You might think this blogger’s long silence is due to so much bad news — economic recession, political impasse, widening corruption scandals. It’s true, there’s not much to say –beyond dismay — except to express the belief that socioeconomic change of the last decade will have lasting positive effects, that, despite leaps and lags, democracy is deepening. But the real reason for the silence is focused work on a book about greater Rio.
The focus includes reading books, and the silence must be broken to recommend (in addition to Juliana Barbassa’s Dancing with the Devil in the City of God ) Nemesis: One Man and the Battle for Rio, currently available only in the UK. There is also, for those who read Portuguese, Luiz Eduardo Soares’ Rio de Janeiro: Histórias de Vida e Morte, a striking collection of dark experiences that this longtime public safety expert and former official has put down on paper.
Nem –Antonio Francisco Bonfim Lopes — is in jail now, far away from his territory, Rocinha favela, home to about 100,000. Misha Glenny, a British journalist (and friend of this blogger) who’s previously written about cyber security, global organized crime and the Balkan region took it upon himself to pay the drug “don”, as he calls him, quite a few visits, in a maximum security penitentiary in the state of Mato Grosso.
What Glenny extracted from such unusual conversations and an enormous amount of additional research (including time spent living in Rocinha) is a unique portrait of how the drug business and the War on Drugs affect life in Rio de Janeiro, in and outside of favelas. Anyone attempting to come to grips with the metropolis, particularly those charged with covering the 2016 Olympic Games here, should read this new book, set to come out early next year in the U.S. and Brazil.
Glenny’s experience prepared him to connect dots that few have done. He tells how cocaine and violence descended on Rio, explains the origins of the local gangs, charts the relationships among them and with the police, and describes the outlier rituals of the Rocinha favela. All this is then contextualized within broader Brazilian history and, most important, connected to the up- and downhill story of one intelligent man drawn into the business — and the violence — because his daughter had a rare, expensive illness.
It’s a book that for this reader, proves our urgent need to decriminalize drugs and further integrate Brazilian cities and society. Nem’s story, and that of so many young men and women, must not be repeated.
And now, while Brasília debates how to save politicians, back to work.
P.S. if you haven’t seen The Second Mother, do.