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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

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Brazil Gun Violence: A 5-minute documentary

This is the pitch I sent CBC's Sunday news show for a 5 minute piece on the Brazil referendum banning guns. It includes a quick intro, and then the script. Plus the footage, some of which was extraordinary. Because I'd never worked for CBC TV before, I hashed out a rough cut according to the script below. So they had the extraordinary footage, the script, my credentials, the works. They still passed.

So I turned around and sold it a 2-minute version to Dutch National TV. Go figure. A prophet is not without honour....

Brazil Gun Violence:

Over 40,000 Brazilians died by gunfire in 2003, the last year for which statistics are available. Close to a 1000 of those were shot and killed in Rio de Janeiro. That’s about 3 killed every day.

The carnage is extraordinary. The causes are numerous: vast divisions between rich and poor, leading to the spread of favelas or shantytowns; a thriving network of heavily armed drug traffickers; weak, corrupt and ineffective government; Public distrust of government, and especially of the police.

To reduce this ever growing toll of violence, the Brazilian government is holding a nation-wide referendum this Sunday on whether to ban the sale of firearms. If passed, only those with a professional exemption would be able to purchase a firearm. Polling shows voter intentions split about 50-50 pro and con. Whatever the outcome, many Brazilians doubtful the measure will have any effect.

The story is less about referendum than about entrenched culture of violence. To create this report, I spoke with:

1. Luciana, a former university student who got shot in the neck by a stray bullet during a shootout between police and traficantes (drug traffickers). Attended by full-time nursing staff, Luciane is slowly adjusting to a life-sentence in a wheelchair. Her breathing and speech is mechanical. She tells us how it happened, how she fears for the ever-increasing violence in Rio. She tells us learning to write. Her hope is for a future with less violence.

2. Joao, a chieftain of the drug trafficking faction Commando Vermelho. Joao wears a headscarf in the interview, and waves two large pistols. He says that he and his crew are always heavily armed. They carry AR-15s (a type of fully automatic assault rifle), revolvers, grenades. The referendum won’t affect him, because these weapons come straight from the police. This is unique footage. No one, but no one, goes into to traficante-controlled favelas to film interviews with drug bosses. It’s next to impossible to arrange, and extremely dangerous. Had the police come on a raid, we might very well have wound up dead.

3. Innocent residents of one of Brazil’s larges favelas – Rocinha – who while celebrating a baby shower came under fire from the elite police swat group. They show me bullet holes in the cement and wounds in themselves. They wonder what the point is of disarming the population, when the traffickers and the police remain armed.

4. The officers at a police weapons storage location. None appeared on camera, but there is lots of footage of seized guns


Post card images of Rio de Janeiro. Beaches; Sugarloaf; Christ on the Corcovado..

Blessed by beauty, Brazil is also a country beset by violence.

Heavily armed police by roadside. Favelas crawling up hillside beneath Corcovado. Closeup of heavy police weaponry

Vast divisions between rich and poor have lead to the spread of shantytown favelas. The favelas become the hideout and staging ground for armed drug gangs, which do battle with the police. Brazilians rich and poor get caught in the middle.

Team of nurses bringing carrying tubes and hoses accompanying wheelchair bound girl as she leaves bed. Nurse plugging tube into contraption on girls throat. Puff Puff sounds from ventilator.

Gunfire killed 40,000 Brazilians in 2003. In Rio de Janeiro, about 3 people are shot and killed each day. Many more are severely injured, like Luciane, shot in the spine and paralyzed from the neck down.

Luciane, sitting up talking to camera

I breath only through a machine. My speech is also mechanical. And now, after all this time, I am finally managing to make this movement like this.

She contracts her neck muscles repeatedly pulling one side of face down into a kind of grimace.


University building entrance. Teenagers walking up and down flight inside school grounds. Group of girl students eating lunch.

A university student, Luciane was on campus eating lunch when a battle broke out between police and drug traffickers in a favela overlooking the school.

Luciana in her chair speaking to camera

They were many shots. Lots and lots of shots. Everyone left running. Except that from where I never had time to get out, not from where I was sitting.

Lunch tables where Luciana was shot empty of students. Return to close up of Luciana.

Luciana needs full time care from a team of nurses…

Nurse feeding Luciana. Shots of ventilator. Puff Puff sounds.

…and her family.

Luciana’s father leans over and tenderly gives her a kiss. With her wonky paralyzed lips she kisses him back.

Though she lives in a walled house in a safe neighbourhood, the violence of Brazil still frightens her.

Shot of peaceful garden, of walled house.

It’s getting worse all the time. Every time you open a newspaper or magazine…

Newspaper Cover – O Povo – Four dead men. Close up of grisly front page

….and every day there’s an incident of death, assault, violence…every time. It’s very large the number of cases
Close up of Luciana looking afraid.


Luciana in her chair, father patting her face.

…She hasn’t given up on the future. This computer program allows her to write, slowly. Each time she makes a noise – kluck – she selects one letter of the alphabet.

Luciana and two nurses –one with mouse, other with microphone. Luciana and nurse holding microphone to face. Close of mouse. Computer screen selecting letters. Close-up of flowers painted carefully on Luciana’s fingernails.

My dream would be to have less violence, less armed robberies….and to return to having a normal life.

Luciana as she was in 15th birthday photo. Photo of Luciana in bikini. Close-up of screen as it spells out REFEN-D-O

It takes a full 15 minute for Luciana to write out referendo – sim! REFERENDUM – YES!

