Alex Majoli, Requiem in Samba
“I know I will die, I don’t know the day…I want to die; I want to die in a band batucada, in the good cadence of samba…”
— Ataulfo Alves / Paulo Gesta
“Brazil is a rich nation full of poor people.”
— Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
According to recent surveys by Brazilian police, murder rate in Brazil is now the highest in the world. Crime and violence have reached high levels in the whole country. The gravity of this spreading violence is becoming more and more intense.
“The longer you stay in Rio, the greater is your chance of a violent death.”
— A person living in Rio, interviewed by BBC
If a soldier or a photojournalist heads off ‘to war,’ the question posed to him nowadays is ‘Which war?’ The obvious protagonists and headlines in the news are Iraq and Afghanistan; wars with accountable frontlines and with immediate political and economic implications in the West.
The only way we hear of smaller wars is if the media reveal a personal story or if the entertainment industry sells us a ticket and popcorn to a war movie.
In 2003 the film ‘City of God’ focused on Brazil’s favelas (poor shanty-towns) and their gun-toting leaders and children. The film made it fashionable to talk about or show Brazil in a fast, exciting, MTV style, but did little to solve Brazil’s dilemma.
I’ve been interested in Brazil’s ‘hidden’ internal war for the last ten years, living there for a period of two years in all, documenting its poor, its drug traffickers, its AIDS, its favelas, my friends, its victims, its dead. The facts and statistics from Brazil are:
- 1. A gun can be bought for $18.
- 2. 40,000 to 60,000 people (mostly between ages 19-25) are murdered each year.
- 3. 800 favelas in Rio alone, run by criminal gangs, are home to 1.2 million people.
- 4. An estimated 600,000 Brazilians are HIV positive. Approximately 57% of all HIV/AIDS cases in Latin America and Caribbean are in Brazil.
And this is what I have observed while working daily in those streets: Weaponry in Brazil is the same as in any war zone, with automatics, tracer rounds and Bazookas. Like most wars, Good vs. Evil is moot. Violence occurs from class clashes, over drugs, over money… like anywhere, but in Brazil particular perversions occur. Police commit murders (acts ‘green lit’ by certain politicians), homeless children are killed while sleeping and most people who own a gun will use it at some point.
It is a country where children in the favelas become soldiers, killers, and are killed. The police who are not corrupt are known to refuse to patrol in some areas at night in fear of their lives. Seasoned cops claim the ‘difference between a dead rookie and a living veteran is the split second it takes to shoot a child,’ because you never know if he is armed or not.
Reporting on this issue can be deadly. Hard facts and truths are qualities that now belong to an almost extinct group in Brazil: the ‘Investigative Reporter.’ A recent victim was chopped into pieces and delivered to the doorstep of his news office. The ‘Silencing of the Witness’ deters many from the quest for truth, and thus the problem of violence continues without control.
In Brazil class distinctions are so huge. Poverty exists worldwide but here in the big cities the wealthy share the same street address as the poor. Face to face, the clash is loud, violent and unending. Yet, relative to the climate of international wars, this Brazilian war is seemingly silent and small.
It needs to be seen, documented. If a gun is cheap then so is a life.
— Alex Majoli