Looking back on 2015: A disturbing trend in Brazil


Graffiti artists’ protest against the Cabula massacre, seen in that district in 2015. Photo by Sabrina Gledhill (all rights reserved)

On 6 February, 2015, policemen shot and killed 12 robbery suspects in the Cabula district of Salvador, Bahia. An internal investigation by state’s Public Prosecutor’s office found that the victims – all of them young black men – had been executed. The black movement calls it genocide, a disturbing trend in a country where racism has traditionally been veiled and racially motivated lynching almost unheard of. That being said, exterminating street children (the best-known incident being the Candelaria massacre in Rio in 1993) and known or suspected criminals as if they were vermin is nothing new in Brazil. Ironically, there is no official death penalty in that country.


The graffiti art in the photo illustrating this post was not the only response to the Cabula massacre by the Bahian arts community. From May to August 2015, the Museu Afro-Brasileiro (MAFRO) held an exhibition curated by the museum’s director, Graça Teixeira that displayed thought-provoking installations and artworks protesting the genocide of black youth in Brazil.































Forging through the Red-Tape Jungle in Bahia

I need an international driving license and have been putting it off for years. When I finally get around to it, it becomes a Kafkaesque comedy. Of sorts. I’ll laugh about it one day!

Here’s how it’s been going so far…

Day 1 

Today I went to the Brazilian equivalent of the DVLA/DMV and had to queue to get a number, only to be told that I didn’t need one – I just had to talk to the man standing next to me, who was helping a little old lady and taking a very long time. When he was finally free (and there was already someone behind me in the no-number queue), he told me to go to desk X and say M___ sent me, only to be told that I was in the wrong place – they didn’t issue what I wanted there, and I had to go to their outlet at the Citizens Service Centre (SAC) in a nearby shopping mall, where I was told that I didn’t have all the documents I needed, so I went home and will try again tomorrow…

Day 2

It seems to be a guideline for bureaucrats (unwritten, I hope), even if their job is supposedly to make services more efficient – the whole point of the Citizens Service Centre – that they must always hold back at least one piece of vital information. Yesterday, I was told that I needed a document I had not been informed about when I checked the requirements online. Could be I’d missed it, so no worries, here it is. Then I was told that I also needed to provide black and white photocopies of all documents (fortunately available for an exorbitant price in the mall). No worries, done in a flash. Finally, when I returned with the copies, I was asked if I knew how much it cost! “Erm, has it gone up much? It used to be R$80…” “It went up in March – now it’s R$520! Oh, and there’s another thing – you can’t just bring a 3×4 cm photo any more. It’s all computerised…and the computer isn’t working.” “Any idea when it will be up and running?” “Nope!” “Can you give me a number so I can find out if it’s working or do I have to come by in person again?” “Come by in person! If we gave out our number we’d do nothing but answer the phone all day!” Hoping the third time will be the charm… (By the way, the dialogue was summarised and involved more than one interlocutor – in case it seemed it was that easy to get all the information required!)

Day 3

The third day was definitely the charm. I have just confirmed hat I don’t need an international driving license in the UK. My Brazilian one will do nicely for up to a year. Just shows that greed doesn’t pay. I would happily have paid R$80 but R$520 gave me pause! Now I find that I don’t have to pay anything…for now. (If anyone knows differently, please tell me!)

World Cup reflections

As usual, a highly publicised international event has arrived in my city and I’m watching it on television. Salvador’s Fonte Nova stadium has seen dramatic games and a torrent of goals. That’s likely to dry up (Fonte Nova means New Fountain in Portuguese, hence the pun) in the quarter-finals, if the round of 16 is anything to go by.

Orisha statues by Tatti Moreno (photo: Sabrina Gledhill, 2012)

Dique do Tororó with the stadium under construction in the background (photo: Sabrina Gledhill, 2012)

I had lunch on Tuesday with two American friends who were going to the USA-Belgium game later that day. I haven’t heard their feedback but the view from my TV was thrilling. That wasn’t their first World Cup match at Fonte Nova. They told me that even when the seats are way up high, they have a spectacular view – the stadium was designed to make the city’s lovely Dique do Tororó part of the scenery. However, it seems that the Baianas do Acarajé (women in traditional dress who sell Afro-Brazilian bean fritters) were nowhere in sight, although they ostensibly won their fight to overturn FIFA’s ban on their presence within a mile (or kilometer?) of the stadium. In fact, my friends have seen no street vendors whatsoever in the vicinity of Fonte Nova – and they said there were plenty during the World Cup in Germany.

Acarajé sellers demanded to be allowed to sell their wares near the stadium during the World Cup

Acarajé sellers demanded to be allowed to sell their wares near the stadium during the World Cup

They also told me that, inside the stadium, they could have been anywhere in the world. It has been entirely stripped of its Bahian and Brazilian identity for the duration. Very sad.