Headshot or close-up of Luciana. Father at gate of house. Father closing gate of house.

On Sunday, October 23rd, Brazilians voted/are voting in a referendum on whether to ban the sale of all firearms.

Ext shot of CORE police headquarters. Two successive shots - close-up then super close-up – on CORE’s logo, a grinning skull crossed by two heavy caliber assault rifles.

This is the headquarters of the Rio de Janeiro swat team CORE. It’s where many of the guns seized by Rio police get stored.

Close up of dozens of pistols on table like bunches of bananas. Of racks of hundreds and hundreds of seized pistols. Of machine gun with gang logo ADA. Of assault rifle hanging by itself on empty pegs.

If you make guns illegal, the yes side argues, fewer of these weapons will wind up in the hands of criminals.


Scenes from a Rio favela. Woman and baby by shack in dirt street. Man walks by hulk of Volkswagen Beetle corroding by an open sewer.

But in a country where so much of the population lives in poverty, and where governments often can’t provide even basic services, yet another law rarely seems like the solution.

Joao the traficante appears on camera dressed in bright red shirt. He wears deep black sunglasses, and a black T-shirt wrapped around his head like a balaclava. In his hands there are two evil-looking black pistols. He gesticulates with them as he talks.

This favela is controlled by a drug gang called the Comando Vermelho. The local chief goes by the name of Joao. Normally, along with his pistols, he carries an AR-15 assault rifle.

Here is Rio de Janeiro we don’t have the ability to buy AR-15s (assault rifles) because they don’t sell them, but we (drug dealers) have a lot of contact with
the police, because they are always bringing guns for us (to buy), supplying us. Like I was telling you, they (the police) always have guns for sale…we never have to buy in the stores…

Close-up of Joao’s masked head
In Rio de Janeiro they don’t have stores that sell heavy weapons, AK47s, AR15s. These are the guns that we need, with a faster firing rate, the better guns…these we always buy from the hands of the police. All the guns we have they brought.

There’s no way they can’t sell to us, because they don’t have any money.

Where did you get that gun?

Close up of Joao listening to question
Bought it from the police….last Friday

How much?

800 Reis. (about US$360)

Close-up of Joao’s Face. Then cut to gunfighter-style gun twirl.

What other guns do you have?

We have AR15s, we have 7.62s, we have pistols…we have a lot of those…a lot. We have grenades. We always go well armed.

Will the referendum make any difference to you?

Joao’s head shaking
No. No. No.

Joao puts one gun in belt in crotch on left side. Then second gun on right. Ready to rock. Close up on his eyes behind sunglasses.

Two heavily armed police patrol street in front of favela.

Whatever (despite) the outcome of the referendum, the war between police and drug gangs will almost certainly continue. This is Rocinha, the largest shantytown in Brazil, some say the larges in Latin America…

Repeated popping go off. Sounds like low caliber gunfire or – the actual case – fireworks.

The bottle rockets are a warning to those inside that the police are once again coming in. Residents of Rocinha, the ordinary poor are tired of getting caught in the cross fire.

Heavy sound of drums. Pulsing. Rhythmic. Slightly martial. The sound of samba. Wide shot. Four kids in a line practicing samba beat. Close up on ten-year old struggling with drum almost as big as he is. He smiles as he pounds away.

This community centre in the favela is today being used for samba practice. A week ago, residents here were holding a baby shower….

Pull back zoom to alleyway. Shot of kids mural on community centre wall.

….The party began in the afternoon and went on until evening, women and children spilling out into the alleyway.

Two women and one girl in alleyway pointing.

Sometime after dark, for reasons still unknown, a police from a tactical swat unit that had been hunting through the favela for drug dealers, opened fire on the baby shower.

Interview shot Sandra
Out of nowhere, they started firing. 15 people were injured. 2 of them gravely injured. One is still in hospital.

Little girls with arm in a bandage. She got shot in the hand. Splinters (cement or ricochets) caught her in the leg as well. She shows nasty stitches.

Fortunately, the SWAT unit seem to have lousy aim. Many of the shots ricocheted through this fruit store, or chipped holes out of these concrete steps. The splinters of lead and flying concrete cause most of the injuries.
This woman – Cristina – got shot in the breast.

Cristina showing X-ray of slug lodged in chest area. Pulling down top to show bandage on breast. (Perhaps with Samba background?) Close up of wound.

It’s left her with doubts about disarmament

Cristina in fruit store
I don’t know how to vote. If I vote yes, if I vote to disarm many people, but the police carry on armed, and I was shot by the police…So, I’m not sure what to do.

Flip flop feet stepping up past the bullet hole in the step

That’s the only difference between police and criminals. That one has a badge and an official job, and the criminals don’t. But there’s not much difference. They both go armed. They both kill. They both when they want to do something, just do it. And our authorities unfortunately do nothing, like always.

Why try to disarm a population, in which the police and the criminals go around armed? Why do that? Why not disarm the police and the criminals, and then disarm the people?

Kids down alleyway past bullet hole steps. Cue the samba. Quick montage of Rocinha shots (Close up shot of Rocinha. Med shot of favela) getting us down to shot of people walking on Rocinha’s main street.


The day before the election, Rio de Janeiro police issued a statement that they shot at the baby shower because a known drug dealer was in hiding ‘less than 20 meters away’. They did not apologize. On referendum Sunday, the people of Brazil voted by an overwhelming majority – 65% to 35% - not to outlaw firearms. The yes vote reached its highest levels in poor communities such as Rocinha, but even here managed to reach only 40%.