Give freely, or else

Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 5.11.43 PMMy day shift at the hostel in Ipanema had ended and, as usual, I stuck around chatting with the friendly manager and some of the guests. Upon noticing it was already dark out, I said goodbye, then ran a quick errand before heading to the nearest Zona Sul supermarket, kiddie corner to General Osório square, to pick up some spaghetti for later. With the errands completed, I went a few blocks towards the beach to catch a public transport van back to Rocinha. Numbered according to their trajectory, I was hoping to catch the less frequent of the two lines that went through Gávea because it would leave me closer to my apartment.

I waited there like on any of the other hundreds of times I had caught a van back home, aware of my surroundings, even though this was Ipanema and I was dressed in the usual shirt, shorts and flip-flops. As I held my grocery bag with its one item inside, I thought about the dinner I’d soon share with friends, accompanied by a beer from the bar across from my front door.

Right then a lone young man (reminiscent of those I saw daily in the favelas) appeared on the median strip, shouting out to someone on the sidewalk where I was.

Rio wasn’t a stranger to me and I had always kept my wits about me while living there. Even though I had never found myself in any kind of unwanted situation before, this guy didn’t immediately make me think twice, but he made me want to think twice. “Calma, just be cool”, I thought to myself, “I’ve got nothing visible he can steal,” knowing full well that prior to the supermarket, I had made a stop at the bank to take out R$60 for the next week. Luckily, while still in the bank, I had folded the bills up and stuck them, along with my bank card, under the waistband of my underwear.

He shouted again, across the sparse lanes of traffic, which prompted me to take a quick look around me to see whose attention he was trying to get. It was mine. I was alone and it was dark. That’s when he went for my bag, with his eyes.

Tem comida aí? Me dá alguma coisa,” he suddely mumurred.
(You got food there? Give me some.)

É macarrão, tem que ser cozido,” I reluctantly responded.
(It’s spaghetti, it has to be cooked.)

E daí, dou um jeito, cara.
(So what, I’ll find a way to cook it, man.)

Não posso, é pra janta.
(I can’t, it’s for dinner.)

I didn’t want him to think I was an easy target, and by that I mean gringo. I considered playing the sympathy card, telling him I was a resident of the morro, the comunidade (favela), without specifying which, but that might lead to more talking, and more talking might reveal I’m a foreigner. Two or three more times he asked for food but as many times as he asked, I denied him. That’s when he changed tatics.

Então, me dá um real aí.
(So give me R$1.)

Tem, não, cara. Preciso pro transporte.
(I don’t have it, man. I need what I got for transport.)

Ô, me dá um real!“, he repeated, a little more directly.
(Hey, give me R$1!)

Não posso“, I said.
(I can’t.)

I realized this was going to continue for a while unless I either gave him money or food, which meant getting close to him physically, or I would have to go back to General Osório and walk down ‘Visconde’ (a main street in Ipanema) all the way to Leblon where I could also catch the same van. Just as I was about to offer up R$1 to get it over with, I heard another person shouting at me. It was the cobrador (fare collector) of the van I had been waiting for. Giving him a quick wave to stop the van, it blocked out the view of the lone peddler and I got on and went home.

To this day, I don’t know what would have happened if I let him approach me. At the most, I suppose I could have lost a simple bag of spaghetti or maybe the bus fare. In the least, I would have helped someone in need. He was the one breathing thing that could have stood in the way of my belief that, crime-wise, Brazil isn’t as bad as others say it is.

One of my favorite views

Having lived to the left of the beach, in Vidigal, and behind the beach, in Rocinha, the view below is no stranger to my eyes. Unfortunately, bathing in the water at São Conrado’s beach is best to be avoided but fortunately just sitting there and enjoying the 360 view is worth it (especially for those who don’t like extra-crowded beaches). The person that gets to see this every day is a really lucky one.

Apart from the beach, the stretch of road/highway from Leblon to Barra is the most memorable I’ve ever been on. The first part is Avenida Niemeyer, going until São Conrado, where it ‘meets’ Estrada Lagoa Barra, which becomes Vevd. (Via Elevada) das Bandeiras, passing along and under Joá, before reaching Barra.

