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If you”re a conspiracy theory fan, it’s a great intelligence plot, a clandestine exchange of information about what’s going on in Brazil, a “Shadow CIA”. Stratfor, according to the Correio do Brasil newspaper, is exchanging information with O Globo newspaper.
“Stratfor says it’s a geopolitical analysis company, with a business model based on subscriptions. In effect, it provides a service simliar to that of government intelligence agencies,” says an article on the UOL site.
That may be the case somewhere else. But not in Rio. On the contrary. There’s a lack of intelligence.
Wikileaks published Stratfor reports that anyone can subscribe to, for a fee. At the moment, because of the leak, Stratfor is making all reports available for free. Wikileaks also published internal Stratfor emails . Thus we discover that the person responsible for Brazilian news is Allison Fedirka. According to the LinkedIn professionals site, Allison lives in Argentina and actually works for Stratfor.
It’s not clear if she writes the reports on Rio. But whoever does could use a bit more information and some critical thinking. Could any foreigner living here think that the word favela really means self-made, as one company report claims?
There’s a lot that’s correct in the reports on pacification in Rio de Janeiro. Yes, the police are corrupt and poorly paid. Yes, they lack the manpower to cover the city’s needs fast and efficiently.
And there are some things, beyond etymology, that are wrong. The expansion of the pacification program, especially to Rocinha favela, didn’t provoke a backlash on the part of drug traffickers, as Stratfor predicted in a report last February. And the issue of militias isn’t restricted to a substitution of drug traffickers in occupied favelas, as the company would have its subscribers believe.
Reading a few Stratfor reports can be a useful exercise for those who live and work in Rio. The reports are built on a faulty premise. It’s a view that can be attributed to a mythology that’s still very prevalent among cariocas.
According to this view, carioca favelas are rife with criminals who have no other choices in life, people who’ll always be criminals, until they go to jail or die. The narcotrafficking gangs are monolithic and all-powerful. Favela residents who aren’t criminals are submissive sheep, incapable of judging events or people.
Such perceptions lead to writing that sounds more like a screenplay than an intelligence report:
Only [with the integration of favelas into the rest of the city] will the government have a decent chance of winning the trust of the favela dwellers, who are currently more likely to put their trust in the drug dealers for protection rather than in the police. Indeed, constituent support within the favelas is precisely what allows the drug traffickers to survive and sustain their businesses. Many of the drug traffickers being pursued in the current crackdowns are laying low and taking cover in homes within the favela and escaping to other favelas, usually through sewer tunnels and then into the dense surrounding forest, where they can rebuild their networks and continue their trade. Similar to combatants in an insurgency, members of criminal organizations will typically avoid combat, lay low and relocate their operations until the situation clears for them to return.
— from a December 3, 2010 Stratfor report.
The poor author of these reports (yes, there’s a lot that’s right there, but trust in drug dealers is more fear than trust) isn’t to blame. The problem — among observers both foreign and native– is a lack of a critical reading of the current situation and its historical roots in Rio de Janeiro. It’s crucial to try and understand what’s really going on, in order to formulate effective public policy and to make our political choices.
A recent blog post discussed some new ideas about urban crime and its repression. It may be, for example, that cell phones have had an enormous role in the ease with which the military police have taken over territory from drug traffickers. Maybe the lack of resistance is due to the fact that they can do business today without recourse to alleys, storefronts and weapons.
It could be that the gangs aren’t as powerful as we think. The excellent book Culture is Our Weapon: Making Music and Changing Lives in Rio de Janeiro, indicated a weakening way back in 2005. Who’s to say that the torching of cars and buses in 2010, which led to the Army invasion and occupation of Complexo do Alemão and Vila Cruzeiro, weren’t signs of despair, rather than power?
What’s the real reason for the growth in the crack market? Is it really because a prison buddy of bigtime drug trafficker Fernandinho Beira-Mar convinced him it would be a profitable business, as the press has reported?
We still don’t know the whole story of these favela/prison gangs and their allies from outside the favelas. We have a notion of the ties between militias and politicians, thanks to the existence of state representative Marcelo Freixo. But what about the ties among drug traffickers, politicians and others? Remember this? There’s more to the story.
Profound social change may be under way in Rio de Janeiro, with current and future implications. It’s social change with deep roots, carefully managed (not to mention repressed) since the 1896-7 Canudos War.
During the most recent debate about the city held by the OsteRio group, former congressman and minister Márcio Fortes observed that the 1970s were as auspicious a decade as the current one. Between 1970 e 1977, he said, investment was three times what it is today. Up went the Rio-Niterói bridge, the subway system, tunnels to Barra da Tijuca, and part of the elevated highwway that’s about to be demolished.
This was during the military dictatorship that arose in 1964 to avoid a Cuban-style revolution.
In the wake of the urban investments of the Brazilian Miracle, with an authoritarian government still in Brasília, the labor populist Leonel Brizola was elected governor of Rio in 1983, soon after his return from exile.
At that time the South Zone belonged to the South Zone, which, Fortes reminded those present, “reacted with rancor to the 416 Line, which was the first bus line to come through the Rebouças Tunnel, bringing people from the periphery to South Zone beaches”.
According to Fortes, middle class reaction to the invasion by Rio’s poor was reflected in the carioca press, which gave ample coverage to urban dangers– sending the pillars of the local economy scurrying to São Paulo. “Much of the responsibility for scaring off the banks and industry belongs to the press,” he said, “which to punish Brizola punished Rio de Janeiro with talk about beach arrastões and images of disorder.”
Cuba ended up not coming to Brazil. The carioca economy turned to ash. But in the last fifty years the 416 Line has multiplied exponentially. Today there’s no way to stem the invasion; still, politicians and the press continue their cautious demand management.
Being careful not to believe cop and robber stories is key to the longevity of our auspicious moment. The real Rio is a complex place.
Click here for an Atlantic magazine article about Stratfor and Wikileaks.