.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Foreign Correspondent

Being the Ongoing Tales, Triumphs, Struggles (mostly struggles) and Occasional Adventures of Freelance Foreign Correspondent Shawn Gerald Blore, based in Rio de Janeiro

Monday, June 20, 2005

Bolivia - in Search of Headlines and the $$ to pay for them

Bolivia - in Search of Headlines and the $$ to pay for them

Monday, June 20, 2005

Got back from Bolivia on Friday. When did you leave for Bolivia, you ask? (Go ahead, ask). For me it all started on June 7.

For Bolivians, it started either late in May, when protestors began putting up blockades on highways around the country, or several hundred years ago, when Francisco Pizarro’s brother came in, and subdued what remained of the southern Inca empire, and installed a white/criole government that has lasted more or less intact ever since.

The proximate cause of the crisis was public dissatisfaction with a new energy bill brought in by President Carlos Mesa, a former journalist and former vice-president, elevated to high office only after the much-despised quasi-gringo elected president Carlos Sanchez de Lozada was turfed in 2003.

Those manning the blockades - Bolivia’s labour unions and indigenous groups mostly - were demanding full nationalization of Bolivia’s oil and gas industry. Mesa’s bill only increased taxes on foreign oil companies operating in the country. That was not going to be enough.

These, however, were but short term demands. What the protestors really wanted was a constituent assembly with powers to re-write the constitution. Because those doing the protesting and blockading are nearly all Aymara or Quechua Indians, and what they really want is to take control of Bolivia’s government. Given that they make up some 65% of the population, it’s not that unreasonable request. It’s just not one the non-Indian elite are too keen on.

So, did I know all this June 7? Was I a long-term student of Indigenous movements of resistance in colonial Andean societies in the post modern world of the Washington Consensus?

No. But I knew a story when I saw one.

Mid-afternoon Tuesday June 7 I got a call from a colleague who works for a European radio network. It looked like the Bolivian government was going to fall. Her network was pretty sure it was going to send her to cover the chaos. Did I want to come?

It was a generous offer. She is a long-term student of Indigenous movements of resistance in colonial Andean societies in the post modern world of the Washington Consensus. She hangs out at smoke-ridden left-wing klatches. She has oodles of contacts in Bolivia.

So why bring me? We work well together. We’re both alternatively pushy and extravagantly charming. Two of us lets us switch the good cop bad cop roles. And besides, I know how to fix her computer.

My question, the immediate question of any reporter lacking the essential social safety net of an unlimited expense account: could I make this pay? And if not that, can I at least cover my expenses and break even?

A quick call to Varig. Flights from Rio to La Paz are US $575. TAM and cheapo Gol don’t fly. US$600 it is. Factor in $50 a day expenses. I’m going to need some markets to pay for this.

Rapid fire emails to every outlet I’ve ever written for- are you interested, how many pieces will you take? Newspapers – The Globe and Mail, The Christian Science Monitor, The San Francisco Chronicle. Magazines – Macleans, The Walrus; TV – never done TV, but I email a reporter friend at CBC and ask if they want a stringer and who to contact. Radio – email an NPR show I work for and CBC’s the Current. Then I email all my CBC radio contacts and ask for the news editor there.

It’s now late Tuesday. A few No’s come in. The Monitor has someone there already (but it’s nice to hear from me again, they say – always polite, the CSM). The Current is interested, maybe, but no commitments. Do I have contact numbers there?

Loads of emails from CBC friends have established the TV and Radio news editors. Emails to TV go unanswered. Fuck him. Phone call to the radio news desk reveals the editor is home for the day. Maybe tomorrow.

My Euro-colleague hasn’t got the final go-ahead from her editors. Next day’s early Varig flight is out. Maybe the LAB flight in the afternoon?

Wednesday Morning. June 10. The Globe still hasn’t responded. What’s going on? I write for them intermittently from SA. They at least know me. Maclean’s – nothing. Quelle surprise. Retirees in Moose Jaw not interested in Bolivia. The Walrus – also nothing. The Walrus readership is likely interested, but it’s a long lead-time mag, with an editor notorious for slow email turn-around-times. I knew when I sent it was a long shot.

NPR editor is leaving on vacation. Cannot take anything for two weeks. By that time crisis likely over.

CBC radio editor is encouraging, in that you’ve never worked for us so you cannot fully be trusted but since the government long ago slashed us to Toronto-based Timbit of our once world-spanning global donut I suppose we must at least give you a try kind of way. Gives me the FTP address and password, tells me to limit it to 1’30’ hits. Okay. Rate for that is $45 a piece. Hmmm. 45 is to 600 as Timbit is to.....Michael Moore? Mass of glutinous carbs? The similie won't come. I consider not going.

Get a nice email from a producer at the current. Asks me when I’m leaving. I tell him I’m not sure I am. Everyone says they’re interested maybe. No one willing to commit. He says he’ll see what he can do.

CBS radio calls. My emails to friends and friends of friends have circled the world of cyberspace, bouncing from Toronto to Vancouver to Baghdad to the 212 zone of New York city. The producer on the line says they’re looking for a Brazil based stringer. But no, they have no interest in Bolivia, ‘not unless a lot more Americans die.’

I call friend and tell her I’m likely not going.

Wednesday. PM. Globe editor finally emails. Sorry, he says. My spam filter put your emails in the trash can. Yes, he says, we’re interested. If the crisis lasts we’ll take 6 or 7 pieces. At $250 per piece, that’s enough to cover expenses.