(Little known fact: Before the modern roads and highways were built, Av. Niemeyer was originally going to be made into a a 120-mile railroad connecting Botafogo to Angra dos Reis.)

Thanks to Eat Rio for the photo.

How far will Cabral’s Military Police go?

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(after molotov was thrown, likely by undercover police, aka “P2”)

“The cravings of Sergio Cabral, governor of Rio de Janeiro, of making his successor in the State government and contemplating that part of the population that applauds BOPE when they gun-down drug traffickers in Complexo do Alemão is taking Rio de Janeiro along a dangerous road. Cabral’s recent acts and declarations have revealed a despotic facet of the governor and, apparently, serve as a licence for the Military Police to expand the authoritarianism they employ in the favelas to the wealthiest neighborhoods of the Fluminense capital.

After last week’s riot in Leblon, the most expensive per square meter in Brazil, Cabral diagnosed the vandalism problem in Rio de Janeiro in the same way as Arab dictators — placing the blame on “international organizations”. As it happens in the Middle East, attributing the violence to the foreigner isn’t a simple diagnostic error. It’s a device to exempt their own government from any responsibility for what’s occurring.

In the same speech, given last Friday, Cabral promised an “answer to society”. The answer came via the Special Commission of Investigation of Acts of Vandalism in Public Manifestations (CEIV, in Portuguese). The so-called CEIV was created on the 19th of July, by way of the decree 44.302, published in the Diário Oficial of the State on Monday, the 22nd. The text that the commission created (here in its entirety, in PDF) has alarming authoritarian contours (not to mention it’s illegal, PT).

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In Article 3, Cabral determines that all “solicitations and determinations of the CEIV” have “absolute priority” above any other request sent to public or private bodies. In a single paragraph, Cabral obligates telephone companies and ISPs to follow requests by the CEIV in a “maximum timeframe of 24 hours”. It’s not clear if questions like the Pope’s security or a problem in a hospital, for example, will be put to the side in detriment of combating vandalism, or if the telephone/Internet companies have the right to appeal the CEIV’s orders.

More worrying is Article 2 of the commission’s creation. According to the decree, the CEIV can “take all actions necessary to carry out the investigation of acts of vandalism, and may request information, conduct investigations and perform any acts necessary to the conduct of criminal proceedings for the purpose of punishing wrongful acts under public demonstrations.” This text, as Bernardo Santoro on his blog Instituto Liberal reminded us, opens it up to anything, through not being clear on what “all necessary actions” means. Can the CEIV declare prison sentences, do illegal wiretapping and torture suspects, for example?

In the best of hypothesis, the text is a disaster provoked by haste and by the lack of knowledge of those who wrote it. In the worst, it’s a reflection of the climate, inflated by the government of Rio, of “anything goes against vandalism”.

Reflections of the climate have been observed. On Friday, the newspaper O Globo published an interview with the sociologist Paulo Baía, in which he commented on the riot in Leblon. “The police saw crime occurring and didn’t act. The message of the police was the following: now I’m going to give a smack-down on everyone”, said Baía. On that very Friday, the sociologist suffered a lightning kidnapping in the Aterro do Flamengo. “In the car, they passed along the message and nothing else. They said I shouldn’t give any other interviews like todays at O Globo and to not say anything else about the Military Police, because, if I did, it would be the last interview I’d give in my life”, said Baía.” – Carta Capital (PT, more here)

Mayor supports AfroReggae

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“I’m an optimist. Time and again, despite my age, I still have flashes of utopic hope of a more dignified life for the Carioca.

One of these rare moments from last weekend.

What happened was the following: the State Government considers that some favelas in Rio are pacified. Without a trace of the old drug traffickers or militia that, in fact, governed the communities. Among them are the favelas that make up the Complexo do Alemão. Cabral — and his Secretary of Safety — consider the region “pacified”, free from the truculence of traffickers. A sad untruth. In spite of the existing UPP in Alemão, the NGO AfroReggae received orders from the traffickers to close out their activities at the community center there, which benefited 350 children, with art workshops at the principal activity.

