Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazilians are not, by and large, in favor of violence. They’ve never had a violent revolution like the U.S. or France. The military dictatorships were violent, but not to the extent of those in Argentina or Chile. So, in general, political movements here preach non-violence. But given what’s happened in Rio this month, The Curmudgeon wonders whether this is changing.
On July 11th and 17th, protests that began peacefully in daytime turned into something far more sinister after dark. On the 11th, the Rio police, protecting Palácio Guanabara, the Governor’s official residence, proceeded to disperse the protesters violently, using tear gas and rubber bullets and chasing them into a quiet residential neighborhood, even invading a hospital.
On July 17th, the scene changed to the Governor’s actual residence in Leblon. Nightfall once again found a few hundred “protesters” with their faces covered by their t-shirts, grabbing rocks from the sidewalks, torches in hand, seeking to do evil, but on that night the authorities stayed away. The Globo helicopter showed face-covered fanatics throwing rocks through windows, looting shops and setting fires in the street with rubbish and mannequins “liberated” from chic shops in Ipanema; the police stayed away.
Why? The police said they made a deal after July 11th’s excesses and promised not to use tear gas or rubber bullets or water cannons to disperse protestors. The people with whom the deal was supposedly made deny any such thing.
On July 22nd, after the Pope arrived in Rio, and had his motorcade from the Cathedral to Cinelândia, with tens of thousand cheering him wildly, he had to visit the Palácio Guanabara, to meet Governor Cabral, the most popular target for Rio demonstrators’ wrath. A ruckus at the Palácio seemed inevitable.
And it happened, but only after the Pope had left. Some 1,500 people gathered in Largo do Machado, burnt an effigy of Cabral, covered up their faces and then set off for the Palácio to protest some more. The police had the place completely cordoned off, so the protesters began throwing rocks, and, eventually, Molotov cocktails. The police responded in violent kind.
Molotov cocktails are designed to hurt or kill people. The problem in Rio seems to be that many of the protesters, including some of those professing non-violence, do not believe the police are really people. This has a historical basis, because the Rio police have a very long history of truculence, violence and repression, typically directed at the poorest part of the population.
Demonstrators seem to think they have a right to protest anywhere they want, any time they want, and if the police prevent them from doing that, it’s okay to throw rocks or bombs at them because, after all, they’re the enemy.
After the Pope leaves, there will be more protests, more thugs, more repression and lots more violence. The Curmudgeon fears that the hardening of positions will lead to real bullets. As everyone knows, it’s not hard for people to obtain serious weaponry in Rio.
The Curmudgeon, who has lived in Rio for 36 years largely because the Brazilian people are friendly and welcoming, does not want to believe that Brazilians will slide easily into the sink of reciprocal violence. But he’s having a hard time doing so, based on the evidence of July.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 36 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)
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