Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Shit Hits the Fan in Rio

Last night/this morning I was on a bus from Brasília (the Brasília posts will be coming soon) back to Rio. As we were driving into the city, my girlfriend pointed out the Avenida do Brasil (Brazil Avenue), one of the largest in the city.

What we couldn't know as she did that was, earlier that very morning, 7 people were burnt to death on a bus in a wave of violence across all parts of the city. Even eerier, the bus that held the victims was the same company as the bus we were on (though different point of origin - it was traveling from Petropolis, an old colonial city about 30 miles away from Rio, back to Rio). And near our apartment, while shooting up a new police stand on the sidewalk, the assailants killed an innocent street vendor.

Much of Rio is rather anxious, tonight and going into the weekend. The New Years Festival in Rio is quite a spectacle, with fireworks and hundreds of thousands gathering on Copacabana beach. This year, it could be even more hectic, given that, in one of the worst examples of cultural imperialism in awhile, the Black Eyed Peas will be playing on Ipanema on New Years Eve. The theories are not really clear as to the reason for the violence. The article claims either economic struggles or gang-related turf wars, though here in Rio, the most popular explanations seem to be a reminder from traffickers in the favelas to the public of who exercises power and can instill fear here, especially given the high number of tourists present. The general paranoia is severe enough that, while riding back on a bus from dinner tonight, my girlfriend and I saw a cop with an MP5 pointed at a guy who was slowly reaching into his handbag on the sidewalk, something she'd never seen before in her 24 years here.

The future of this is (naturally) unclear. It could have been a one-night deal. I wouldn't be surprised if, in the coming days/weeks, the cops and/or the military invade some favela(s) or another and shoot up people in the name of "defense" (while probably not actually getting anybody involved). All I know right now is, this is barely making news in the states (where the Hajj and the Ford death seem to be the main stories), and that things are pretty tense in Rio right now, even for me.