Pelo Telephony: São Paulo Street Vendors Use Technology To Break The Law!

RICK: How can you close me down? On what grounds?
RENAULT: I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here.
CROUPIER: Your winnings, sir.
RENAULT: Oh, thank you very much.

Chefe da polícia
pelo telefone
mandou avisar
Que na Carioca
havia uma roleta
para se jogar …

–Donga, “Pelo Telefone” (1916)

Que o chefe da polícia
Carioca, avisa
Pelo celular
Que lá na praça Onze
Tem um video-pôquer
Para se jogar…

–Gilberto Gil, “Pela Internet” (1997)

“A plane crash kills 200, and who do they arrest? The guy who owns the whorehouse!” –Current São Paulo bar joke

Rádio é a arma dos camelôs: Street vendors of pirate goods use walkie-talkies to avoid getting caught by “The Man,” the Estado de S. Paulo reports.

You don’t say?

Stop the presses!

The first recording of a samba de enredo registerd with Brazil’s national library, “Over the Telephone,” by the legendary Donga, deals humorously with just such a case:

The chief of police called me up on the phone to let me know that there was a roulette wheel to play at the Club Carioca …

Gilberto Gil updated the concept in “Over the Internet,” from the album Quanta (1997), updated the concept:

The chief of the Rio police called me up on the cell phone to let me know there was a videopoker machine to play at the Praça Onze.

Pois é.

Low-tech versions of coordinated communications, for black-market businesses on a budget, also exist: Children’s kites, often, and, less discretely, shooting off crazy amounts of fireworks.

Another, lower-technology technique also reportedly used in some such situations: cash money payments. When the brave new world of cashless payments arrives, will such transactions be powered by Bluetooth?

On my first trip to Brazil, I remember asking a friend what the artillery barrage was that had broken out nearby, in an upscale São Paulo neighborhood. The response: “Either Corinthians has just scored a goal or the latest shipment of drugs has arrived.”

See also

The dilemma of the camelô — I believe the name for the ubiquitous street vendors comes out of the long tradition of itinerant vendors of Syrian and Lebanese origin, known as mascates — can be understood, in part, I think, mutatis mutandis, as a variation on the Mexican Immigrant Dilemma in New York City.

Without Mexican immigrants, the restaurant industry would simply collapse. This proposition is widely repeated, and there is probably some truth to it.

A friend of the family in the Gotham cuisine racket — Time Out once described his deserts as “geological, rather than architectonic,” whatever the hell that means — admits as much, for example. And the very, very fine gentleman who holds the secret to the secret sauces that are making our friend the chef’s current venture a success is a Mexico City native without a culinary degree, and possibly without a visa as well, who never set once foot in the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) or the like. He learned on the job at the hottest spots in Tribeca, starting as a humble, tearful onion-chopper.

You know the old saying about how you don’t want to know how the sausage gets made? This guy knows. And has an amazing way with a flank steak — shallots and balsamic vinegar and what not.

The issue has gained more visibility here with the upcoming mayoral elections, and the recent arrest of Law Kin — or Law King — Chong, king of the 25 de Março and “reputed to be Brazil’s biggest smuggler.”


Suffice it to say that here is a curious disconnect between moral panic over rampant law-scoffing and the reality on the street. And not just in São Paulo:

Latest news: Another shopping mall owned by the Law King, the Shopping 25 Brás, has just reopened, after presenting the proper paperwork to a court and applying for a court order permitting it to function.

Meanwhile, another one of those technology-themed stories in which the medium is more important than the message. It is more important to know that some Russians have used YouTube to post a video supposedly showing him beheading someone, than it is to know whether or not the Russians actually have cut someone’s head off.

This is known as “innovation journalism.” See also

Os camelôs ilegais do Centro de São Paulo têm conseguido escapar do “rapa” (fiscalização) graças à tecnologia. A tática é simples: eles usam radiocomunicadores pendurados no pescoço. Assim que a fiscalização se aproxima, os ambulantes avisam uns aos outros pelo aparelho. Dessa forma, eles conseguem esconder a mercadoria pirateada, como DVDs e CDs.

