The carnival of 2018 will enter in history as one of the most violent ever recorded. The shocking scene of dozens of criminals robbing by-passers at the world famous Ipanema beach, reveal the violent reality of one of the most visited cities of the world. Behind the glamour and glitter of the carnival parades lies a city ravaged by gang violence, corruption and crime, where citizens like myself are exposed to anyone with a criminal intent, because the government fails miserably on his duty to serve and protect it’s citizens, and at the same time make it extremely hard to own guns for self defense.
Living in Rio is to know that at any time you can be the next victim. All you can do is try to avoid dangerous situations, but even that is extremely difficult in a city with our geography. We are surrounded by mountains occupied by favelas. A favela is mostly illegally-occupied territory where law enforcement cannot enter without support of specialized police units. Despite the fact that most of the people that live there are honest hard working people, criminal factions created in the 1980’s became so strong that they simply dominated those territories by force, imposing their will on the people who live their through a law enforced by the fear of death.
On the favela reigns the law of silence.
If you live there, you can’t talk to anyone about what you see or what you know. The hard topology, the vulnerability of their inhabitants and the impossibility of the government to control those areas made them the perfect place for hiding drugs and heavy weapons. It is common to listen to .50-caliber machine guns being fired at police cars during fire fights between police and the factions. An armored helicopter was shot down in 2017. This is the kind of firepower the criminals have in Rio. And in the middle of it, lies us. Common citizens that have become used to a routine of violence, where listening to rifle shots are just part of the routine.
I live in an apartment that overlooks the top of a favela, a place they nicknamed Vietnam. It is routine to listen to gunshots of heavy caliber. Some of them are just testing ammunition, and some of them are executions. We just don’t pay attention anymore. Just like the ending scene of the movie “Sicario” where a mother overlooks children playing a football match at a dirty field in Ciudad Juarez, when a burst of rifle shots echo in the distance; They stop, look at the direction of the gunshots, and resume their game. This is how we live here. And the images that shocked the world, for us are just a routine of violence we have to deal with. And for those who live in the favela, it is much worst, because they stand right in middle of the cross fire between rival factions, and the police.
The situation in Rio is an aggravated version of a problem that repeats itself in the whole country: The police is poorly equipped and underpaid, so they can’t match the firepower of the gangs that control entire neighborhoods, making it a no-go zone where heavy weapons and large quantities of drugs can be safely stashed, making it impossible for the authorities to effectively control the access to illegally obtained guns and ammunition.
On top of that we have very lenient criminal laws, that in order to protect every citizen’s civil rights, grant them many resources to dodge law enforcement. And even after being judged and convicted, our laws make it hard to keep even a violent criminal for long in jail, granting them many ways to reduce their prison time.
Sum it all up and you have created a safe heaven for those who choose to live a life of crime, with easy access to guns, a failing state that can’t punish or apprehend those who commit crimes, and the assurance that no citizen will ever point a gun at you. That’s why we can see unarmed robbers bullying citizens all over the country, and all we can do is to sit and pray that the next victim will not be one of us, or any of those we love.
This situation is an omen to what can happen in the US and other countries. In Sweden, there are authorities talking in civil war to tackle no-go zones created by lenient laws that granted civil rights to unlawful citizens. France and Germany are facing the same scenario. The US has seen the rise of crime in areas dominated by gang violence like Chicago. This can happen to anyone. All it takes is a corrupt government and a piece of paper, and out of nowhere laws change. That’s why the outcry of the rightful citizens is important.
This is why I am writing this.
I look at the US and I see how the values of liberty and freedom were conquered by the citizens, and the citizens alone. No government will ever give away their monopoly of the use of the force willingly, and they will always try to slowly disarm their citizens so they can be more easily handled, like sheep. And that’s why is important for every citizen to defend, at all costs, their right to protect their life, property and their constitutional right to do so.
Someone once told me that it would be a waste of time to publish such a thing in the US because Americans don’t care about what happens in other parts of the world. I refuse to believe that. What happened in Brazil is much more than another “shit hole” dealing with third world country problems. It is the reflection of something that is happening all over the world: An advance on liberal laws, that slowly but surely strip citizens of their rights and end up breeding violence.
Our government robbed us from our right to defend ourselves. They think we are sheep to be sent to the butcher. But in time, we will take it back. And I look at the American citizens’ struggle, to keep to government at bay when it comes to gun laws, with deep respect and admiration.
And I honestly hope that this personal account may help to open the eyes of those who are still refusing to see that without guns, we can’t protect ourselves when our governments fail to protect us.