams in their city, cariocas often begin a relationship with a new person by asking which team he roots for, then building on similarities or differences by joking around just enough for both people to get comfortable.
That gulf is the root of all evil; as its dangerous toll climbs and Brazilians travel more and experience more egalitarian cultures, they’re becoming more critical of it and are in some cases (see the video inserted in this earlier post, if you haven’t already) working to overcome it. Even as Rio’s public safety policy surges forward in an ever-positive environment– yesterday governor Sérgio Cabral said he and Beltrame are working to present a proposal in Brasília to change the constitution to unify the military and civil police forces and make other needed changes– anthropologist Alba Zaluar noted this week in a presentation at the Casa de Rui Barbosa that military policemen and officials eat in separate dining areas, underlining hierarchy and blocking needed communication. Such differentiation is rare in large Brazilian organizations and multinational businesses that are in constant contact with practices abroad, but this legacy of slavery is quite common otherwise.
Social stratification extends even to carioca transportation, which mayor Paes is also trying to sort out before the 2016 Olympics begin. Standing on the sidewalk along the beach with the aim of climbing aboard a vehicle headed downtown calls to mind the famous Burger King Have it Your Way slogan: you can take a mini-van for 5 reais, a cheap and rickety illegal “pirate” bus with no airco for 2 reais, a legal bus with no air conditioning for R$2.40, a bus with air conditioning and regular seats for 3 reais, a frescão bus with air-conditioning and comfy seats for R$4.50, or a comum yellow and blue taxi for about 25 reais. Or you can plan ahead and call a comum radio taxi, a fancy radio taxi, or hire a driver at your hotel. Those who ride the pirate bus are likely to have never hopped into a frescão, and vice-versa.
Shortening the ladders of everyday life is of course not at all easy. Mayor Paes isn’t about to fire Gyleno, who’s worked at the City Palace since 1982. Soccer shirts are a start; officials have also signaled their recognition of real human need by moving quickly to clean up the streets of the Complexo and bring in social services, while police and the army conduct a house-to-house search for bandits, weapons and drugs that will last months. Several TV personalities broadcast directly from the area this week, and today even a few Brazilian tourists appeared in a place that no one had ever sought to visit.
For how long will the Complexo do Alemão and Vila Cruzeiro stay on the map? Many of its drug traffickers got away, apparently through sewage pipes, and they could pop up again. So many other poor communities demand government attention. And cariocas know from their long experience with Carnival, when mostly poor blacks dress up as 18th-century nobles in the commissão de frente section to present each samba school in the parade, that on Ash Wednesday, coaches turn back into pumpkins.
It’s still who you know
Gyleno got it right. Beltrame, 53, is a local hero due much thanks, though he’s originally from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, having come up the ranks of the federal police corps. But his behavior brings to light a worrisome characteristic of Brazilian policymakers.
Asked in this O Globo interview about how his team prepared the invasion of Vila Cruzeiro and Complexo do Alemão, Beltrame said he was able to get help from the federal police because “it’s my house”, and mentions the Rio branch federal police chief by his first name, Ângelo, with the same degree of familiarity that the mayor used in speaking of his waiter.
So, Ângelo and José Mariano root for the same team?
Better than Wikileaks, maybe
It’s clear to all that the main impetus for Rio’s UPP favela pacification program, which now covers 13 key favelas and will extend as soon as possible to what have become the city’s two most famous communities, are the upcoming international sports events. For the first time, the whole world is watching Rio de Janeiro; cariocas want to fazer bonito, to look good.
And one healthy new element in Brazil’s tradition-laden social equation– technology– is also allowing cariocas to watch each other and track behavior, for the first time, on Twitter, YouTube, news sites, and in the ever-more-realtime-internet-linked broadcast media. Here in fact is a video of a weeping Vila Cruzeiro resident accusing police of having trashed his home; news reports said they also robbed a large quantity of cash he had saved up.
Asked by a Complexo local in an email (favelas have cyber cafés for those who don’t own a computer) if residents can video police as they conduct their house-to-house searches, governor Sérgio Cabral said “Of course; residents have the right to video police work in their own homes, in this technological world”. Just in case, the military police has just banned its men from carrying backpacks, in response to dozens of accusations now under investigation.