Illegal street vendors in Downtown São Paulo have managed to escape from “the dude” (inspectors) thanks to technology. The tactic is a simple one: They use walkie-talkies hung around their necks. As soon as the “The Guy” approaches, the itinerant street vendors warn others using the device. In this way, they succeed in hiding pirated merchandise such as DVDs and CDs.

Com alcance entre os rádios de até quatro quilômetros e qualidade de sinal, a ferramenta é considerada poderosa pelos marreteiros. “Nós não somos camelôs irregulares. Somos trabalhadores da economia informal”, comenta Carlos, que não quis revelar o sobrenome.

With a range of up to 4 km and a high-quality signal, the device is considered a powerful tool by the marreteiros.

Marreteiros seems like kind of a loaded term.

It generally refers to petty thieves, right?

“We are not irregular street vendors. We are workers in the informal economy,” comments Carlos, who asked that his surname not be revealed.

O vendedor, que vende óculos de sol que imitam a marca italiana Prada por R$ 10, diz que nunca foi pego pelo rapa. “A gente usa esse rádio e dá para fugir. É tenso, mas ganhamos o pão nosso de cada dia”, conta o vendedor. “Para usar o aparelho não se gasta nada.” Ele se refere ao fato de não ser necessário pagar uma taxa mensal, a exemplo de outros equipamentos. O rádio funciona com bateria.

The vendor, who sells sunglasses that imitate the Italian Prada brand for R$10, said he has never been caught by “The Guy.” “We use this radio and are able to get away. It’s tense, but we earn our daily bread,” he relates. “You do not pay anything to use this gizmo.” He is referring to the fact that he pays no monthly fees, unlike other equipment. The radio functions on batteries.

The devil wears fake Prada.

In other words, it is not a Nextel Radio gizmo for which you need a subscription to the network.

It is, as they say, “peer-to-peer.”

The walkie-talkie was invented by a Canadian guy named Al Gross in 1938. The Estado de S. Paulo is apparently just catching up to the disruptive implications of the technology.
Democratizing technology runs antisocial software!

Um outro vendedor, que atua no ramo de jogos eletrônicos, lembra que na semana passada um colega o salvou de uma blitz. “Eu estava aqui (na Rua 24 de Maio) e meu amigo ‘me bateu um rádio’ dizendo que a polícia estava passando perto da Rua Marconi. Deu tempo de cobrir os CDs e entrar num bar.”

Another vendor, who sells electronic games, recalls that last week a colleague saved him from a raid. “I was here (on 24 de Maio Street) and my buddy ‘shot me a radio’ saying the police were passing close by Rua Marconi. It gave me time to cover up the CDs and go inside a bar.”

Marconi Street, appropriately enough.

Thomas Pynchon, who has a peculiar and abiding fascination with radio communications, would be interested in this story, I think. (I just finished reading Against the Day, finally. So long and involved that I have alread forgotten the beginning and need to start over again.)

O mesmo ambulante indica a Galeria Pagé, na região da Rua 25 de Março, como ponto-de-venda do walkie-talkie. “O par sai por R$ 80, mas se for em loja de marca custa quase R$ 200”, afirma.

The same itinerant vendor points to the Galeria Pagé, in the 25 de Março area, as a point of sale for the walkie-talkie. “A pair goes for R$80, but you would pay nearly $200 in a brand-name store,” he says.

We were in Santa Ifigênia a while back and were thinking we should get a pair ourselves.

My office is on the third floor of our cafofo, and has many whirring fans and other noises (twittering sabiás and bem-te-vis, for example).

So when my wife wants me — “Come here, Colin, I need you!” — she has to yell harshly, like Flo yelling at Andy Capp. Which frightens cats. “Dogs begin to bark / All over the neighborhood.”

We wound up not getting a set, but we still may, or perhaps an intercom.

