- Stephen R A'Barrow
Tres Gringo Amigos, Brazilian Cab Drivers and a night courtesy of the Military Police
On my trip to Brazil I was on the look out for new stories to write about but not quite the kind of story that I`m going to recount here. After living, working and travelling around Brazil for over 20 years, in all of which time I`ve skirted, heard of and driven past close shaves, I finally came close to the very Megafugly side of life in Brazil.
On a night on the town last week in a destination soon to host England fans I had a reunion with two American mates, both of whom have lived in Brazil for many years. An entertaining evening ended somewhat abruptly when an argument ensued with a cab driver who apparently didn`t like Gringos of any description and refused to take a fare for a short ride up the road. One friend took exception to the cab driver`s never ending verbal abuse of all Gringos being filhos das putas (sons of whores) and some very in your face go f*** yourself comments. The verbal tirade perhaps predictably elicited a response with pushing and shoving ensuing and then the cab driver then getting his teeth knocked out! Less predictably the cab driver then wielded a knife but thankfully didn`t appear to know what to do with it and then proceeded to try and run us down in his cab, whilst calling his cabbie mates to the rescue. An average night out you might say in any downtown suburban Brazilian city!
The point of writing this blog is to warn those who think Brazil is all free (or reasonably priced) love, booze, carnival atmosphere and happy easy going people, that the locals can be just as tribal as anyone else. Gringos are regarded as rich and therefore fair game and easy pickings, by large elements within society and that includes members of the Police. Views that Gringos are the cause of all Brazil’s and the worlds ills are part of the mantra of populist politicians the continent over and are as old as the divide between the Gringo north and the Latin south of the Americas. Former president Lula himself couldn`t resist blaming Brazil`s woes back in 2009 on `white people with blue eyes.` So don`t expect the locals or the authorities to either respect your civil rights (Brazil doesn`t have a very good track record with its own citizens, so why should you expect to be treated any better), or treat you with kid gloves if you find yourself in a tough spot. Natural law will pertain, Gringo blood will be called for and you`ll be in for mob justice and all those thoughts of pretty girls and sunny beaches will seem a far reach from your now somewhat grimmer reality.
If you get stuck in the middle of a protest, in the wrong place at the wrong time, or any kind of jam and get picked up by the authorities don`t expect them to speak any English (a recent survey undertaken in 2013 showed 95% of Brazilians don`t speak any English). Don`t expect them to read you your rights (you haven`t got any!), give you a translator a phone call, or care who is in the cell with you, or waiting outside to greet you when you leave. Your welfare is not a high priority. Gringos whose documents they can`t process, whose complaints they can`t understand and find tiresome, who don`t get `the game,` are likely to end up coming unstuck if not to a sticky end, as did another poor Gringo in Rio during a bodged carjacking last week. The stats are horrendous, 33,000 people murdered in Rio alone between 2007 and 2013 and over 5,500 of those were killed by the police. Brazil`s crime rates are skyrocketing, many cities resemble war zones when special police units and the military attempt to put a dent into the criminal gangs and drug lords territories (which in places like Rio encompass much of the city). Don`t go to Brazil thinking it`s an exotic version of sunny Spain, because if you take that attitude and do dumb ass shit like attempt to hitchhike, navigate the roads in a hire car, or take a wrong turn down the wrong street at night you won`t be coming back.
Brazil is a beautiful place with many wonderful people but it also happens to be one of the most dysfunctional, chaotic and dangerous places on the planet.