I call Euro-friend and tell her it’s a go. Her editors are still hesitating, but she’s willing to say fuck it and go without permission. LAB’s afternoon flight still a possibility. Except that it just got cancelled. LAB won’t say why.

I walk down the beach past the Copacabana Palace to the Varig office. Plunk down the plastic. US$583, taxes included. As far as the pretty Varig bunny knows, flights to La Paz still flying.

Back home to pack. The Current emails. They can offer a live radio debrief. $425. I may even make a profit on this trip.

Thursday, 7am. Flight takes off normally. Lands in Sao Paulo. We’re told to exit plane. This is abnormal. We de-plane, circumnavigate departure lounge in search of new gate. Load up and take off. On landing in Bolivian city of Santa Cruz we’re told the flight to La Paz has been cancelled. The airfield is closed. The air traffic controllers have gone on strike. Or the army has taken control of the airport. No one’s completely sure.

We are stuck in Santa Cruz

----to be continued ----

I have used up the one hour I allot to blogging at any one time. Further notes on the Bolivia trip when I next get an hour free.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Recent Work

What have I been up to?
It's been a long time since my last post on the old Blore in Brazil blog. In the interim, I have moved from Ipanema (beach front neighbourhood of the young and beautiful, a long way from city centre, lily-white except for maids, cleaners and sellers of suco (fresh-squeezed fruit juice))
over to Leme (beach front neighbourhood of the old and wrinkled, lily white except for maids, cleaners, suco sellers and people commuting from the two nearby favelas of Babilonia and Chapeu-Mangueira.
Leme has the advantage of being much closer to Centro, and the disadvantage of being full or retirees. Retired officers - colonels and generals and the like - are particularly fond of Leme for some reason. The statue on the beach-front plaza in Leme is of General Castello Branco, possibly the most vicious of the military dictators who ruled Brazil during the 1964-1985 dictatorship.

Recent Work:
In terms of work, I have published a major report on diamond smugging in Brazil
(see The Failure of Good Intentions http://www.pacweb.org/e/ )

and begun an illustrious career in radio with a piece on CBC's The Current
(http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/2005/200504/20050414.html )

and a similar, shorter version of the same piece on an NPR show, LatinoUSA
(See shows June 3-9, 2005 http://www.latinousa.org/program/index.html )

Selling the same material to several different outlets is one key to surviving as a freelancer. Alas, many outlets (newspapers, radio, magazines) seem to think they have a right to demand all rights to your work. This is an ongoing conflict, about which more later.

and done another piece for the Globe and Mail, just to keep my hand in. (link is only for subscribers. I'll get it up on my website soon. In the meantime, here's the opening graph

A nonchalant killer defends Rio-style justice

But vigilantes provoke Brazil's outrage after recent massacre of innocents

Special to The Globe and Mail

RIO DE JANEIRO -- The first man he killed was riding a bicycle. "I had been warned, so I had my gun, with a newspaper over top, like this." The man demonstrates a nonchalant squat on the concrete stoop of his modest house in the Baixada Fluminense, the ring of poor industrial cities surrounding Rio de Janeiro. "When the guy rode up, I shot him."

The killer, who gives his name only as Nilmo, says he has since killed another seven men, a tally he considers minuscule.

"My role in the group is more support. There are other guys who do most of the killing," he says.

The lead executioner of his group, a death squad that metes out vigilante justice in the city of Novo Iguacu on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, has dispatched at least 75 victims. All told, their death squad has killed hundreds.

"I'm God's lieutenant," Nilmo says. "The Bible says, the one to take life is God. I'm not God, but sometimes, with guys like these, you have to take them and send them on their way to God."

The Purpose of This New Blog

I don't know how many readers my old Blore-in-Brazil blog had. Less than ten, I had thought, but now and again the oddest people would write to tell me they had read and liked my blog, or that I should get the thing going again. Popular demand, however, is not really why I've resurrected the monster. Rather, I was inspired by reading a few other blogs, in particular a series of blogs created by screenwriters in LA. (See http://www.johnaugust.com/ and http://www.davidanaxagoras.com/) Some are struggling, some are quite successful, but what I found fascinating was the fairly honest inside look they give on the business of being a professional writer in the LA film and TV world.

So, this new re-purposed blog (not being an MBA or a business writer, I have never before been able to use the word re-purposed), will attempt to provide a fairly honest inside look at the business of being a freelance foreign correspondent. Exciting chases under fire with beautiful kalishnakov-toting guerilla leaders will, of course, crop up regularly here. But in addition I plan to write - with as much honesty as possible - about the business side of foreign corresponding; that is, how do you make a living writing about exciting chases under fire with beautiful kalishnakov-toting guerilla leaders, when news consumers in first world markets would much rather read about food, traffic, weather, sports or just about anything else? And how do you spell Kalishnakov?

Tune in next post, and see.....

Everything from my old Blore-in-Brazil Blog, transferred over

The Old Blore-in-Brazil Blog

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Ah Brazil. Two cops get in an argument. They pull out their guns to settle it, gunfighter style, on the streets of Copacabana. One ends up shot in the belly, the other in the back. The story only makes page A8.

28/04/2004 - 06h34m
Tiroteio entre policiais causa pânico em Copacabana

Jorge Martins - O Globo

RIO - Dois policiais, um civil e outro militar, trocaram tiros nesta madrugada após uma discussão na esquina da Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana com Rua Dijalma Urich, em Copacabana. Testemunhas disseram que o desentendimento começou em frente ao hotel Vanity e, em meio à confusão, sacaram armas e houve o confronto. Os vários tiros disparados provocaram correrria e pânico nas pessoas que passavam. As marcas da violência ficaram nas portas de aço de duas lojas. Os baleados são o PM Carlos Germano da Silva, agente do serviço reservado do Batalhão de Copacabana, com um tiro na barriga e outro no braço, e o policial civil Luis André de OIiveira, da 12º DP ( Copacabana), com dois tiros nas costas. Eles estão internados no Hospital Miguel Couto. Dois amigos do policial civil foram detetidos e levados para a delegacia.

