Rio violence: unasked questions

What's your point of view?

Which is your morro?

In the midst of the avalanche of bad Rio news over the last ten days, mayor Eduardo Paes said the two young men accused of killing cameraman Santiago Andrade, during a demonstration against a bus fare hike, were filhinhos de papai mimados, or spoiled brats, who “should go to prison for a long time”.

Perhaps Paes’ political success is partly due to an ability to voice what his constituency is thinking. After all, he’s been heard to indiscriminately call Argentines cucarachas, or cockroaches.

One of the two young men now moldering in Bangu, Fabio Raposo, is reportedly a disaffected and jobless member of the Brazilian middle class. The other, Caio Silva de Souza, comes from a poor family of northeastern migrants and worked in a low-level hospital job. Here is an exclusive interview he gave to TV Globo’s “Jornal Nacional”.

Whether or not these two are spoiled brats, the mayor’s use of the term and most of the Brazilian media’s reporting and commentary have left untouched the question of where the violence comes from. Examining the violence could be construed, they seem to think, as legitimating it.

Peacekeeping is the priority — and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But it neglects the media’s role as an aid to citizens who are trying to make sense of the world and their places in it.

So here are some unanswered questions from the last ten days:

  • Why did Jonas Tadeu, lawyer for the two young men, intimate that they’d been paid to participate in demonstrations? Was it to try for a shorter sentence? Or to tarnish the reputation of leftist politicians? Or both?
  • Why did the media focus on leftist parties as the source of the alleged payoffs? Why did almost no one mention, or follow up on, a November article in O Globo about allegedly paid activism on the part of people linked to former governor Anthony Garotinho, not a leftist? Why has there been no discussion of the protests and the violence in light of the upcoming October gubernatorial election?
  • Jonas Tadeu allowed his client to give an exclusive interview to TV Globo on the night of his arrest in Bahia. Was this advisable, from the client’s point of view? Why is there no news of a civil group or NGO, including the Brazilian bar association, OAB, questioning Tadeu’s advice or offering a defense alternative to the accused? The OAB has monitored demonstrations and helped arrestees over the past months.
  • Why were the accused at the demonstration? Why do some protestors, paid or not, think it’s acceptable to attack property and police, risking others’ lives and wellbeing?

The priority on peacekeeping leaves much unexplored — on the margin.

It’s as if Brazilians can only digest reality in doses. President Dilma Rousseff’s Mais Médicos program, regardless of its success or failure at temporarily transplanting Cubans, has finally brought home the fact that more doctors are needed in this country’s backwaters and poor neighborhoods. Even in areas that aren’t far off the mental map, as this Portuguese columnist recently discovered.

So much has yet to be digested.

The focus on urban violence linked to demonstrations — our hottest topic, since peaceful hosting of the June World Cup is at stake — last week eclipsed other bloodshed and turbulence. As police and drug traffickers battled in the North and West Zones, with conflicting versions of events, angered favela residents have burned buses and even destroyed a construction site for the Transcarioca, the dedicated bus lane meant to link Barra da Tijuca with the international airport in time for the Olympics.

Last night and today, violence also flared in the South Zone Rocinha favela, with two druglords reportedly vying for territory, despite the presence of a police pacification unit.

We do want peace, most of us. But the fear of violence — the fear of others’ offensive opinions, too — can blind us. A thoughtful citizenry is necessary to a healthy democracy. Some Facebook users are defriending people whose opinions they deem unacceptable, creating bubbles. One commentator urged readers to declare themselves either for or against black blocs, saying there is now no middle ground. 

But if we don’t try to ask — and answer– the toughest questions,  we risk more of the very thing we most fear.

It may be that defining oneself or assigning blame are not the most difficult acts. Perhaps real courage is what it takes to listen to those unlike ourselves and to constantly re-think our assumptions and beliefs. Bubbles do burst.

Click here and here to read editorials in O Globo, about a newspaper’s duty. 

Click here to read an op-ed piece in O Globo, by state legislator Marcelo Freixo.

Click here to watch a Rafucko video criticizing the “Jornal Nacional” nightly newscasts about demonstrations.

If you have suggestions regarding this debate, regardless of the politics involved, please add them in the comments section.

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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.

6 Responses to Rio violence: unasked questions

  1. ARvWD says:

    As always, thoughtful and informative. My first thought is that everyone should be innocent until proven guilty. Consequently, such inflammatory political and media comment before a verdict from a presumably objective judicial system simply perverts the course of justice – or is that just hopelessly naive?

