Who we are

Never is the mix of reality and illusion that makes up this place stronger than during carnival, specifically the official parade. Lack of sleep may have been a contributing factor, but the last two nights I spent there I was swinging from desolation to hysterical laughter to tears of emotion from hour to hour. A huge inflatable naked woman, complete with ridiculous-sized buttocks, was one such comedy moment.

Carnival comes just over a month after I wrote this, about the dubious funding of the Greatest Show on Earth. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-16634941

Somehow or other I winded up spending most of Sunday night in the VIP seating with members of the Beija-Flor school, the one presided over by Anisio. He’s the alleged boss of the illegal gambling game which traditionally funds the breathtakingly lavish parades every year. Anisio has been moved from prison to a hospital, following what someone’s mother would call a funny turn. Someone looking suspiciously like him was wandering up the Avenida, however on Saturday, in the obligatory uniform of the organisers of the samba schools, white trousers and spats. Come to think of it, they do all look like carnival fancy dress versions of gangsters.I suspect though cannot be certain that it was Anisio’s brother, himself the mayor of Nilopolis, the region where the supremely successful school Beija-Flor comes from.

He was gone before I had time to think of a tactful way of asking my companions for the evening who he was, replaced by a troupe of children singing which probably, I admit, brought a tear to my eye. What remained in his wake was a glossy brochure producted by the Beija-Flor school. “Anisio, only those who know you can judge who you are,” was the headline of a long piece about the man himself. Scattered with pictures of his charity projects – the Christmas parties with children’s smiling faces, the jiu-jitsu classes he made possible, the creche set up in his name, etc – it went on to ask how anyone could judge such a man, who brought the joy of carnival to millions. “We remember those great men and women who were misunderstood in their time, and persecuted by the authorities,” the authors wrote. They write that playing by the rules is all too often associated with mediocrity, something no one could accuse Anisio of.

It’s true that the jogo do bicho game is a contravention rather than an illegal activity in the same way as murder, for example. However, murder is one of the very real crimes linked to it. The authors of this apologia of Anisio ended by noting the impossibility of discovering hard and fast truth, intentionally leaving their subject shrouded in the mystery he has cultivated for himself. Absent, yet very much present at the same time, we will see if he is back next year in person.

The strong arm against the law

Since my last post regarding protests by firefighters and police, an unimaginable sequence of events has unfurled. Today marks the end of a 12-day strike in Salvador, in the north east of the country, which has seen at least 160 people die, burning buses, shops destroyed in scenes Dilma described as “appalling.” Rio’s police and firefighters also decided to strike, putting a big question mark over carnival celebrations, but this has quickly come to a halt.

I wrote about this here: Police strike brings chaos to Brazil

The threat to carnival seems to have angered a fair few people, but at the same time, it has drawn attention to the terrible salaries both have to survive on. Society depends on law enforcement to stay in one piece, but public workers are not valued here. As one policeman put it, it can seem as though the militias and corrupt cops tend to go unpunished, while it is those honest police who are simply demanding a dignified wage who end up in Bangu (notorious Rio prison).

It is interesting however that in Salvador, police have been accused of being behind murders of people living on the streets, as well as other violence and mayhem designed to convince the authorities a society without policing is a kind of hell. They definitely succeeded in creating a kind of hell.

In Rio, cops have gone for the peaceful approach, albeit the authorities appeared to crush it with mass arrests and threats of explusion. Some people I know were saying they were afraid to go out, but every time I have it appears there are the same number of police on the streets as usual. The little unit outside my house has been occupied since the strike was declared on Thursday night, and friends in favelas occupied by police in the UPP project say they turned up to work as normal from Friday morning.

There has been a dispute amongst judges over whether or not the striking is legal, with the majority coming down on the side that it isn’t. Rio’s peaceful approach seems to me however to be a fair enough way of attracting attention to dismal wages and conditions. The money exists here to change that – the problem, as always, is what happens to all this money if it isn’t going on public services and wages.