// posted by Shawn @ 4:42 AM

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Tuesday, April 13, 2004 10:50 PM
Tuesday, April 13, 2004 10:50 PM

Went to Rocinha again today, where the police war with the traffickers rages unabated. Que corajoso, a friend remarked, when I told her where I was going. She put her hand on my arm and squeezed encouragingly, so instead of disparaging the danger I did my best off-to-the-Western-Front-but-its-really-rather-nothing look. It never hurts to play up the undaunted courage shtick.

The truth is that with this war at least, for 99% of the time, for 99% of reporters, the danger is close to nil. But I didn’t tell her that. I’ve never been a war reporter, but I think this is likely true for most wars. I didn’t tell her that either.

In any case, to catch this war, I caught a mini-bus, one of the quasi-legal jitneys that circulates on Rio’s waterfront. At the end of Leblon, where the road climbs up the rocks above the surf and snakes along the cliff-side towards Sao Conrado and Rocinha, I saw the first of the reported 1200 police that now patrol this combat zone – a squad of six or seven motorcycle cops, stationed on the entrance of one the Av. Niemeyer’s most expensive short term sex motels.

Maybe it was just a convenient wide-spot in the otherwise narrow confines of this cliff-side highway. Or maybe the governor insisted on protecting the free passage of Zona Sul residents to and from their mid-day quickies. Or maybe it was just coincidence. It’s a question I’d like to ask the Public Security Secretary Anthony Garotinho. Before the road descends into Sao Conrado I count four more motorcycle squads – every one parked in front of a sex motel.

At the crossroads where the Av. Niemeyer crosses the Lagoa-Barra auto Estrada we hit the first checkpoint, manned by about 10 cops from the 35th division of the Rio Policia Militar. The name is indicative. Though the PM are ostensibly a civilian force, they are more fully paramilitary than any civilian police force I’ve yet encountered. (This may date back to the dictatorship – I’ll have to check this point). Individual cops are called soldados. The ranking system is fully military – lieutenant, captain, major. The man in charge of the city’s police wears a brush cut and three gold stars on his shoulderboards – the rank and hairstyle of a Brazilian PM Colonel.

At the checkpoint, the soldados of the 35th have revolvers drawn, assault rifles at the ready, but we in our air-con jitney get waved through. Class has its privileges —that’s its point. Under the viaduct and Rocinha comes into view. It’s impressive from the roadside, a medieval warren made of concrete and cinderblock, a souk blown up to 21st century scale. Two women in the front seat titter nervously; one makes a joke about ‘living in the Zona Sul’. They go silent when I ask the driver to let me off.

On the walkway into Rocinha a pamphlet man passes me a handbill for a local dentist: Extractions R$5 (US$2). Fillings R$10 (US$3.5) with amalgam, R$15 (US$5) with tooth-coloured resin. R$60 (US$20) for a root canal. Instalment payments and credit cards encouraged. Welcome to Rocinha, where all the luxuries of the Zona Sul are available, at a cut rate price and with the quality omitted.

The journalists have set up shop in a café by the main access road where the PM have parked their Blazers. Another 15 cops, these from the 13th BPM, hang around with nothing much to do. 15 Cops. Four blazers. If there are really 1200 soldiers patrolling around, I wonder where they’ve parked the other 296 Blazers.

I make friends with a reporter from Rede-TV – a poor cousin to the Globo network that makes most of its money showing cheap US sitcoms while providing the bare minimum of original programming. Canadian readers will recognize the business model. News is Rede-TVs flagship, its only real justification for the money it rakes in.

The reporter is pretty and young and obliging. Within minutes I’m up to date on what’s happened today – nothing – and have numbers for the press liaison for the PM head office and for the Secretary of Security. I also learn that she has a boyfriend from Calgary – part of the reason she’s so nice – and she’d really much rather be covering anything else but urban warfare. ‘Sports’ she says. ‘Carnaval.’ War reporting, she says, is definitely not her praia.

Friday evening she arrived just after the invasion began. ‘It was like that scene at the beginning of Private Ryan,’ she tells me. “Bullets flying everywhere. You had no idea where they were coming from or who was shooting. Everyone ran. We hid in a kind of hole beneath a building. There were kids screaming and crying. We had to stay there for hours.”

Has she been up into Rocinha today? No, she says. Her editor won’t allow it. Too dangerous. Yesterday, I tell her, I wandered up around much of Rocinha, to the PM post and beyond. I saw some 30 cops, a lot of people going about their daily lives, and not much else. ‘You have to be careful’ she says. Didn’t you hear about them threatening reporters yesterday?’

Globo has a feed on the walkie-talkie frequency used by the trafficantes, and a reporter whose job it is to listen in all day. Not a job I envy, but in this case the endless hours of tedium paid off. In one idle moment of chit-chat one of the fugitive gunmen said something like ‘let’s shoot us a reporter’.

Canadian papers have an admirable Protestant reluctance to blow their own horn. They hazards of the trade are rarely ever mentioned. The dangers of getting the story are never allowed to overshadow the story itself. Brazilian papers are entirely free of such hang-ups.

Globo put the idle chit chat on the front page.