While the State Government kept mum on the announcement that the NGO would stop operating in the favela, the mayor Eduardo Paes personally went to the location and said the Mayor’s Office would assume all of AfroReggae’s activities, with an attitude that I would define as “macho”. He personally confronted the orders of the traffickers. And even donated some land to Renê Silva, responsible for the newspaper Voz da Comunidade, to rebuild the new headquarters. The old one was located in the AfroReggae building and was burned down in an act that until now is considered criminal by the NGO’s directors.

Paes was also elegant. He said the pacification process of Alemão wouldn’t reverse, an affirmation that should have been made by those responsible for the security of the State, or rather, the governor. It was a way he found that wouldn’t leave Cabral in an uncomfortable situation.

“Paes’ political bravado” is what the political adversaries of the Mayor’s Office, of which I include myself, might say. It may be. But he fulfilled a role that’s of an authority: he went to the place of conflict and invoked the power given him. If he is going to manage to keep this attitude or not, we will see in the next few weeks.

The quick action of Eduardo Paes as a constituted authority imposing itself is encouraging. Leaving his office to show his face in a conflict zone should be common in a democracy. Paes inaugurated the posture of a statesman of Rio. One point for him.” – CartaCapital (PT)

Hacker reportedly helped politicians change votes

Apparently, this is news from late last year, but it’s still being reported (but not mentioned in large newspapers). One issue with the veracity of this report is something I read about votes being printed, and voters and political parties being able to request the printed numbers from the voting location at any point. 

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“At a seminar  last year titled “Is the voting machine reliable?”, which took place at SEAERJ (Society of Engineers and Architects of Rio de Janeiro), a young hacker of 19 years of age, identified merely as Rangle, for security reasons, revealed how he defrauded elections in Rio de Janeiro.

Rangel showed how, via illegal and privileged access to Rio de Janeiro’s Electorial Justice intranet – under the telecommunications company Oi – intercepted data from the totaling system and, after delaying the sending of this data to its destination, he altered the results, benefiting some candidates in detriment of others.

According to Amilcar Brunazzo, a specialist engineer on the subject, in spite of this, no activity was detected by the official system.

“We get on the Electorical Justice’s network when the results are being transmitted for totaling and after 50% of the data has been transmitted, we act. We modify the results even when the totalization is ready to be closed”, explained Rangel in general terms. The information, as reported, ended up shocking critics and specialists towards the fragilities of the system.

The hacker declared that he didn’t act alone, participating in a group that utilized privileged information relative to the Oi system, altering the results before they were registered by the TRE – the Regional Electorial Tribunal. Rangel is under police protection and has already given his statement to the Federal Police.

He also denounced the deputy Paulo de Melo (PMDB), then-president of the ALERJ – Legislative Assembly of the State of Rio de Janeiro – as one of the beneficiaries.

For Fernando Peregrino, a coordinator of the seminar, despite many complaints, the police in general don’t focus on them for the very reason that electronic voting in Brazil represents the cornerstone of democracy in the country.

At the same seminar, Dr. Maria Aparecida Cortiz told of monitoring difficulties created by the Electoral Justice themselves, which would act to snuff out scandals of fraud. She also discussed, among other things, cases of fraud in Bahia, Maranhão, Londrina (PR), and in Guadalupe (PI). The meeting will be transformed into a book, and also give rise to a documentary on the subject, and new meetings.” – Source (PT)

The meteoric rise of young funk musicians

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They are young, rich, famous, wear jewelry and designer clothes and buy imported cars and supped-up motorcycles. And believe it or not, they don’t play football. The rise of ‘light’ funk on the charts is creating a generation of MCs and dancers who, often, earn their first R$1 million before they come of age.

In line with pancadão which makes the middle class ‘hit the floor’, a wave of new artists fill their piggy banks at a speed that few professions allow. And that money allows them a new level of consumption.

For starters, the fee begins at R$1,000. Not bad for those who do up to 15 shows in a single weekend. From there, the progression is geometric. If the song, as well as making the rounds on social networks, plays on the radio, the fee jumps to R$10,000. And when they’re on top, as what happened with the singer Naldo, a single performance can yield R$250,000.