Another American friend informs me that there are plenty of scalpers. There is hope yet of seeing at least one game – the last one is scheduled for Saturday – but I’m not too optimistic. A seat way up in the ‘gods’ is bound to cost a minimum monthly salary, or more. I’m not sure it’s worth it, no matter how dazzling the view.

Checking in

This post is just to signal I haven’t been swallowed alive by an anaconda or eaten alive by piranhas or any of the other things people living in Brazil are supposedly prey to (as well as to lighten up the tone of this blog).

It’s been a while since I last posted, and since then my family and I have moved from a formerly ritzy neighbourhood of Salvador that’s becoming more and more commercial to a formerly poor neighbourhood that’s currently up and coming (at least two bus stops from where we live) thanks to the construction of two major apartment complexes and a shopping mall down the road.

The World Cup has begun, without any of the doom and gloom predicted by Anarchist graffiti – a win for bread and circuses – and winter is not only coming, it’s already here, at least in this hemisphere.

More later.

A cautionary tale

Plagiarism. In recent memory, at least one US presidential candidate and a famous scientist have been accused of passing off other people’s words as their own. The candidate dropped out of the race. The scientist’s name, once revered, is mud.

To anyone who lives in a society where plagiarism is viewed as a serious offense that can lead to immediate expulsion from school or vilification in journalism or politics, it may come as a surprise that in some countries, it is a minor pecadillo. An embarrassment better swept under the rug.

One of those countries, sad to say, is Brazil.

I came across a recent and extreme case through an American friend, a respected scholar in her field whose PhD dissertation was published in Brazilian Portuguese by a university press. While routinely Googling her name for citations, she found a scholarly article published in an online journal – which also has a print edition – that plagiarized several pages from her book, word for word, and then went on seamlessly to do the same with an article by a famous anthropologist who passed away in 2010.

Going through the article line by line, my friend was shocked to find that the supposed author had only written two or three original lines. Ninety-nine percent of the paper was plagiarized.

My friend immediately contacted the journal’s publishers and got no reply. It took several increasingly irate emails to elicit a grudging response, and weeks before the offending article was removed from the web.

The plagiarist is a doctoral candidate. She may lose her scholarship. She may be sued by the publishers of the authors whose works she copied and pasted. There is no guarantee at all that she will be expelled – even though more examples of plagiarism have turned up in other papers she published. Even her MA thesis.

After all, people who live in glass houses don’t throw stones.

Dique do Tororó – Salvador’s fowl-free Serpentine


 Postcard of the Dique do Toróro at the turn of the century

Link to photos of the Dique when there were geese (scroll down)

I love to drive by the Dique do Tororó – an artificial lagoon encrusted in the heart of Salvador, Bahia. If you look at the water and its landscaped surroundings, you will almost feel that you have found London’s Hyde Park in the tropics – at least, the Serpentine. But if you look in the other direction, you will see jumbled heaps of motley brick dwellings sprouting almost organically from the hillsides. And this is where the European concept of a manicured urban oasis cum sculpture garden misses out on the most important factor – in my mind – the swans, ducks and geese that are the main adornment of any London park, or English river, for that matter. Attempts have been made to introduce different kinds of wildfowl into the Tororó landscape, but they have all met with foul play. In other words, they ended up on someone’s dinner table. Until the problems of poverty and the attendant hunger pangs are solved in the surrounding neighbourhoods, the wings of wild geese will never shimmer over the waters of Tororó.


Aerial view of Dique do Tororó – taken before the construction of the present-day Fonte Nova Arena

When the police go on strike

Scene from the 2012 police strike - source: http://historiadenina.blogspot.com.br/2012/02/salvador-na-greve-da-policia-militar-da.html

Scene from the 2012 police strike in Salvador, Bahia – source: http://historiadenina.blogspot.com.br/2012/02/salvador-na-greve-da-policia-militar-da.html

One of the first words I learned in my Portuguese class for Spanish-speakers at UCLA was greve. “Strike” is huelga in Spanish. Like earthquakes, your first police strike is the hardest. The shock of seeing troops and military tanks in the streets before realising that, no, it isn’t another coup. But this one – the third in my experience – is the worst in terms of violence and fear. A siege mentality has set in, and it’s only day two. Salvador’s unarmed municipal guard is refusing to police the streets because it isn’t safe for them, so imagine how ordinary civilians feel. Some buses run, others don’t. All of them stop much earlier than the 6-pm “curfew.” Most shops are shut, including grocery stores. Opportunistic individuals and gangs are robbing business establishments and sweeping down streets and beaches snatching wallets, mobile phones, handbags, necklaces, whatever dangles. Some of the “hooligans” are probably striking police officers, making sure we miss them – they’re never around when they aren’t on strike.

Another day in Paradise.

Quick update on April 18, 2014

OK…so the military police strike ended last night, and today one of the leaders (now a city councilman) was arrested for his role in the 2012 strike – just a coincidence, I’m sure. And now the strike seems to be back on, in reprisal for the arrest of the city councilman who, by rights, shouldn’t be out there leading strikes in the first place… And the beat(down) goes on.