Van rapes reveal social division

Split views out of a Rio bus

[UPDATE: minutes after this post was completed, Rio suffered yet another tragedy: a bus fell off an overpass on Avenida Brasil, killing at least seven and severely injuring fifteen passengers. According to a passenger who got off the bus before it fell, the driver was arguing with a man who had jumped the turnstile.]

March 23, a Brazilian woman reported to the police that she’d been raped in Copacabana after getting into a mini-van. Not much came of it– until the same happened to an American student, late Saturday night. As a result of the earlier negligence, two police administrators have been removed from their positions.

As bus fleets failed to adequately meet transportation needs in the 1990s, vans came into being in Rio de Janeiro. Today, they clog traffic and fleets are often managed by paramilitary gangs. Drivers cram in dangerous numbers of passengers, many standing without headroom, while money-takers hang out of windows and hawk seats as if they were carnival rides (and a journey is sometimes not unlike being in a roller coaster, as on much of Rio’s public transportation, sometimes with tragic consequences).

Vans are relatively cheap, generally dependable, and they fill a real need. When Carnival overwhelmed the metro, vans saved the day. When bus drivers struck, vans saved the day.

Who rides in vans? Not the upper classes. And in Brazil, there are a lot of things the upper classes don’t do. This was the subject of an impressively honest discussion last night at an OsteRio debate on Rio youth, part of the series founded by the late urban thinker André Urani, among others.

Rio’s young elites, said Fabricia Ramos, are overwhelmingly focused on reproducing the lifestyle their parents created for them. Parents, she recounted, teach their children that Brazilians are peaceful and passive; that cariocas are special, and that politics is a boring pursuit.

Lacking an overview of the socioeconomic structures that  support the elite lifestyle (as well as the curiosity to learn about them), these children grow up to shirk leadership– and they even refuse to see themselves as elites. “It’s very irresponsible,” said Ramos, who went to the Escola Americana do Rio de Janeiro, one of Rio’s most expensive educational institutions. According to Ramos, today a researcher at the IETS thinktank which organizes OsteRio, many of her classmates at EARJ and later at PUC, the Catholic University, reject the public sphere, preferring to live in a sort of parallel universe. “The cost of this is increasing,” she noted. “They make themselves into voluntary prisoners. If they go to a favela, it’s for some kind of event or party, but they create no ties with people there.”

It's all about sharing

Faustini: a city is a place where different people can meet

Ramos’ harsh view of her peers was complemented by the remarks made by Miguel Lago, founder of the activist Meu Rio NGO; and Marcus Faustini, whose Agência de Redes para  a Juventude helps favela youth to tap their potential as creative, thinking human beings. While some young cariocas –from all social classes– are diving into the life of the city, others are likely to be forced by ongoing change to reevaluate the goal of reproducing childhood lifestyles. This week’s Veja “You Tomorrow” magazine cover, showing a white man in an apron washing dishes, in a reference to a new federal law granting overtime pay to domestic workers, reveals just the tip of the iceberg.

Upper-class cariocas may soon be washing more dishes, but many have yet to ride a commuter train or ferry, study at a public school, live in public housing or be treated at a public hospital (this blogger recently had occasion to do so, with a subsequent visit to a private doctor, who said the free x-ray was decent, but the half-cast would triple recovery time for the fractured ankle, compared to an imported plastic boot).

Why was so much media attention given to the rape of the American woman? How did the police– traditionally laggard– manage to arrest all three perpetrators in two days? Obviously, in part because the victim was foreign, and, in this era of mega-events, news travels fast beyond Rio’s city limits. But she was also someone who had access to the funds to get herself to Rio and study here; thus one might assume she must be financially better off than most van riders, including the Brazilian rape victim. And this being the case, those cariocas who don’t normally venture into such conveyances (with all their underclass charm for many gringos) are able to identify with her and feel the shock.

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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 Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Van rapes reveal social division

  1. Zaida G. Knight says:

    Excelente, Julia. Postei na minha página. Nem tudo são rosas no Rio de Janeiro, como nos querem fazer acreditar.

  2. Julia, excelente artigo, na jugular. Vou reproduzir.

  3. geoffz says:

    one sided for sure…but most likely the authorities are concerned about giving a bad name to tourism, especially with the upcoming olympics.

