In addition to U.S. based television programs being delayed, the mail takes about ten days to make it from America to Iraq (sometimes longer), so I don’t usually read articles from magazines I subscribe to when they happen to be heavily commented on in the blogosphere the day or week they’re released. I source most of my news from the internet and don’t like reading long think-pieces online, especially when I’ve already paid for a paper copy. Since a friend in college turned me on to it, I have been a subscriber of the New Yorker and have consistently found it among the most interesting and well-written periodicals in the English language, one that provides some of the best coverage of foreign policy and national security issues too. October was a particularly good month for those following the issues related to this blog . . .
Particularly important is this piece by Jon Lee Anderson on life in the favelas (shanty towns) of Rio de Janeiro. It’s a chronicle of how “traficantes” have created “TAZs” (Territorial Autonomous Zones) and hollowed out the authority of the Brazilian state. These guys even have community relations assistants who dispense aid and other services to the poor, (financed through drug sales and other illicit activities, in addition to legitimate businesses), who live under the control of the drug lords and their private armies. What is more, says Anderson:
“The drug gangs impose their own systems of justice, law and order, and taxation—all by force of arms.”
One Brazilian politician theorizes these groups are not unlike past Marxist revolutionary movements, sans ideology. And if the gangs ever acquired one, they could threaten the state. But they seem to be too preoccupied by consumer culture to care.
“ . . . nobody wants to make revolution anymore. What these people with the guns want today is their immediate share of the consumption culture . . . for now, they are a totally entropic and anarchic group of young people who have figured out how to get what they want, which is, basically, clothing, cars, and respect.”
According to the article, Rio is the top-ranked city in the world for “violent intentional deaths,” though these numbers don’t include “rape resulting in death” or “riots resulting in death.” About one person is killed or wounded each day by stray bullets, and police killed 1188 people last year, a number three times the amount of people killed by police in the entire United States during the same time period. Rio is also where the 2016 Summer Olympics are going to be held.
Check out the trailer of this movie set in the favelas, which along with City of God, is one of the only two Brazilian films I've ever seen (both of them great).
In 2004 I read Anderson’s book The Fall of Baghdad and was incredibly impressed by his ability to capture the zeitgeist of the city in the immediate pre- & post-invasion periods while remaining a non-partisan observer. He’s one of the best war reporters out there, having filed from places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Uganda, Israel, El Salvador, and Lebanon. Check it out.