  2. jeff sher says:

    Julia,

    Of course it is always unfortunate when political protest results in violence. The goal of all reform efforts should be to produce a society free of violence in all of its forms. This includes inequality, which is imposed poverty, which is a form of violence. Lack of access to adequate medical care, substandard educational opportunities, dilapidated transit systems that subject riders who have no options to hours of daily drudgery and outright discomfort (when they function at all, i.e. the recent breakdown in Rio’s train system) – all of this in a country that can easily afford to spend more than $30 billion (dollars) on mega-sporting events – are all choices made by that segment of the population that wields power through its elected leaders (no matter how small you think the ranks of the truly powerful may be).

    If Brazil is going to get serious about the question of violence, it must first address the day-to-day violence of class against class that keeps a large segment of the population in grinding poverty and severely limits the opportunities of much of the rest of the population. These conditions – which are not just some unavoidable coincidence of the economic system to which Brazil’s elites subscribe – are the ultimate source of the protests and of the anger which sometimes erupts into violence during the protests.

    Does the Mayor of Rio really think that the violence in Brazilian society can be blamed on spoiled brats? Does he really think improverished or even middle-class Brazilians are spoiled? If so, look no further for the source of your problems – part of it can be attributed to this kind of attitude among your leaders (and privileged classes).

    Brazil wants a peaceful World Cup and Olympics, but if Brazil is unwilling or unable to provide a peaceful existence for its people on a day-to-day basis, why would you expect days free of violence to magically occur during these large events. Brazil wants to project a gleaming image to the world through these events, but is it going to do so by creating a society that truly shines from the inside or is it going to simply paper over the reality of Brazilian life with some fancy wrapping paper, which will be torn off again and discarded once the present has been opened.

    Brazil has sold the Olympics to its own people as if it will be a great boon to the country. Have the promised improvements been made? Could the money spent on these events have been better spent in some other way? Who really benefits from staging these events in Brazil?

    Didn’t Dilma just recently announced a R$33 billion investment in new metro systems in nine Brazilian cities? Really? This is the response to Brazil’s transit problems? Yes, of course it is an important part of the response – unfortunately the part that will take the longest time to accomplish. Will any of those systems be completed before the Olympics? People in Rio I spoke with on my recent visit don’t even believe the already-in-progress Rio metro expansions will be completed in time for the Olympics. And while Brazil is building these metros, what will be done for the majority of people who ride buses and other train systems every day? Does this really represent a focused and coherent plan to solve Brazil’s transit and traffic problems? Do Brazil’s leaders want to solve these problems, or do they think the problem is simply too overwhelming? Be sure of this – it’s not a question of money. Brazil has the resources. Hosting the World Cup and the Olympics proves it.

    Your column raises critically important questions about the future of Brazil – which will be brought into even clearer focus as these grand events approach. You do it in a very gentle and non-confrontational way. Forgive me for being a bit more blunt.

    The question remains: will Rio – and Brazil – really employ the Olympics as an opportunity to fix its problems and turn its best face forward to meet the Olympic spotlight. Or will Brazil’s leaders throw up their hands in feigned impotence and decide there is nothing to be done but turn Rio into a bigger version of Sochi – a locked down city crawling with police and military to produce the illusion of peace and non-violence – just to keep a few spoiled brats in line.

  3. Rio real says:

    Jeff, you are forgiven! Thanks for all this– the idea is exactly to get people thinking. Well done.

  4. Tucker Landesman says:

    I was astounded when I saw Caio giving an interview on television. And according to the OAB ethics, the mafia-lawyer Tadeu should never have taken on both clients to begin with because it’s a conflict of interest. How did Tadeu even become their lawyer to begin with? Both of them? When the OAB-RJ and the activist lawyers have done a great job representing the manifestantes until now? And he lets the boy confess on live TV before any evidence is officially presented against him in a court of law. Very suspicious… And very convenient for certain people, as he then slanders the politician who investigated the mafia that he defended in court.

  5. Michael fox says:

    With the upcoming elections it’s time Brazils people think about what they want in their future the same old bullshit or a new approach think about it and listen to what the canadates say. Help to educate the poor people to assist them in there vote not just for the little cash hand out but for there future and the future of Brazil and it’s people and the worlds oceans that are being polluted daily

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