I have now read fairly deeply into three accounts of what is happening in Rio de Janeiro right now, as heavily armed employees of the bazaar of violence focus like a laser beam on public security insfrastructure, right before the vast New Year’s Celebration on the Green Zone beaches of Copacabana and (to a lesser extent) Ipanema.
Hundreds of thousands to millions ready to float out their offerings out to Iêmanjá in a Guanabara Bay in which Bill Gates’ yacht, Octopus, lies anchored. The photo op of the year. Don’t miss it.
[Neuza lately has been saying that she thinks I may be as much a son of Iansã (Santa Barbara, goddess of fresh water and lightning storms) as I am of the Enigmatic Mermaid.]
Three versions, from
- Reuters, from
- Mayor Maia on his ex-blog, and from
- Wálter Fanganiello Maierovitch — yes, that is his name; the great gaúcho writer Moacyr Scliar can explain to you, beautifully, how that sort of “kosher pizzeria, with bocce court, in the shtetl” thing works here in Brazil — the “spies and mafia” columnist for Carta Capital magazine,
WFM, whose boss, Mino Carta, a transplanted Italian — as a man who frequents a traditional barbershop with a huge shrine in it to Adoniran Barbosa, let me school you someday on transplanted Italians; though I am not, of course, the compleat expert on the subject, I do sleep with one every night, after all, and dine around a Felliniesque table with hordes of them — who founded a number of the country’s most important newsweeklies over the last several decades, was named Brazilian journalist of the year recently by the foreign correspondent’s association here.
To which freelancers need not apply, by the way.
Or so I understand. Let me check that.
One assumes that the Grey Lady and the WaPo voted otherwise, or annuled their vote.
The key question to start with, it seems to me — though we may have to refine the question as the facts emerge, is this: Is this (1) a war between the forces of ordem e progresso and the Forum of São Paulo — which, as Sen. Bornhausen insisted during the elections, conspired with the drug lords of the PCC during the last elections to undermine Geraldo “Master of Journalism” Alckmin — or (2) a war between the Comando Vermelho and the Comando Azul, which is what the folks in Rio call the crooked cops who run death squads and serve as cover for various flavors of Mafiadom.
Or is it (3) something else entirely?
Which I tend to think of as the “freakonomics” hypothesis.
And it is gaining mindshare in the NMMDEX by the hour.
One very interesting suggestion in the air is that what we are actually seeing, behind the facades of the Potemkin Village, is a war of mafias with modern business principles, as it were, against a drug traffic whose business model they do not consider sustainable in the long term.
Related factoid: The PCC buys heavily into the gasoline station market in the Zona Leste of São Paulo — and even, one hears, promises to put an end to the fuel adulteration mafias, who water down gas and gasohol stocks to skim money off the top.
Texas Hold-em Style Animal Fable Illustration of the Principle at Work
Have you ever heard the joke about the old bull and the young bull, standing at the top of the hill looking and down on a herd of sexy young cows?
“Let’s run down there and get us one of them cows!” says the young bull.
“Son,” drawls, the old bull, “let’s stroll down there all casual-like and get all of them cows.”
That is what we are talking about here.
Downmarket Demand for Security & Stability: A Wal-Mart Emerges from the Shadows?
The most interesting assertion in Mayor Maia’s analysis being that corrupt elements of the military and civil police, and their political backers, may be at war with a vigilante protection racket — Mr. Maierovitch points out its similarities to the pizzo rackets of the ‘Ndrangheta — that has arisen to compete with the traffickers in the shantytowns, and maybe even have aligned itself strategically, in the short term, with police elements looking to weed the ranks of Comando Azul elements.
Mr. Maia suggests that such an alliance would be “natural,” in fact.
The Reuters account, I think, we can almost immediately discard as a useless confabulation, trying to convince us that what we have here is some kind of old-fashioned Plan Colombia scenario.
As far as I can see, Reuters relies almost entirely on sources aligned with and covering for the current governmor, Mrs. Garotinho, who spin a Manichaean fairy tale about what the situation means, pra inglês ver.