Some of the cops have come into the café to relax and grab some coffee. I chat up one and learn he and his mates are pulling 12 hour shifts. How much overtime you getting? I ask. Overtime? He looks confused and then just laughs that odd sort of bitter Brazilian laugh, and grabs a seat at table. Soldiers have no right to overtime. Part of the terms of service.

A side benefit of the paramilitary police structure, it seems, is military terms of service. While civilian cops would be sucking up double overtime, soldier cops give up even the basic rights accorded under Brazilian labour code, much less the extortionary powers of a well-armed police union. This soldier gets a monthly salary, and works as much and wherever and whenever he’s told.

Another PM – his assault rifle slung over his back - takes advantage of my absence to begin chatting up the pretty Rede-TV reporter. Brazilian PM have next to none of what a Canadian solder once told me is called ‘muzzle awareness’. The chatty soldier bends down to comment on something in the reporter’s notes, and not incidentally to get a better view down her top, and the muzzle of his assault rifle tilts up until it’s pointed into the face of his seated colleagues — the mean dark hole of the barrel just inches from his nose.

“Careful, pra caralho,’ says the threatened PM, grabbing the barrel and pushing it back down, and thus levering the amorous soldier back into vertical, putting the TV reporter’s breasts again just tantalizingly out of his view.

A messenger comes asking for a reporter who’s set up an interview with the president of the resident’s association. I haven’t set anything up, but I take advantage of the opportunity to tag along. We’re lead up the same winding road as I walked yesterday. As before, there are cops by the Caixa Economica Federal, and nowhere else.

The Resident’s Association is a two-story building of cracked concrete, no more nor less dilapidated than any in Rocinha. The president, who I meet upstairs, is a young-looking man of 32, black, wearing a golf shirt stenciled with the name of the organization on one breast – Uniao Pro-Melhoramento dos Moradores do Rocinha – and his title, Presidente, on the other. William de Oliveira. He’s an ex-DJ, I learn from newspaper clipping I read downstairs, and the former host of a TV show on TV Rocinha. He has a son aged 9, and a daughter aged 6 weeks. He looks very tired.

As it was the other reporter who set up the interview, I let her lead off. Unfortunately she seems ashamed to be asking questions, or ashamed of her braces, or maybe just ashamed to be alive. She clamps her hand over her mouth and mumbles into her fingers: mmmm nn mmmms situation.,mmmmm.

Say what?

Though elected just two months earlier, President William proves to be an old hand, however. He gives his points in perfect point form, allowing time to scribble before moving on.
• The situation in Rocinha is normalizing, he says, despite what some in the press are saying about a state of war.
• out of 180,000 residents, only a few families have had to leave
Q?How many? – I interrupt.
• about 10
Q? Because of the location of their houses, or because of their connections to traffickers?
• because of the location of their houses, up high near the forest
I shut up and let her carry on her mumbled questions
• more than ten years we have had no problems in Rocinha; this is something unaccustomed for us
• business is functioning today, though at about 50% of the normal level. Bills still arrive. People still have to pay taxes
• Caixa economica closed yesterday and today. It may open tomorrow.
• Police are necessary at the moment to restore order. We just want them to do so in a way that respects the rights of Rocinhans, their right to peace and their civil rights
Q? Have you had complaints from residents about the police?
• A few. Aggressive house searches, that sort of thing
Q? Security Secretary Garotinho is giving a press conference this afternoon on measures to deal with the violence in Rocinha. Has he asked for your opinion?
• No
Q? Has Garotinho ever asked for your opinion?
• No
Q? What is needed?

This leads to a very long answer indeed. The residents of Rocinha, says William, need to see more of the government than just the police. They need to see more state projects. At the moment the state government has only one small bit of infrastructure in all of Rocinha. 200,000 residents and one state project. The state is very far from Rocinha. Here, he says, pulling out a letter he’s just fired off to the governor. Here’s what we need.

The letter is a list of asks. It’s a long list. I jot down only the ones William has marked urgent. Basic sanitation; water supply; a state government social service office, which could advise people on programs that they are eligible for; a library; a low-cost pharmacy; a playground.

While I read this, William’s cell phone goes off. One of William’s cell phones. He has three. Plus a land line. They occupy him for next half-hour, effectively ending the interview.

I strike up a conversation with William’s 2nd in command, a 52 year old evangelical Christian named Paulo.

What do you think of the media coverage of Rocinha?

“I read most of papers. I watch TV. I don’t recognize Rocinha there. The media construct this conflict between the marginalized and the police. And that’s it. To the media, that’s Rocinha.”

“They make comparisons with Iraq. I keep hearing that. Rocinha is like Iraq. They like to pretend that they’re war reporters, that they’re in Iraq. Rocinha is not Iraq. Iraq doesn’t exist in Rocinha.”

“Rocinha is a community that has had to exist solely on its own resources. We get nothing from the government. We’ve been trying for years to get the services we deserve. Has Globo ever reported on that? Has Globo ever helped us in that battle? Of course not. If it weren’t for this war, the truth is we would not have a single reporter here.”

“There are other stories here. This is a community with hunger, where people are lacking even the cesta basica. This is also a community of artists. We have artists in the schools, kids in the schools, who make arts and paintings. Sometimes they sell them to the tourists who come here. They could sell more f they had the resources for paint and materials, but they don’t. Has anyone reported that?”

“We want more attention from the government. This is an area of 200,000, with no basic sanitation, no water, no leisure area, no playgrounds or football area, no sports facilities. We should have that, but the government is not interested in providing it, and the press aren’t interested in reporting on it.”

Back down in the café, the Rede-TV woman tells me I just missed something good. A resident was spotted carrying bags of food up into the forest, presumably to supply the drug warriors still out in the jungle. Apparently, it made excellent TV.

I strike up a conversation with Globo’s man on the scene, in this case a woman in her 40s with pretty pink sandals, smoker’s teeth and an intimidating aura of competence. She fills in most of the missing facts and figures I need; there’s little about Rio’s drug wars she doesn’t seem to know. I manage only to surprise her with the news – gleaned from William – that the vice-governor, who on Tuesday suggested blockading the community behind Gaza-style walls - is coming to pay a visit to Rocinha on Thursday.

The truth is, she tells me, this sort of thing has happened many times before in Rio; one drug gang taking away a favela from another gang. But always before it’s happened far away in the Zona Norte. It’s only now, because we’re next to Gavea and Sao Conrado that it becomes news.

It’s the thing I love about reporters. So many are so often so keenly aware of the biases – political, or class, or race – that skew their coverage. They almost never do anything about it, tis true - but at least amongst themselves, they’re honest about its existence.

There’s a press conference happening downtown, she adds. The word is that Garotinho is going to ask the federal government to send in the army.

// posted by Shawn @ 8:06 AM

Actually published first last week:
Odd happenings in Rio. These I know only from TV. The public security minister is the husband of the governor. He’s a failed presidential candidate with a mouth full of platitudes but little administrative skill. In his two years as public security minister, crime in Rio has gotten noticeably worse. The police now kill about 1200 people a year. Armed gangs kill some 120 police each year. So 10 to 1. This is a jump of 20-30% since Anthony Garotinho (the name means Little Boy, and also Little Glass) took office. To counter crime, he has announced a series of new measures and new police units and new toughness. He gives great press conferences. But when the dog and pony are put back in the PR stable, it always turns out that Little Glass’s new programs have been left empty of funding.

This past week topped all. In January a rich American couple were murdered in their suburban mansion. The crime was a shocker both because they were American and because crime in Rio is usually a street thing; home invasions and botched kidnapping are more in fashion in Sao Paulo.

The police investigated and got nowhere, but that didn’t stop Little Boy from publicly speculating in a way that would get any First World politician turfed, then tossed in jail. It was a hit, said Garotinho. Then later, he said it was the couple’s eldest child. (Yes, he publicly accused a grieving 16 year-old of having off’ed his parents). Then later after the FBI came down and looked around, Little Glass said that they knew who the killer was, they were just waiting to make an arrest. Which of course didn’t come.

What did happen is that the security guards at a nearby condo arrested a 18-year old boy trying to break in. He worked nearby as a groundskeeper. The boy promptly confessed to the Shell murders, and lead police to a cache where he had stashed away the murder weapon – a crowbar – and some bloodstained clothing. Police filmed his confession. Garotinho them jumped in, called a press conference, and on live TV had the boy repeat his full confession, with Garotinho himself acting as Phil Donahue host and facilitator. No one thought to get the boy a lawyer. So when a judge reviewed the evidence later that night, she tossed the confession and turned the boy loose, saying that there wasn’t enough evidence for an arrest, much less a conviction.

Little Glass boiled over. He frothed and fumed. Police re-arrested the boy, who in the presence of a lawyer gave a different confession. He had facilitated access to the American’s house for two bad guys who had done the killing, he said. Police searched for but could not find these two supposed killers. DNA tests on the blood-stained shirt showed no match to the dead Americans. The crowbar did not match the victim’s wounds. Little glass is quiet. For now.

// posted by Shawn @ 8:04 AM

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Tuesday, April 6, 2004 8:47 AM
Some expressions of Brazilian Portuguese (from now on, simply Brazilian) that I like.
Não é a minha praia – not my thing, not my cup of tea, but literally , not my beach
cortar a minha onda – to rain on my parade, but literally, to cut off my wave
abacaxi – a mess, a tricky difficult problem; as in abacaxi parlamentar, a parliamentary mess; literally, a pineapple.
lagarto – a lizard
lagarteando – to lie immobile the sun like a lizard; a phrase I learned while describing Alex’s reptilian body temperature to a friend in Curitiba.

What else have I seen:
Truly cheap labour makes many things possible. Men are willing to trudge the beach all day in the sun to sell bottles of water or coke; women will wander the boutequins at night to sell rolled sleeves of roasted peanuts. Stores have lots of sales staff. However, while stores are happy to hire lots of salesmen, they can’t be bothered with training. So walk into any shop and you get swarmed by uniformed, commission-hungry ignoramuses. A couple weeks back I wandered in to the Casas Bahia – a Brick or Furniture Warehouse kind of cheap electronics and white goods retailer – in search of a cell phone. Two white-coated clerks tried to jump me at the entrance. I slipped past, turned left at the love seat and ran into another. No, I didn’t want furniture. Cell phones. Back up, around the TVs and boom, I’m stalled behind two more clerks walking away from me towards the back of the store. Finally arrive at cellphone counter and discover that none of the six clerks hovering within two arm spans know anything about the cell product on offer. There’s one cell-phone clerk, and he’s on lunch. Come back later.

Went to Curitiba. Something I’ve always felt I should do. It’s the world poster child for urban planning, elegized by the likes of Bill McKibben and David Eng-Wicht, not to mention city planning gnomes everywhere. It’s the anti-Brazil. People are gringo-white – paler than pale. They don’t like sun. Curitibans hide from it, like Canadians would, seeking out the shade of trees and buildings. Streets and parks and sidewalks are kept clean. You can wander around at night without fear. People are polite and reserved. It’s cold at night. People use odd formal Portuguese. Disponho – at your service; con gentileza – be so kind as to; as in, be so kind as to count your change; esta servido? – have you finished dining.

