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Brazzil - Behavior - September 2004

In Brazil, It's Three Beers or Your Life

Bribe fishing, is nothing new in Brazil, having been incorporated
into Brazilian culture decades if not centuries ago. Things are
getting worse, however. Being honest and not choosing to play
the corruption game can endanger the life of anyone who defies
the "system". The bribery industry is installed at all levels of society.

Leila Cordeiro

Picture Apart from the eight o'clock TV soap, the topic which most unites people at social gatherings in Brazil's larger cities, especially Rio and São Paulo, is violence.

Everyone has an unpleasant story ready to tell, whether as a first-person victim, or as a relative or friend of someone who has been touched by violence.

The stories about kidnappings are the most harrowing. The experience of passing days or even months in captivity, defenseless in the hands of kidnappers and not knowing how the situation will end, is an indelible trauma for those who have been through it.

Stories of lightning kidnappings (seqüestros relâmpagos) are becoming increasingly more common. The victim is often forced to drive around all night with the kidnappers until they have amassed a sufficient amount, rarely more than 1000 reais (US$ 348), from various ATMs.

It seems that these days anyone is a potential kidnap victim: all it takes is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and to have a bank account. The balance is not important.

When these stories are being swapped, there are also lighter and more curious but nonetheless disturbing tales told. Such is the case of Bia and Claudinho, a young Rio couple who fell into the clutches of a traffic policeman at an intersection in Rio's South Zone. Note how the exchange between them builds in emotional intensity:

"Damn! I think the traffic cop parked in front of that bar is going to give me a ticket for running the red light."

The policeman blew his whistle and signaled Claudinho to pull over.

"Hang on", said Bia, "All he has to do is get your license number and send a ticket in the mail."

A little worried, Claudinho pulled over. He was tired, having just got off work and stopped off at Bia's place to pick her up. The policeman approached slowly, radiating absolute authority, and ready to do damage to the wallet of his victim. And that's exactly what happened.

"Good evening, young man. Are you aware that you just ran a red light and could have put lives at risk?"

"Yes, sir. No problem. I know I made a mistake and I'm perfectly willing to pay for it. Write me a ticket."

"Slow down. Take it easy. We can deal with this right now. You don't need to pay a ticket. We can fix it right here, just between the two of us."

"But officer, I'm sorry. I know I screwed up and have to pay for it."

"Wait. I'm not sure that I get what you're saying. You want to give money to Cesar Maia (the mayor of Rio) who is rich, instead of showing that you understand that I need it more than him? Enough for three beers and everything is cool."

"Don't get me wrong, officer, but I'd prefer to get a ticket", said Claudinho, pretending not to understand what was being suggested.

"OK then. I'll write you a ticket. But listen up and pay attention. I've got your address here. I know where you live, but….OK."

This story is scary, not for the bribe fishing, which is nothing new, having been incorporated into Brazilian culture decades if not centuries ago, but for the policeman's veiled threat.

Being honest and not choosing to play the corruption game can endanger the life of anyone who defies the "system". On the other hand, if everyone in the world behaved like Claudinho, would our society be better?

Amongst the many conclusions to be drawn from this story is the realization that the bribery industry is installed at all levels of the social scale. And that in this industry, the cost may be several million reais, diverted to offshore tax havens, or simply the price of three beers.

This article was originally published in Portuguese by Direto da Redação -

Leila Cordeiro has extensive experience as a TV reporter in Brazil. She is also an artist and published author. She can be contacted at
Mike Allan translated this article. He worked as a translator in Rio de Janeiro from 2001 to 2004, and is currently based in Vancouver, Canada, where he continues to translate, as well as working in international education and playing guitar. He can be contacted at

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