Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO – There was a shoot-out in São Conrado early Saturday morning August 21st; most of the perps, including Rocinha drugs kingpin Nem, got away. Some ten ensconced themselves in the Intercontinental Hotel and took hostages, but after palavering, they gave themselves up and were taken to jail. Normally that would be the end of the story, but this one hasn’t gone away. Three related stories have popped up afterwards, most of them involving venality.
First, Mr. José Beltrame, the chief cop in Rio, told Exame magazine he knows where Nem goes, he knows where Nem lives, he knows what Nem has in his house—but he does not intend to arrest him.
Second, an unnamed hostage told BandNews he overheard the perps complaining about having to pay R$60,000 per month to the police station in Leblon, so that Nem would not be arrested.
Third, a figure known as Feijão who may be the head of the resident’s association in Rocinha, said he had been involved in negotiations leading to the arrest of the perps, and that before they surrendered to the police, they all gave him their jewelry, gems, watches, etc.
What is going on here? Mr. Beltrame says that if he arrests Nem in Rocinha before it’s been pacified, residents will die, because Nem has well-trained armed guards. Perhaps so, but is that the real reason? Typically, when favelas are pacified, the bandidos have all headed for the hills and are not arrested—meaning Nem will just continue to do business elsewhere.
Many believe the hostage’s story about the R$60,000 monthly gravy train, and feel that is what has ensured that the State Police don’t arrest Nem. The Federal Police are now investigating, claiming one of their spies was a double agent snitch for the drug lords. On another level, they claim the snitch obtained weapons “captured” by the state police and sold them back to the drug dealers.
The story Feijão tells fits nicely within a scenario of venality and corruption. Why would ten perps give a private citizen their gold chains and watches? Because they assume that if they don’t, the police will simply confiscate them.
The hostage release deal may have involved telling the arresting cops “no loot this time”, or perhaps not. Feijão has since handed over some gold-colored chains and some fake Rolexes to the police, but no one believes this is what the perps actually gave him for safekeeping.
The Curmudgeon has corroborating history. Back in 1990, when bandidos from Rocinha held up his São Conrado home, they took the stereo and other appliances, most of them well used and not fancy; however, there was a brand-new imported microwave oven, rare in those days. The bandidos were caught, the loot was recovered and the police returned everything—except the microwave. To judge by this week’s news, nothing much has changed.
Lord Acton’s dictum was: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The drug lords have had absolute power over Rocinha for over 25 years. The Curmudgeon hopes the pacification program will be implemented there sooner rather than later, because until then business as usual will prevail.