It’s a small city by Brazilian standards – just over a million. Similar sized provincial cites in Brazil – like Cuiabá, Campo Grande – are horse towns. Curitiba feels like cultured as Melbourne. Dozens of restaurants. Clubs. Cafes. Pedestrian streets. Parks. Lots of lovely green, safe, clean parks.

// posted by Shawn @ 11:32 AM

Monday, April 05, 2004


So the idea was to blog regularly, to use the blog as a repository for all those piquant little observations that writers make, that newspapers are too uptight to use. So where's the piquant posts? Too damn lazy to write them, I guess. That may change in the next few days. For all 0.7 people who have been tuning in, keep tuning in.

Published another newspaper piece yesterday, on the on-going tape recorder crisis afflicting the Brazilian government. There's a bookie who tapes everyone he talks to - cabinet ministers, prosecutors. Each time he unveils a tape, it's a major new scandal. Anyway, the story appeared in the Globe and Mail, and it's on my NEW WEBSITE as well (www.shawnblore.com). The GLobe copyeditor's trifled with it somewhat, in the interests it seems of making a complicated situation as lucid as possible. They're normally very good, but in this case I think my piece as written had more flavour. Here it is for posterity. If you want to compare it to the published version, click over to http://www.shawnblore.com/Pieces/Globe/Brazil/Cachoeira.htm

Monday, April 5, 2004

Forget the bullet or the ballot box, it’s the pocket tape recorder of big-time bookie Carlos Cachoeira that seemingly determines the fate of Brazil’s government and its charismatic leftist president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Forty-eight days after a recording of a senior government official soliciting bribes and campaign funds from Cachoeira sent Brazil’s government into a crisis, a second recording made by the same bookie appears to have pulled the administration into the clear again, by suggesting the investigation into government corruption was itself corrupted by politics.

Broadcast on the TV news program Jornal Nacional, the second tape records a 3 A.M. meeting between Cachoeira and federal assistant prosecutor José Roberto Santoro, at that point in charge of investigating possible corruption within President Lula da Silva’s administration. In the tape, prosecutor Santoro is trying to convince Cachoeira to turn over the first recording, in which a senior aide to the president’s chief of staff solicits under-the-counter campaign funds plus a 1% commission for himself. The prosecutor seems to relish the political implications of his investigation, and fears only the interference of his boss, the chief prosecutor.

“In a little while the chief prosecutor is going to arrive.…” Santoro is recorded as saying. “He’s going to come here to my office, and see me taking a deposition to, pardon the expression, screw the chief of staff of the president of the republic, the most powerful man in the government, that is, [a deposition] to destroy the Lula government.”

In Brasilia, congress broke from sitting so the senators and representatives could crowd around the lunch-room TV to listen.

President da Silva himself said only that the prosecutor’s comments were a ‘very grave’ matter. His senate leader Aloizio Mercadante was less circumspect. “The [tape] suggests political motivations and an intention to conspire, not [just] against the government, but against democracy,” Mercadante said in April 2nd press conference in Brasilia.

Assistant prosecutor Santoro denied any political bias, saying he was simply using the tricks of the investigator’s trade to pressure a recalcitrant suspect into turning over important evidence. Santoro has since been suspended and put under investigation.

According to political scientist David Fleischer, the revelation offers Mr. da Silva’s party a heaven-sent opportunity to get out from under a scandal that had seemingly paralysed the government. “They were looking for anything, and this just fell from sky,” says Fleischer, a Brazil expert and associate professor at the University of Brasilia.

The supposed paralysis of the government was more a matter of perception than reality, according to Fleischer. “If you look at the congress, there was a lot of work getting done, ” he says. However, the weakening of the president’s chief of staff – the man in charge of pushing through government legislation – has meant a lot more demands for patronage and pork-barrelling from smaller parties in the government’s coalition.

What the lengthy scandal has also done, Fleischer believes, is point up President da Silva’s weaknesses as a leader. “This shows quite dramatically that [President] Lula is the charismatic figurehead of this government. He does not have the day-to-day political management skills to run a government or push through legislation. In that sense, the king has lost some of his clothes.”

A national poll taken since the scandal broke showed a nine-point drop in the president’s approval rating, from 69% to a 60%. Only a bare majority, 54%, approved of the way in which Mr. da Silva is running the country.

The 48 days of scandal also brought to the surface a simmering discontent within the governing Worker’s Party (PT). Leftist credentials aside, since coming to power Mr. da Silva has stuck rigorously to a conservative economic policy. Spending has been held in check. Interest rates have been kept in the double digits to stamp out inflation. Growth in Mr. da Silva’s first year in office was essentially zero.

This poor performance has lead to frequent calls for the resignation of the finance minister, many from disgruntled members of the governing PT party. Party members have also expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s much-trumpeted new social programs, many of which have been announced but then left partially or fully un-funded.

Speaking at a conference marking the 40th anniversary of Brazil’s 1964 military coup, former Education Minster Cristovam Buarque said that the tape-and-bribery scandal has only captivated the public because his own PT party had failed to captivate them with their own project of social development.

According to political scientist David Fleischer, the disappointment of the party’s left wing was inevitable. “They’ve only just woken up and found they were dreaming the wrong dream,” says Fleischer.

President da Silva responded to these complaints in recent speech at a car factory near São Paulo, “Don’t expect me to be anything more than the president of the republic,” Mr. da Silva said. “I don’t have the powers of God to work miracles.”

