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|The Globe and Mail, Tuesday, May 31, 2005 Page A14
A NONCHALANT KILLER DEFENDS RIO-STYLE JUSTICE
By Shawn Blore | The Globe and Mail
But vigilantes provoke Brazil's outrage
recent massacre of innocents
RIO DE JANEIRO -- The first man he killed
was riding a bicycle. "I had been
so I had my gun, with a newspaper over
like this." The man demonstrates
squat on the concrete stoop of his
house in the Baixada Fluminense, the
of poor industrial cities surrounding
de Janeiro. "When the guy rode
The killer, who gives his name only
says he has since killed another seven
a tally he considers minuscule.
"My role in the group is more
There are other guys who do most of
The lead executioner of his group,
squad that metes out vigilante justice
the city of Novo Iguacu on the outskirts
of Rio de Janeiro, has dispatched at
75 victims. All told, their death squad
"I'm God's lieutenant," Nilmo
"The Bible says, the one to take
is God. I'm not God, but sometimes,
guys like these, you have to take them
send them on their way to God."
Twenty-nine was the number sent heavenward
on the last night of March by another
Iguacu death squad. The rampage generated
national outrage. The kind of homicide
rarely seen in Brazil amassed substantial
evidence that off-duty police officers
On May 19, 11 state police officers
charged with first-degree murder, attempted
murder and taking part in gang activity.
The widespread revulsion stemmed not
the fact that the killings were perpetrated
by a death squad, but because the victims
were demonstrably innocents, for the
part women, children and gainfully
Even Nilmo was outraged. "They
29 people, not one of them a rapist
or anything," he says, shaking
in disbelief. "That's why we have
to do with cops."
No one in his 10-member death squad
police officer, Nilmo says. Nor does
group kill the innocent. Instead, he
it targets only what he calls delinquents:
thieves, rapists and vagrants.
According to Nilmo, some of the delinquents
they dispatched in the past year include
a group of three boys who were selling
drugs from their apartment, and an
ex-con who had returned to live with
mother. "We don't want criminals
In other parts of the Baixada, death
have been linked to protection rackets
extort money from local businesses.
to Nilmo, his group kills strictly
as a public
"When this neighbourhood began,
couldn't go out on the street after
night. After it began, this business
rapists, killing thieves, killing delinquents,
all that stopped."
As to how he got caught up in the death
that's a long story.
"This passes from generation to
It wasn't me that started this."
stops and gives a hard stare at a younger
man hanging out at a nearby corner.
go somewhere else to talk," he
motioning to his nearby car. "Too
people getting curious here."
The mayor of Novo Iguacu, Lindberg
confirms death squads are a part of
in the Baixada Fluminense.
"It has always been a part of
since the Baixada started 50 years
then, there were no services, no state,
policing, nothing," he says.
In the absence of government, death
grew up as a rudimentary form of law
Times are changing, however, Mr. Farias
He points out people voted for him,
though he has sworn to wipe out death
The mayor's message must not have penetrated
as far as he had hoped. Nilmo, now
parked in front of a children's soccer
says he voted for Mr. Farias.
Nilmo believes the mayor tacitly supports
the death squads. "He can't say
loud, but he does, deep down. Even
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva]
us, even if he can't say so."
Some residents like the safety that
by death squad brings.
"I leave my car out front of my
at night, with the keys in the ignition.
No one touches it. Try that in Copacabana,"
said Baixada resident Carlos Henrique
referring to the swanky neighbourhood
downtown Rio de Janeiro.
Other Baixada residents, women in particular,
are less convinced death-squad rule
safety. Speaking in her tiny home,
da Silva says the way young men suddenly
disappear for no apparent reason made
think often of leaving the area, even
her 19-year-old son, Jonas, was killed
the recent massacre.
"People disappear all the time
she says. "They're supposed to
the bad ones, the criminals and vagrants.
But you never really know why they
Shawn Blore is a Freelance Correspondent
based in Rio de Janeiro