Weddings and debutante balls on the schedule

Doing shows is not the only source of income for funkeiros, who have busy schedules of performances at weddings, debutante balls and agricultural fairs, earning paychecks starting at R$5,000/show. Arriving at ‘Olympus’, however, does not mean abandoning their roots. Money to live at more sophisticated addresses is not lacking, but an MC on the rise will rarely give up their community. Nego do Borel, for example, already has an imported fancy car, but he still lives in the favela. His family home, though, has been renovated.

Viviane Queiroz, 18, MC Pocahontas, is building her mother a duplex with a pool in Campos Elíseos, in Caxias, where she was born and raised. An exponent of funk ostentation, she is able to spend R$10,000 at handbag stores. Before diving into consumerism, however, she had one concern:

– Three months after becoming an MC, I told my mother that she would no longer need to work as a maid because I was going to support her. I want to give her the best.

The mother, Marinês de Queiroz, 48, is proud to have faced criticism when allowing her daughter, then a minor, to become a funkeira:

– I was right when I let her follow her dream.

Brunninha, the Princess of Funk, has a different story. A young woman, aged 19, she lives with her mother and two brothers in Tomás Coelho. The fame has not changed where she lives, but it has altered, and by lots, the quality of family life thanks to the shows.

– My family comes first – she says.

In the case of MC Jean, 19, from Rocinha, helping his mother is also a priority. However, with an eye on a more solid future career, he invested part of his paychecks in artistic training. Jean is an exception because he didn’t quit school, like many young people:

– I take voice and guitar lessons. After high school, I think about college.

Source (PT)

A closer look at Rio politics

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I just finished watching Vocação do Poder, a 2004 documentary (PT) that “follows the campaign of 6 candidates (out of 1,100 for just 50 vacancies) to the municipal legislative council of the city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, in the 90 days preceding election day. All of them dispute their first election, but only a few will be successful.” Read more (PT)

It was definitely interesting to get a bit of an inside look at what the candidates go through. Most seem like “filhinhos do papai” (no shock there) and there are a few subtle instances of vote buying via the trading of favors (again, no shock). The strangest thing, even with my familiarity with Brazilian life, is that the candidates have a singular focus of name/face/number recognition, as opposed to stating what they stand for and debating those points. One voter even says something to the tune of “if you don’t make any promises, I’m likely to vote for you.” I mean, I understand the reasoning (too many promises made but not kept) but at the same time it seems counterintuitive.

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(the 6 candidates from the film)

Another strange thing, from having watched a friend run for vereadora (city counsilor) in Rio, is that she was forced to visually affiliate herself with Mayor Eduardo Paes when making the campaign posters (you can see this in the documentary on the young candidate’s poster which has Cesar Maia’s face on it). The fact is though, she hated the guy and from the get-go wanted to distance herself politically from everything he stands for. And as far as posters and handouts go, they need to be considered visual pollution, and people should actually stop taking accepting them.

All in all, it’s not the candidates that will give the people what they want, it’s the system that needs to be turned on its head so that it attracts the kind of candidates that the people want represting them. My father once relayed to me an important lesson of business which I think should be utilized for politics, too: Don’t trade an act for a promise. In other words, trade an act for an act or a promise for a promise but not one for the other.

Rio mayor makes vans illegal

Lots of Rio news these days, I know…

Eduardo Paes, Rio’s mayor, has declared (PT) it illegal to operate vans, kombis and mini-buses in Botafogo, Humaitá, Urca, Leme, Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Lagoa, Jardim Botânico, Gávea, Vidigal, São Conrado and Rocinha. That’s a pretty big change. In over half of those neighborhoods, I would take vans to get where I was going and these vans were almost always full.

The new law takes effect this Monday, April 15th. Paes states that the plan to stop vans from operating was already ready to go into effect in April, despite recent events like the rape of an American student, etc. He also says the Zona Sul has enough transportation services such as buses, taxis and the metro and that, in the near future, the ban will extend to other neighborhoods like downtown Rio. While it’s true that there are other ways of getting around town, those who live in Rio know that buses aren’t the safest means of transport. The ‘bus mafia’ has obviously made an offer Paes can’t refuse…

A radio interview with the mayor can be heard here (in PT).