  4. Flabbergast says:

    interesante que eu estava pensando nesse assunto de transporte público hoje quando ouvi as notícias (tô no exterior agora). Por um lado, pensei que eu sou pessoa chato pensar nisso enquanto uma coisa tão grave como esse estupro teve acontecido. Que talvez não tem nada a ver. Mas no outro lado, tem tudo a ver. Apesar de muita fala sobre ‘cidadania’ e ‘inclusão social’, uma necessidade tão básica como transporte pública recebe pouca consideração. A clase media brasileira nem liga quando uma empregada tem que pegar quatro ônibus diferente para chegar ao seu trabalho, e prefere reclamar sobre o preço de taxi. Até que o horário de transporte público no Rio e Sampa também é absurdo – em qualquer outro metrópolo desse tamanho tem um metrô que pare de funcionar as 22 ou 23h?

    Mas pelo menos Rio *tem* um metrô. Em Recife, que foi minha cidade adotiva por alguns anos, o metrô é uma piada (melhorou um pouquinho), não presta para nada mesmo.

    No interior de Pernambuco, sempre fizesse viagem de kombi sem problema. Em geral, sempre encontrava pessoas conhecidas no caminho, os motoristas eram menos loucos do que os motoristas de carro. É seguro, todavia que as vezes demora chegar em seu destino. Mas em Recife, a situação foi outro. A Prefeitura proibiu a Kombi coletiva e agora não tem mais. Declarou que foi uma questão de segurança, falta de fiscalização ou algo.

    Vou falar sincero, uso transporte público e coletivo em todo canto, qualquer lugar em qualquer cidade de qualquer parte do mundo, quando é posível, sem preconceito nenhum. Mas andar numa Kombi no Rio me deu medo. Usava, mas não gostava. Muito esquecito. Fiquei rezando para minha vida, e sou ateu.

    Claro que qualquer moça estrangeira, universitária, tá mais privilegiada do que a maioria do povo brasileiro que pega ônibus ou Kombi. Mas – como eu também foi na mesma situação numa fase da vida – isso não significa que sempre tem grana por tudo, tem que economizar. Não acho que isso é necessariamente “underclass charm.” Dependendo do tipo de bolsa de estudo que ela tinha, pode ser preciso dar conta de cada centavo de seus gastos. Eu tinha sorte, não foi preciso fazer isso e gastei a maioria do meu bolso com discos de vinil nos sebos. Mas estudantes fazem isso mesmo, “pronto, a gente gastou demais na cervejinha hoje, vamos economizar no transporte.” Então não é igual de pegar 4 ônibus chegar ao seu emprego, mas não é somente para ‘underclass charm.’ Se o Rio esperar sair bem as jogos olímpicos, é preciso prestar atenção às coisas cotidianas. Terá melhorias na infrastructura num jeito sustentável? I too want to see it last. Mais triste ainda lamentar que, se essa tragédia não aconteceu com essas turistas, o caso da brasileira não receberia atenção nenhuma.

  5. Sean says:

    There’s such an overwhelming sense of lawlessness here in Rio…that pervades all socio-economic sectors. Such a lack of true enforcement and legal consequences…

    • geoffz says:

      I don’t live in Rio…although I visited there in the 1980’s….but with all the political, social and economic success that has taken place since then…has the common man really benefited and has life really improved in general? Maybe someone can comment on this…

      • Lee says:

        geoffz, your sincere question requires parallel responses. I am an American who just moved my carioca wife and two young dual citizen daughters from Rio back to Seattle. We lived part of our 2.5 years living firmly in Zona Norte, classe C (look it up) which certainly is no picnic. Before we left our conditions changed but not geographically. I won’t go into detail, but the parallel aspect is this- you can spin things positively as Julia does; it is CRITICAL to have people who can relentlessly find and express the positive, even in dire circumstances to open the eyes of those who may never be able to see any good points in such scenarios… Or, you can take a comparative perspective into such situations- which Rio de Janeiro and Brazil, 95% of the time, will always fail. That perspective will always become dismissively negative, not really serving any purpose other than to allowing the holder to be “right”.

        Fabricia Ramos above says something I believe quite astute- that essentially hiding places the elite like to believe they have in Brazil are creating increasingly higher risk/cost. This will eventually explode in a whirlwind of change in Rio, and wherever such social patterns dominate- most large Brazilian cities. When that may happens and how it manifests is anyone’s guess.

  6. Rio real says:

    Sean, last week was just awful, everyone felt so down. But these tragedies do keep bringing up what was for so long swept under the rug. And it’s getting harder to keep stuff there. So that is a bit heartening. Geoff, yes the common man (and woman) has benefited– mostly from economic growth, the change in Brazil’s socioeconomic pyramid, and income transfer programs. There is still a whole lot more including to be done– and lots of us are working on it. The internet and cell phone cameras are hugely important tools in all of this.

  7. Pingback: Around Latin America | Americas South and North

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