Sunday, March 07, 2004

Last Thursday, the local paper carried a dramatic crime story. A German tourist had been stabbed to death in Taguatinga.

The German tourist, who had in fact married a Brazilian woman in Germany last year, had been in Taguatinga for only 3 days, to meet her family. The couple went out during the evening to a churrasco (a kind of grill restaurant) and bowling, and were walking in a crowded street at 9PM when they were attacked by two robbers; one of whom stabbed the German nine times before escaping with his mobile and wallet. The German died on the street. In the paper, the tearful wife explained that they'd been planning to travel to Rio, and she'd been worried about the violence there, but couldn't believe her home city had changed this much.

Now this is a very disturbing story. Taguatinga is the largest adjacent "satellite" town to Brasilia. Brasilia itself is a little bit of a bubble of middle-class fantasy in Brazil, as it's populated almost exclusively by wealthy civil servants. (Not that there's no crime, but by Brazilian standards it's pretty safe.) Taguatinga, as a satelite town, is where Brasilia keeps a lot of the work and dirt and poverty it depends on, at arms length. When you go there from the "Plano Piloto" (central Brasilia) you notice a difference.

But at the same time, it's not so different from travelling from a wealthier suburb of Croydon into "Sarf" London. We were there the day before the murder, to get something from our stuff in storage. And storage places, warehouses, garages and car-workshops etc. seem to sum it up. What Taguatinga isn't, is a ''favela''. You don't expect the kind of high-level crime and violence associated with, say, Rio or Sao Paulo or even one of the more distant, newer satelite shanty towns.

Nine stab wounds in a casual street robbery is still a fairly extreme occurance.


On Saturday, the papers came with a new story. The police had recieved an anonymous phone tip-off. In January, a woman had been looking around Brasiliense internet discussion-forums for someone to murder her husband. When the police interrogated the wife, she quickly broke down and confessed she had, indeed, payed someone to kill him. In fact she fingered the assasin, not a professional killer, just a guy from the local tattoo parlour. She'd offered him 3000 reais (that's about 850 pounds). Her motive was apparently to collect on the husband's life insurance. She'd started thinking about this after she'd lost her job in a pharmacy in Germany and couldn't send money back to her family in Brazlandia. (A poorer satelite where she originally came from.)

What isn't clear is whether she originally travelled to Germany looking for someone to marry and murder; whether she married for love, but the marriage went horribly sour; or whether she really went a bit crazy when she lost her job. As the story unfolds, it turns out the husband was, himself, a petty criminal, with police record in Germany for small crimes and violence. Perhaps he also indulged in domestic violence, although the wife hasn't offered this as an excuse.

Of course, this new set of revelations, perversely makes me feel safer in Brasilia : there aren't criminals going round randomly killing people on the streets for their wallets. On the other hand, my own Brazilian wife has recently taken out insurance on our lives, so ... ;-)

Anyway, that's what everyone was talking about this week. I guess next I should try to explain the corruption scandal which may bring down the Lula government. But that's something I'm still trying to get to grips with ...

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