Saturday, May 21, 2016

Done: "Nemesis" by Misha Glenny

Done: Nemesis: one man and the battle for Rio by Misha Glenny, 2015 copyright with a 2016 pub date, 9780385351034.

I read a review somewhere, maybe in the NYT Sunday book review section. Maybe not. I've been interested in Brazilian crime news ever sense watching City of God and Elite Squad and the Elite Squad sequel. This was talked up in the review as a thorough and exciting true crime by a German who moved to Brazil and reported on Rio for years. Yeah. Well, okay, whatever.

Some background. Rio is built on a bunch of hills. The rich people took the flatland. The poor people built on the jungle covered slopes. As the city of Rio grew from internal immigration the favelas on the slope kept creeping up and up. But, those favelas received few, if any, government services. Water, sewage, electricity, roads, building codes, police service, etc. were not around. Consequently, the favelas fell under the control of the local crime lords who had the means to control the population.

With some crime lords this was not all bad. Smarter crooks would avoid violence and secure the loyalty to the local population. The guys in charge would keep petty criminals out and arbitrate disagreements. After all the police and courts were unresponsive and expensive. Holiday gifts of food and material kept the families happy and supportive or the local criminals.

Dumber crooks would kill their way to power and kill to stay there. Neither the "nice" or violent crime lords stayed on the top for long. Competing gangsters and police operations would knock them off the throne. There are several gangs in the Rio area and each favela is aligned with one or the other but have autonomy as separate fiefdoms.

Meanwhile, the favela residents themselves would endure whoever was in charge. Either cops demanding bribes and torturing and killing suspects, or drunk and high teenagers with guns. Locals still had to make their way down the hills to the bus stations and travel to work in the rich neighborhoods.

Those wealthy neighborhoods are right next to the poor neighborhoods. Rio geography is a patchwork of poverty and riches. Some of the crappiest favelas has views of Copacabana and Ipanema. The wealthy, the police, and the politicians worry about crime from the favelas rolling down into the nice neighborhoods. The police are free to beat and kill those who may danger the status quo.

Anyway. Antonio Francisco Bonfim Lopes grows up in a favela. He marries and has a daughter and gets a good job as a newspaper distributor. But, his daughter gets sick. He and his wife cannot pay for treatment. The incredibly crowded conditions in the favelas, he lives in Rocinho, mean his family shares their apartment and the not working toilet causes even more trouble for them.

Antonio gets desparate and walks up the hill to Rocinho's crime lord and asks for a loan. Antonion ends up getting a job with Crime Lord and renames himself Nem. As Nem he uses his business sense to work his way up the ladder. In time he takes over from his dead boss and runs Rocinho. Nem stays in position for several years.

The World Cup and Olympics are the turning point. There can be no violent outbreaks or political turmoil. The state government plans to pacify each faveal, one by one. This could take some time seeing as how there are hundreds of separate communities. The paramilitary police move in and chase around the crooks. The cops start prepping for an invasion of Rocinho and Nem ends up public enemy number one. Nem is arrested, probably more of a show arrest, and goes to prison. The book ends.

1. I follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter. That guy has lived in Brazil for several years and has been reporting on the recent political turmoil there. Reading this book and current political commentary has been interesting.
2. Did you say nemesis?

No comments: