Be an outcast, be a hero

Image: Marcelo Guimarães Lima
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By MARCELO GUIMARÃES LIMA

Everyday violence in Brazil is spectacle, entertainment for many and for exploitation by venal media and venal politicians

According to some sources, the bandit whose persecution was recently presented in the media with great fanfare, did not die in a confrontation with the police, or the police, who were chasing him: he was captured and executed. The police in Brazil sometimes seem to fulfill (many) roles of judge, jury, prosecutor and executioner all at the same time. And also as a “legislator”: she makes her own laws. On the one hand: criminals. On the other: representatives of the “law”. It remains to be seen what the law is: the law of the country or the law of the dog, law of the strongest, law of the jungle, etc.

According to these same sources, the criminal Lázaro was not serial killers, but a hired killer who served farmers and people with money for contracts. Who knows? Or perhaps it is already known.

Everyday violence in Brazil is spectacle, entertainment for many and for the exploitation of venal media and venal politicians (here, for the right and the extreme right currently in power, pleonasm is valid). For others, it is a constant, permanent threat, a day-to-day reality.

The police-media narrative about bandits killed in confrontation is repeated, as facts are repeated, yesterday as today, in a somewhat predictable way. Journalism for the masses in Brazil seems to fulfill exclusive public relations functions of the legal and repressive institutional apparatus. The bandit, because he is a bandit, never has "reason", as he has no rights, after all, the reason in fact is that of power, and the right as a universal guarantee, that is, for all, against arbitrariness, becomes a publicly “necessary” fiction, that is, stories (or stories, as Guimarães Rosa would say) that nobody actually believes, but that it is good form, or safer, not to problematize.

Formally similar narratives were used during the military dictatorship that began in 1964: militants against the regime were captured, tortured to death or quickly executed. Other times, some would say, curiously similar stories or stories. In the official narrative, the resisters were characterized as bandits, outlaws, who always died in combat with the forces of dictatorial order, in fact, political police organized as death squads bringing together civil police officers, with extensive experience in exterminating marginalized populations, and the military acting outside the laws of the country and the dictatorial “legality” itself, covered by the power of the state commanded by the military power, the party of the barracks, with a long tradition of coup, reactionary and authoritarian in the country.

The military dictatorship used, among others, the methods and experience of the so-called death squads, the militias of the time, which organized and acted against the law within police organizations, terrorizing marginalized communities, to combat political opponents of the regime. , against the guerrilla movement that emerged in Brazil as a response to the destruction of the precarious institutions of Brazilian democracy at the time, the closure of public life, the destruction of democratic spaces of political opposition.

The secular practice of torture in the country, historically directed against indigenous people, the slave population, marginalized populations, was directed against political resisters and opponents of the civil-military dictatorship, which included members of the middle class, intellectuals, students, military rebels, such as the fearless soldier and guerrilla Carlos Lamarca, or soldiers banned by the 1964 coup, and various professionals.

It is clear that state violence in Brazil did not start with the coup military in 1964. It is enough to remember the institutional and political career of Filinto Müller, notorious chief of torturers in the Estado Novo, never held accountable and who ended his public career of many years as a politician elected from ARENA, the party of the military dictatorship. The military dictatorship that began in 1964 expanded and systematized torture and the murder of opponents as a generalized practice and state policy.

Police death squads in the not so distant past acted to contain the marginalized, they acted to extralegally punish criminals, or people considered as such by local authorities, and they acted not out of “convictions” in the fashion of the Republic of Curitiba today, but for material rewards from local representatives and for institutional professional rewards for “effectively combating crime” of great interest to the public authorities. Times change, but not wills, perhaps the poet would say today.

From the death squads of the recent past to the militiamen of today, it is within the legal repressive apparatus of the Brazilian state that police and bandits, “extralegality” and the law, the public face and the hidden face of the power of state based on the trigger of guns as the decision-making power of the last and even the first instance, and coexisting with initiatives of “extralegal forces”, at the same time allied and autonomous.

In this context, what can be said about the Brazilian legal apparatus, from training to higher courts, what about the country's legal institutions, its agents and assistants? Perhaps this entire “legal industry” itself is based on very precarious foundations that feed from within, in various instances, forces that can quickly subvert and destroy it at the right time.

Needless to say, this is the gamble of the current head of state. In this sense, fascism in Brazil has one of its most stable bases in the daily struggle of state power against the marginalized. As the artist Hélio Oiticica already observed in his time in the work “Seja Marginal, Seja Herói” about the criminal Cara de Cavalo, killed in Rio de Janeiro by a group of police officers who, according to specialists, gave rise to future police death squads.

The case of the bandit Lázaro Barbosa killed by the police reminds us of this whole past. More specifically, it takes us back to a specific dimension of the temporality of domination in Brazilian history: the dimension of the past that, paradoxically, insists on not passing away.

*Marcelo Guimaraes Lima is an artist, researcher, writer and teacher.

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