// posted by Shawn @ 3:06 PM

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Thursday, March 4, 2004 8:41 AM

I now live in Ipanema. It’s not the absolute trendiest neighbourhood in Rio. That title now probably goes to Jardim Botanico or Gavea, areas that snuggle in amongst the Atlantic rainforest on the slopes of the Floresta da Tijuca. But Ipanema remains a strong runner up, one of those enclaves of first world shops and high end restaurants that – just by coincidence— is almost exclusively white.

It’s a beach neighbourhood, a arc of flat land about 4 blocks city wide, sandwiched between the ocean on one side and either mountains or a vast, occasionally fragrant lagoon on the other. The streets are laid out in a grid- long streets paralleling the beach, short ones running perpendicular between the sand and the hills or lagoon. My street is Teixeira de Melo, near the less-trendy Copacabana end of the beach. I live about as far from the beach as one can, which in Ipanema is about 3 and a half blocks. According to every map I’ve ever seen, the end of my street dead ends against the mountain.

In real life, the end of the street there’s a stair cut into the hillside, that wends its way back and forth up a short cliff to an agglomeration of ramshackle cinderblock shanties, that seem to spill down the hillside like an old lava flow. It’s a favela, an illegal mountainside shantytown. I’ve never been up there. It’s not a place where middle class flatlanders venture. What I know of it I read in newspapers— sensational stories with a whole new vocabulary – tiroteio – exchange of gunfire; balla perdida – stray bullet; those words usually followed by matado – killed, or ferido – injured, followed again by competing claims as to whether the dead or injured were drug dealers or innocent bystanders.

Yesterday morning on my way out to do my obligatory run along the waterfront, I spent a few minutes watching the entrance to the favela. An old black woman – favelados are predominantly black or dark brown nordestinos, dressed in a kind of Southern Baptist Sunday church dress was working her way up the cliffside, one arthritic step at a time. It took her a good five minutes to struggle up two of the ten or so switchbacks.

She was entering a world in many ways completely isolated from mine here in the flats. Live in a favela and you can’t get mail. You don’t have an address, because you’re not on the official street plan, because officially your street does not exist. So mail is out. You can’t get a pizza delivered, or drugs (did I mention drugstores deliver in Brazil?) or an ambulance. Electricity they have – during the energy rationing period two years back the only part of the city with lights on at night were the favelas. If you’re stealing the power anyway, you don’t really need to worry about consumption levels. Water comes from wells, or sometimes central pipes. Sewage is a mystery, at least to me, at least for now. I suspect they just let it run downhill to us folks here in the flatlands.

The old woman had made it about a quarter of the way up when two teenage boys came tumbling down, dressed in microthin neoprene and carrying swim fins and bodyboards, off for a hour or a morning or a day at the beach. In some ways favelados are just like regular Cariocas.

Two men neither entered or left the favela, but just hung out wandering around by the favela entrance. A week ago I would have said they were bored or lazy. Now I’m pretty sure they’re the local drug supply. As in Canada, marijuana usage is widespread in Brazil. Unlike Canada, good middle class people don’t grow BC Bud in their basements. Instead, flatlanders drive to spots near the local favela, where there’s always someone with a supply to sell.

The one man noticed me watching, so I moved off to the beach for my run. All seemed peaceful.

Yesterday evening, the police raided the other side of this favela, the slope of the hill that drops down into Copacabana. They entered in a large squad, flak-jackets over their vitals, assault rifles at the ready. According to favela dwellers quoted in the paper, they entered guns blazing. Four favela dwellers were killed.

Here on the other side of the hill, we didn’t hear a thing.

// posted by Shawn @ 8:35 AM

Published my first article on Brazil as a Brazil resident. It's a Globe and Mail piece on Lula's first major scandal (sniff!).

The Globe kills its links at odd times, so here it is in full: There's only one factual error: 1) I'm not a Toronto-based freelancer

Brazil's President may lose big on the lottery
A corruption scandal involving one of his party officials and a high-level bookie threatens Luiz da Silva's moral crusade. SHAWN BLORE reports

Saturday, February 28, 2004 - Page F3
RIO DE JANEIRO -- His office is a crate on the sidewalk, in a part of Rio de Janeiro where the street vendors gather by day and the prostitutes stroll by night, yet this wheezing 50ish man has done what Brazil's financial and political elite could not: He has stopped reformist President Luiz Inacio (Lula) da Silva in his tracks, at least for the moment.

The man known as Albino, for his shock of white hair, is a bicheiro, a bookie for Brazil's incredibly popular and illegal jogo do bicho, the "animal lottery." Like hundreds of other bicheiros across Rio, and thousands of others in Brazil, Albino sells small slips of paper offering the chance to win up to 4,000 reals (about $2,000) in one of three daily draws.

"Everybody plays," Albino says. "Businessmen. Engineers. Bus drivers. Maids."

On a daily basis, he brings in about 500 reals ($250), 90 per cent of which he has to pass up the food chain to a mid-level bicheiro, who controls about 25 stands throughout the city. Assuming Albino's sales are typical, this one network is collecting about 12,000 reals a day, some of which gets passed up to a higher-level bookie, whose daily take from his network is probably closer to 200,000 reals. Assuming conservatively that there are just 10 high-level networks across Brazil, the animal lottery brings in at least two million reals daily, and likely much more.

It is this large pool of ready cash that has turned the animal lottery into a nightmare for Mr. da Silva and his socialist Workers Party (known by its Portuguese acronym, PT).

