Opinion by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – One prominent Rio political commentator closes all his regular columns with the phrase “A cidade está abandonada” (the city has been abandoned). He’s criticizing the traveling preacher disguised as Rio’s Mayor, who leaves town often.
This week, however, he can’t really say that, because Rio has now been occupied. Occupied, as everyone knows, by Brazil’s armed forces, which have assumed power over local and state police and fire departments.
Simultaneously, President Temer created a brand new Cabinet ministry, that of “Public Safety”, designed to oversee the occupation. He handed the Ministry to Raul Jungmann, his erstwhile Defense Minister; that position has now been given (supposedly on an interim basis) to a four-star reserve Army General.
Etymologically, to “abandon” doesn’t just mean to leave someplace hurriedly (think “abandon ship!”), it means to submit to someone else’s control. In that sense, it is still true that the City of Rio has been abandoned—for it has been turned over to the military.
That is precisely what happened in 1964 — the military took over the entire country and ruled for 21 years.
The Curmudgeon lived in Brazil during the most repressive years of military government — from 1968 through 1971. He got used to seeing soldiers with tommy guns on their hips, standing on street corners in Recife, stopping intercity buses to look for “terrorists”; his future wife, then at university in Brasília, got used to seeing “undercover” military representatives present in her classrooms, looking for “subversives”.
But during it all, life went on pretty much as usual — unless, of course, you were a “terrorist” or a “subversive”. Buses ran, schools were in session, mail was delivered, stores were open for business, newspapers continued to publish, there were even elections featuring two political parties the military created.
Luis Fernando Veríssimo, the doyen of Brazil’s political commentators, today reminds us that in 1945, at the end of WWII, the Soviet Army occupied Berlin, searching for Nazis, but that ordinary city life went on as usual — milk and mail were delivered regularly, stores opened, etc.
So, Veríssimo wonders whether today’s occupation of Rio by Brazil’s military will, as in 1945 Berlin, permit ordinary citizens to go about their daily lives largely unhindered by the presence of the military.
The Curmudgeon certainly hopes so, and is optimistic.
Minister Jungmann has never been part of the “bancada da bala”, the caucus of “back benchers for bullets” Congressmen whose principal rallying cry is to remove gun controls (think NRA). He is a member of PPS, a political party that was once named PCB, or the Brazilian Communist Party, before it went mainstream.
There are encouraging signs. Jungmann has replaced the recently appointed head of the Federal Police, a Temer puppet. He has announced that one of the principal objectives of the occupation is to eliminate the rampant corruption in the police forces.
And, finally, Jungmann has brought out of the closet the dirty little secret that no one wants to come to grips with — Cariocas, while loudly clamoring for safety, are quietly consuming vast quantities of drugs, thus financing the criminal gangs that control much of Rio.
So, yes, there is hope that, notwithstanding the seemingly ubiquitous military presence on our streets, we Cariocas will still be able to occupy our marvelous city, and go about our daily routines during 2018.