The Miami Herald
January 13, 1999
Affluent Brazilians lock out violence, real world

             Los Angeles Times Service

             RIO DE JANEIRO -- The escape route from the city center leads past the faded
             beachfront glories of Copacabana and Ipanema, past the Rocinha slum, to a coastal
             landscape shaped by Brazil's architecture of fear.

             Rio's outlying Barra da Tijuca neighborhood is a thickening forest of condominium
             towers with names like New Ipanema, complete with self-enclosed shopping and
             recreation areas, even their own schools. The condominiums are fortresses: high
             walls, sentry boxes, internal checkpoints, computerized camera and alarm systems,
             private security forces with guns, dogs and motorcycles.

             Residents of Barra da Tijuca venture warily into an outside world that they see as
             hostile. An Israeli-trained bodyguard escorts a billionaire's young son to the movies;
             an executive carries an Uzi submachine gun in his car.

             Crime in Brazilian cities has forced the well-to-do into a hyperinsulated existence
             that sometimes resembles urban science fiction. Amid economic recession, a $2
             billion-a-year security industry thrives in Brazil. More than 100,000 private security
             guards work in Rio alone, half of them in semi-clandestine firms that fill the city with
             motley armies-for-hire. Anti-crime defenses account for an estimated 20 percent of
             the monthly fees paid at condominium complexes and walled communities.

             And instead of striving for an open and inviting style accentuating the city's tropical
             beauty, architects are influenced by the same forces as those permeating daily life:
             violence and fear.

             Security top priority

             ``It is all bars, walls with broken glass on top; if there are flowers, they have thorns
             for a defensive effect,'' said Roberto Gianotti, an architect who has survived a home
             invasion and the kidnapping of his daughter. ``An isolated house is poison on the
             market. Security is the top priority, the great challenge, of every project. You can't
             work freely; security defines everything.''

             Brazil has one of the worst murder rates in the hemisphere. In 1996, the city of Rio
             recorded 53.3 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with about 20 per 100,000
             in Los Angeles.

             Rio has been shaken by periodic warfare between gangsters who rule hilltop slums
             and police who are often overwhelmed, brutal and corrupt.

             Self-defense boom

             Common thugs choose victims at random for ``lightning abductions'' that last a few
             hours, and professional gangs finance drug trafficking with large ransom payments.

             There has been a resulting boom in self-defense classes and gun sales, Rottweilers
             and bulletproof vehicles -- the number of such cars in Rio and Sao Paulo tripled last
             year, according to the newspaper O Estado de Sao Paulo. More and more Brazilians
             avoid public spaces and conventional homes in favor of closed streets and controlled
             environments such as Ocean Front, a complex in Barra da Tijuca with a surveillance
             system designed by IBM Brazil, and in the similarly futuristic Alphaville, a
             development in suburban Sao Paulo.

             None other than President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a sociologist and big-city
             enthusiast, lamented this exodus from urban centers in a book of interviews
             published last year.

             ``It is a penitentiary existence,'' said Cardoso. ``The rich in Brazil are prisoners of
             themselves. . . . I hope that, in the future, the `Alphavilleans' will realize it is better
             not to live in such an isolated manner.''

             In contrast to societies whose rage and violence are almost palpable, the physical
             beauty and easy charm of Rio and its people create a deceptively benign impression.

             Even as he recounts firsthand brushes with terror, architect Gianotti retains the
             cheeriness of the Carioca, as a native of Rio is known. He has lived in Barra da
             Tijuca for 32 years.

             `Incompetence of state'

             Gianotti's three-story apartment house, with its large and easily scaled terrace, was
             designed in a more innocent era. Four years ago, Gianotti awoke to see a masked
             intruder holding a gun to his wife's mouth.

             ``I made a gentleman's agreement with the robbers,'' he recalled. ``I told them I
             would help them get anything they wanted out of the apartment as fast as possible
             as long as they did not hurt my wife and daughter.''

             Two years later, Gianotti's daughter was kidnapped along with her boyfriend. After
             a nightmarish 12 days of negotiation and a $700,000 ransom payment, the two were

             Gianotti blames Brazil's woes on the ``incompetence of the state,'' which has allowed
             organized crime to establish ``parallel states'' in desperate slums.

             ``Violence is the fruit of hunger,'' he said.

             Like President Cardoso, Gianotti worries about the retreat of the middle and upper
             classes to artificial outposts of privilege. The lawns and athletic fields of Barra da
             Tijuca provide a healthy, seemingly idyllic existence for children, he said, but the
             place also cuts them off from reality.

             ``They grow up thinking life is beaches, shopping malls, beautiful girls,'' he said.


                               Copyright © 1999 The Miami Herald