Looking for campaign funds in the run-up to the 2002 presidential election, a PT official named Waldomiro Diniz, then serving as the head of the Rio de Janeiro state lottery corporation, solicited a donation from a high-level bicheiro, Carlos Augusto Ramos, a.k.a. Carlos Cachoeira (Charlie Waterfall in English). Mr. Diniz planned to take 1 per cent of the money as a personal commission, and promised to use his influence on the bookie's behalf once in government.

Unknown to both, the incident was caught on videotape, a copy of which was recently obtained and broadcast in a nationwide exposé by Brazilian newsmagazine Epoca.

For a President who styled his campaign as a moral crusade against corruption, the revelation was a disaster, made worse when it was revealed days later that in 2003 Mr. Diniz, by then a senior aide to the President's powerful chief of staff, had attempted to steer a huge lottery contract into the hands of his generous bicheiro friend.

Mr. Diniz was fired. PT officials tried to claim that his attempted influence-peddling had nothing to do with the government, because the incident took place before Mr. da Silva and the PT took power.
Unconvinced, Brazilian opposition parties began calling for a wide-ranging parliamentary inquiry into alleged connections between bicheiros and PT candidates. Under the Brazilian system, a parliamentary inquiry requires the support of 27 members of the 81-member senate. So far, 21 senators have said they support calling an inquiry.

Carlos Cachoeira was also revealed to be part or full owner of numerous bingo halls, which it was alleged he was using to launder his jogo do bicho takings. In response, on Carnaval Sunday, Mr. da Silva ordered Brazil's bingo halls closed by special presidential decree.

On Carnaval Monday, in the midst of a national holiday, the President rearranged his schedule to make a radio broadcast in which he reiterated that there was no proof that Mr. Diniz had done anything illegal in his government role. Should further accusations arise, Mr. da Silva promised, the federal police would have complete autonomy to investigate.

Appearances aside, he said, his government was not experiencing a crisis. "At no point could any person in Brazil imagine that any accusation could cause a political crisis in this country," he said, adding that "I have learned in one year as President to never lose my calm, to always retain peace of mind, because my tranquillity is something I can pass on to the people."

Meanwhile, Mr. da Silva's inner cabinet has been recalled from holidays for an emergency meeting. The President, who spent his first year in office dealing with government debt and soaring interest rates, had planned in his second year to move on to core PT issues such as land reform and bringing down Brazil's double-digit unemployment rate. However, the sole topic of the special cabinet meeting is the scandal caused by jogo do bicho.

The animal lottery has been a problem for governments since its invention more than 100 years ago in 1892.

The game was created by the Baron of Drummond, the cash-strapped owner of Rio de Janeiro's zoo, who decided to boost flagging attendance by holding a daily draw. Visitors were given a ticket with a picture of one of the zoo's animals. At the end of the day, the Baron would spin a wheel festooned with animals to select the winner.

Tickets were soon being bought by those who hadn't even visited the zoo. Within months, government authorities made its first attempt to shut down the game. The animal lottery simply shifted to a new habitat in the city centre, an environment in which it has thrived ever since. Rudyard Kipling, visiting Rio in the 1920s, wrote of seeing bookies wandering the streets carrying placards with colourful pictures of animals.

These days, bicheiros have neither placards nor signs. They're identifiable only by the small list of winning numbers posted on a nearby wall or lamppost, or in Albino's case, on the front of his wooden crate.
Whatever the advertising, however, the essence of the game remains unchanged.

There are 25 different animals, each of which is assigned a sequence of four consecutive numbers. Ostrich is 01 to 04, horse 41-44, camel 29-32, and so on up to cow, which occupies 95-99. The most common way to play is to bet one real on an animal. If the last two numerals in the daily state lottery draw form one of the four numbers designated by your animal, the bicheiro owes you 15 reals. For longer odds and higher payouts, you can try to pick the last three or even four numbers exactly, or you can choose a combination of a number and numerals designated by an animal.

Over the decades, superstitious theory has evolved around selecting the proper animal, much of it involving dreams. Horse, for example, can be indicated by a dream of a horse, or by dreams of wheat or milk or naked women.

In the 20 minutes or so it takes Albino to explain the game and its attendant dream theory, three people stop to place a total of 12 reals in bets. According to Albino, the President's political problems haven't affected his business at all.

Shawn Blore is a Toronto-based freelance writer.

// posted by Shawn @ 8:29 AM

Friday, February 20, 2004

Okay, this is the first post, and as such it's really just a test. I have never before blogged, making me a blog virgen or one of the great un-blogged or whatever net-nerd term is currently in vogue.

The purpose of this blog is to give my raw thoughts and impressions of Rio de Janeiro and Brazil. I'm a journalist, a freelancer, with credits in most of Canada's better magazines and newspapers. Successful, but not enough that your average joe would recognize the name. Like everyone from Evelyn Waugh onward I always wanted to be a foreign correspondent, but somehow I never managed to join the right paper or schmooze enough managememt types to get that cushy New York Times foreign posting. So I'm doing it my way. The plan is to set up in Rio, then sell my expertise on Brazil to newspapers and magazines in the far-off Gringo-speaking world.

I arrived late Monday. It's now early Friday. In the three plus days I've been here I've found an apartment, seen Caetano Veloso, danced in a 1920s dance hall, and sold a story to Canada's Globe and Mail. Not bad, especially considering Rio is moving into Carnaval, when the entire city and country beyond closes shop for 6 full days of samba-fuelled silliness.

More updates later, as I decide what I want to do with this blog.

// posted by Shawn @ 7:30 AM