The account from Mr. Maia, a heartfelt political enemy of the Garotinhos, who is not very shy about telling you that, tells a very different story.
And Maierovitch at least begins to articulate a third point of view, staking out a perspective, he wants us to believe, outside of that bitter political rivalry. With some credibility, too, because although Mr. WFM is not infallible as a reporter, he is generally not too full of shit, either, or even very often. If at all.
According to the spot checks we have run so far. Continuing to test and backtest.
Let me gist this for you.
[after more coffee, that is]
Prediction: Larry Rohter of the New York Times will soon file a story based on the same set of sources as Reuters, mutatis mutandis — difference faces, same deep background — reinforcing the same imagineered fairy tale.
He lives in Copacabana, after all.
Rohter is, in fact, the consummate Green-Zone dwelling REMF.
Here is a key passage from the Maierovitch report, entitled “Why There is So Much Fear.”
Local journalists: I do provide translation services for a fee scaled to the local economy, by the way. This kind of stuff really deserves to circulate around the gatekeepers in the press corps to the reality-based risk managers of the world.
I am vacuuming this straight off the printed page, by the way, contrary to my normal interlinear translation method. You get what you pay for. Translation in italics.
Another relevant fact from 2006 comes from the “GDP” figures for legal security providers. The ones who sell equipment or provide guards for the protection and peace of mind of Rio residents.
In this sector, the pathology comes from the growth of the informal employment market, or to put it more plainly, the constitution of armed militias, much like those that operate in Mogadishu, in Somalia, the most violent city on the planet.
At first, the militias merely offered protection to unwary residents. Soon, however, that protection turned into extortion and permanent violation of individual rights. As ever in the annals of Mafia history, the sale of pizzo protection policies evolved into a loss of liberty by the pseudo-customer of protection and the institutionalization of the extortion scheme.
To give you one example, in Calabria today, headquarters of the powerful and transnational Ndrangheta, 90% of the business owners pay pizzo.
Those who refuse to pay are murdered. Yes, they do get prior warning first: Threats of bodily harm and arson at the business premises or private residence. …
In the Barra da Tijuca, in 2006, the above-cited militias were observed imposing their conditions on the population. For example, they collect, not only the “protection tax,” but also commissions on real estate deals as well. In other words, because they control the territory and have pushed out the State, they demand tribute.
That is just a sample of some of the facts and analysis coming in from WFM.
His notes on the incoming governor of São Paulo, José Serra, are not encouraging, but NMM needs to do some independent checking of his own on that.
The newsflow on the incoming Serra government has been amazingly sparse.
But it gives you a chance, at least, to see that WFM takes quite a different attitude to the situation than Mayor Maia, who sees an alliance of convenience between anti-Traffic public security forces and anti-Traffic “bazaar of violence” entrepreneurs as a “natural” occurence.
Not that I claim that Mr. Maia is celebrating that fact.
His analysis is pretty straightforward Kissingerian Realpolitik.
And as we know, the problem with Realpolitik of this kind is not the insights it produces, but how far believes one can go in acting on those insights. And why.
As to his own activities in this framework, many have noted the ostentatious way in which Maia has, to use the local metaphor-set, assumed the role of the player-coach who has benched himself.
Which is an interesting negotiating stance to keep an eye on, and do some back-testing on.
One thing I can say is that I think Mr. Maia is correct in his analysis: This is clearly a case in which “bazaar of violence” entrepreneurs are successfully outcompeting the State, as well as a competing monopoly that got lazy and forgot to read its Cluetrain Manifesto.
Let me get into the warrants and backing for my analysis of the Reuters take on this story in a moment.
First, more freaking cawfee (two week’s supply of fresh, pungent local arabica, handmade by any one of a number very satisfying artesanal methods, for the price of one Starbuck’s superenormous carmel-slathered two-shot 90%-foam totem of consumerism).
The Usual Suspects