The waterfall of lies

London, that great sea, whose ebb and flow at once is deaf and loud, and on the shore… Vomits its wrecks and still howls on for more. Yet in its depth what treasures!

Watching over us? Cristo

After two years, I’m going back to London for the first time. That verse was written about London, and it used to resonate with me as a description of the overwhelming, ruthless and yet richly abundant city. However, it was written over a century ago, and it now seems to apply much more to a city like Rio, in the middle of a great transition and crowded with immigrants from the countryside trying to find their pot of gold, than staid old, dear old London.

Nevertheless, I listened to this yesterday and started to get a bit sad about leaving, as much as I can’t wait to see everyone I’ve missed. I remembered listening to this music the week when I arrived, totally seduced by the leafy Ipanema streets and the ridiculously beautiful people. I’m afraid of how prosaic London is going to turn out to be in comparison.

I’m leaving in the middle of a corruption scandal (although it would have been possible to have written that sentence at any time over my stay, to be fair). I will write about it here, if I can find the space and time to do it justice. It started with the uncovering of a scandal involving a bicheiro called Cachoeira (which means waterfall) paying politicians for influence and information. It is now engulfing everyone from the media to the company responsible for World Cup works at Maracana, and subject to a parliamentary inquiry.One Brazilian commentator delivered the scathing indictment that all we can expect from the Cachoeira inquiry is “a waterfall of lies”, in part because in Brazil, unlike the US, for example (where it has brought down presidents), lying under oath is not considered a particularly serious offence.

A European friend of mine living with a Brazilian man said she has come to identify with the autistic, since she is inclined to interpret his words prosaically, that is, to believe they mean what they appear to, yet frequently they have another meaning entirely and one which remains mysterious. I have long learned that here, “I’m on my way” can mean anything from “I’m still in bed, but will come, just three hours late” to “you will never see or hear from me again.” Still, in the UK “I’d love to” often means “I would rather gouge my eyes out, but feel obliged to come and so will be there, gritting my teeth.” Many is the night I have spent at Rio botequim tables laden with cachaca shots and watery, ice-cold beer, debating the relative merits of duty and obligation versus the Carioca, more free approach. There is no right answer, for our public or private lives. Which approach is actually more honest or truthful is not even clear sometimes. The only thing that’s certain is that searching for the truth is harsh on the individual, and tiring sometimes.

Ultimately there is room for both poetry and prose in the world, and it seems likely that for the next few years I will be dividing my time between Brazil and London and getting a balance of both. If I could, I would give a pinch of the British prosaic sense of reality to this country, and a little of the poetry here which is so sorely missing at home to the UK, but in the meantime, there is always TAM Airlines (don’t talk to me about Air France).

Drugs (narcotics and other kinds)

It’s interesting that Obama’s been having a bit of a rough time in Colombia, where he’s meeting heads of state from Latin American countries. One of his biggest headaches, apart from Cuba, has been calls to legalise drugs.

It’s one of those questions that seems hardly worth debating, so impossible would it be to get it past the Tea Party types, and anyone even moderately conservative. Talking about legalising drugs just makes me think of a birthday card someone got me from one of those shops in Hackney once with a big marijuana leaf on the front and the slogan “legalize it”. I think it’s fair to say it doesn’t get treated as a viable policy. But here, a letter appeared in the papers signed by what could be seen as conservative forces, including ex-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (he presided over the privatisation of state assets in Brazil so is certainly no Hugo Chavez). It was calling for the decriminalisation of drug consumption, and the “opening of the debate” about models of regulating drugs, which could ultimately treat them similarly to alcohol and tobacco.

These recommendations came from the Commisao Latino-Americana sobre Drogas e Democracia, an organisation which has worked together for four years trying to find new solutions to this problem.

FHC is working with ex-presidents of Colombia and Mexico. Suddenly, I am reminded of an interview with Brazil’s last president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was asked what the secret to his eight-year run of success was. He said it was down to doing those things which were obvious, which everyone knew but somehow never did. It makes me wonder if it is easier for ex-presidents to both see and say the truth, that the “war on drugs” doesn’t work and another solution is necessary, now there is no electorate to offend.There are some things you just don’t seem to be able to get away with saying, no matter how obvious they are.

Of course, its easy to blame the United States, which initiated this policy, but while the US is indeed in the number one spot when it comes to consumption of cocaine, for instance, Brazil is now number two. At least when it comes to hypocrisy and a pressing need to recognise that violent crackdowns are not being effective, Brazil is right up there. Recent policies include re-doubling the federal police presence at the borders so there is no doubting the official line.

From arriving in Rio, it doesn’t take too long for the observant to see the ravages of the drugs trade, and the resultant war against it. The bullets on the walls of buildings in (and sometimes out) of any favela will tell you that, and any glance at the TV news reveals rolling footage of hauls of drugs and arms, fatal shootings, and the ongoing process of police attempting to enter these areas and station themselves there permanently, with varying degrees of success. Even before this process began, a friend who lives in a favela in the north told me he and his neighbours would be perplexed at the sight of these hauls from operations on TV, not having seen any police in the area that day, or heard sirens or seen anyone being arrested. Since the police had accepted large bribes to allow the drug dealing to continue, the operations were often simulated just to please the public or those politicians who had called for it. There was not even a genuine attempt to wipe out drugs, let alone one that had a chance of working.

Even without the spectre of corruption which will see to the success or failure of this current largescale operation, it’s a problem when you’ve got the demand for drugs that you have. I’m pretty sure that the guy who robbed me here at gunpoint was on crack; however, I also remember the girl at my university who was hospitalised after drinking games (organised by the halls of residence) such as yard of ale, etc. I still remember her lifeless body on the cold grass, and the ambulance, as the games continued and people laughed along. Drink as well as drugs causes social and health problems, but I can’t see Obama, or Dilma Rouseff for that matter, changing their policies any time soon.