Google Maps removing favelas

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Via Reddit Brazil, I came across an article (PT) about the virtual removal of favelas from Google Maps. Apparently, this was news two years ago (though I never heard about it) and was republished due to an ‘update’ to the article.

In the photo above, you can see the area around Rio Comprido, between Tijuca and Flamengo, and how the word ‘favela’ has been taken out. Despite the virtual removal, I was in this area several times in the last several months and, last I checked, those favelas are still there (big surprise…).

As one Brazilian commentor on the original article mentions, in some instances, the removal is reasonable due to technical (cartographical) reasons. There are examples where favelas are mentioned on the map, yet in reality there are only a handful of favela-type houses in that area. The argument, in these cases, then becomes one of relevance and whether a grouping of houses should be mentioned alongside an entire neighborhood. The same commentor also makes mention of the negative connotation that “favela” carries and suggests another word, “comunidade” (by the way, residents of favelas refer to where they live both as “comunidades” and “morros”).

Translated from the article,

“After the Mayor’s Office asked Google to reduce the presence of favelas on the Rio de Janeiro map, the word “favela” was practically taken out, substituted with “morro” (hill)…The image compares the Rio Comprido region between 2011 and 2013. The virtual removal is part of a project that is trying to make poverty and the poor invisible, both via virtual removals and forced physical ones.”

The government wants tourists who are planning their trip to not be frightened by the number shanty towns on Rio maps. Having lived in several of these (newly-pacified) favelas, especially those closest to the Rio which the gov’t promotes, I don’t see anything to be frightened about.

Aldeia Maracanã has been taken

“Taken” because, ultimately, they were made to leave/negotiate.

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“The indigenous people who live in the mansion in ruins at Maracanã, where the Indian Museum was operated, met on Thursday and drafted their proposal to leave the place spontaneously. The group wants the state government’s assurance that the property will be recovered and will be used exclusively for the promotion of indigenous culture. A committee appointed at the meeting proceeded to the state’s Department of Social Welfare and Human Rights to present the proposal.

Earlier, the state secretary of Social Welfare and Human Rights, Zacchaeus Teixeira, presented a new proposal as an ultimatum to the peaceful end of the group’s property. The court identified three plots, one in Bonsucesso, one in Jacarepaguá and another in the Maracanã neighborhood as options for building a site to temporarily house the group of 22 people, until the Reference Center for Indigenous Culture in the Quinta da Boa Vista park is ready.

The group’s proposal, signed by all those living on site, plans to use the mansion as a full Indian embassy in the middle of an urban environment, open to all ethnicities existing in Brazil, as a place to showcase their culture and conduct exchanges of knowledge.

The group said it will exit the site immediately if the government accepts the proposal and provide assurances that it will be respected. The Indians asked also that a specialist goes to the building to assess whether there is a possibility of making temporary accommodations within the grounds.

Initially, the department had offered accommodation for the Indians in a hotel located in the municipality of Santana. But they had not accepted the proposal and asked to be offered a more suitable location for their culture.

– We are offering everything so that this impasse will be resolved. Transportation, lodging and construction of the Reference Center. This is our last proposal. We have nothing more to offer. The group must vacate the property purchased by the state government later on Thursday – said the Secretary, after making a new proposal.

Zacchaeus said he was disappointed with the National Indian Foundation (Funai), which, he said, although put into action, would not have participated in the discussions at any time.

Indigenous students and continue the Maracana Village

Indigenous and students occupying the building where the old Indian Museum is remained on property on Thursday. The deadline for the group withdrawing from the location was up on Wednesday at 23h59m. This morning, the mood was quiet in the camp museum. About 50 people, including Indians and activists, awaited the arrival on site of the Shock Battalion for the withdrawal of the occupiers. The group made barricades at the entrance and promised to resist the occupation of the police.

According to the site G1, the federal public defender Daniel Macedo was on site this morning, and he said the Indians are willing to fight with their lives to stay in the area. “If an Indian dies here, it will resonate internationally and domestically,” added Daniel Macedo.” – O Globo