We did buy a simple, reconditioned Maxtel telephone — apparently legitimate, but who really knows? What is sincerity and authenticity, in the final analysis? — for my office for something like R$8.

Difícil prender

Hard to catch

Vender e comprar produtos piratas é crime, sujeito a multa e quatro anos de prisão. Porém, não são comuns as prisões de vendedores, tampouco de compradores.

Selling and buying pirated products is a crime, subject to a fine and four years in prison. But arrests of sellers, much less buyers, are not common.

O delegado Fernando Schimidt de Paula, do Setor de Investigações Gerais da 1ª Seccional da Polícia Civil do Centro, explica que, para prender o vendedor em flagrante, é necessário que um perito criminal aponte que o produto é falso.

Police delegado Fernando Schimidt de Paula, who heads special investigations for the downtown police, explains that in order to catch a vendor in the act, it is necessary to have a criminalist on hand to identify the product as [phony.]

On Schimidt’s recent work, see also

“Só que o laudo não sai na hora e pode demorar até dois meses. Mas quando um perito nos acompanha, em operações maiores, podemos, sim, prender a pessoa na hora”, conta Schimidt. “O que podemos fazer é apreender as mercadorias, que vão desde perfumes até calças jeans. Tudo o que você imaginar.”

“But this report cannot be produced on the spot, and may take up to two months. But when an expert accompanies us, on bigger operations, we can arrest the person on the spot,” Schimidt explains. “What we an do is apprehend merchandise, which range from perfumes to denim jeans. Everything you can imagine.”

De acordo com o Conselho de Combate à Pirataria, vinculado ao Ministério da Justiça, no Brasil de cada dez CDs e DVDs vendidos, quatro são falsificados.

According to the Council on Combating Piracy, part of the Ministry of Justice, in Brazil, 4 in ten (40%) of DVDs and CDs are pirated.

See also

An industry source cited in that report — the only source cited in that report — stated the figure as 6 in 10 (60%).

A Subprefeitura da Sé, por meio de sua assessoria de imprensa, informou que tem conhecimento do uso de rádios pelos ambulantes, mas não há como apreender esses aparelhos, pois o uso não é ilícito.

The Subprefecture of Sé, through its press office, said that it is aware of the use of radios by itinerant vendors, but cannot apprehend these devices because their use in not illegal.

The question to the Subprefecture was apparently, “Why on earth do you let these camelô have cell phones and radios? They are criminals!”

This from the Estado de S. Paulo, tireless champion of the Negroponte XO “digital inclusion” machine — “the famous $100 laptop.”

Ainda de acordo com a assessoria, de junho até o dia 26 de novembro foram apreendidos pela Guarda Civil Metropolitana (GCM) 53.579 sacos de mercadorias. A GCM foi procurada três vezes para comentar o assunto e fornecer o número de homens no Centro. Mas, até as 20h, não havia retornado aos contatos da reportagem.

According to the subprefecture’s press office, from June through November 26, the Metropolitan Guard apprehended 53,579 sacks of merchandise. The GCM was contacted three times to comment on the matter and asked to inform the number of guards in the downtown area. By 8 pm, it had not returned phone calls from the newsroom.

I report I saw on computer sales recently found that lowering the prices on personal computers has, as hoped, reduced the volume of sales in the grey and black markets. I am researching that a bit — more later soon.

Brazil is a country where every humble brick shed plopped down in the middle of a flood zone, with chickens in the yard, also has a satellite receiver bringing in channels that bombard you with images of stuff that you have just got to have, in order to be fully human.

But that the vast majority of viewers could never afford that stuff if they lived to be 201 and never took a day off.

Predict the results.

Meanwhile, gunpoint gentrification of the downtown area has not, apparently, included any great haste to shut down bingos, which are also illegal. Quite a saga, that. Figuring out law enforcement priorities can be a bit of a puzzle, for a Martian anthropologist in São Paulo — and for quite a few local residents, too, I think you will find.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
Vintage roleta with bichos. Source: Musem of the Policia Civil, Rio de Janeiro


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