“Nemesis: One Man and the Battle for Rio”

Investigative reporter, Misha Glenny, spoke about his new publication that features one of the most famous Brazilian drug dealers, Nem da Rocinha.

The British journalist, Misha Glenny, is known for best sellers such as “McMafia”, “DarkMarket”, “The Rebirth of History”, “The Fall of Yugoslavia” and “The Balkans”. His most recent publication “Nemesis: One Man and the Battle for Rio” is about Antônio Francisco Bonfim Lopes, a man known as “Nem da Rocinha”. Rocinha is the name of the largest slum in Brazil, located in Rio de Janeiro.

The book is based on interviews conducted with Nem, his family, friends, enemies, police who investigated him and his lawyers. The publication has Nem as the main character, but it also explores how life is in the favela – Portuguese word for “slum”, Brazilian history, crime organization and politics.

I had a chance to interview Glenny during his stay in Toronto, in the beginning of October.

Wave: In one of your articles, you mentioned that your interest in Eastern European history came from your relationship with your father, a Russian translator. What interested you in the crime in South America?
Glenny: I worked for a long time in the Balkans, the former Yugoslavia, during the war. I noticed that was a lot of connection between organized crimes and politics, and the collapse of communism has led to the globalization of organized crime. One important aspect of this was the increase of the cocaine trade between South America and Europe. There was also a connection to Russia, Israel and South Africa. I decided to write “McMafia”, a book that mapped the global organised crime. I chose several countries to visit while I was writing the book. I visited Brazil for the first time in 2006. I noticed there were so many fascinating stories in Brazil and it was not reflected in the books that have being written in English about the country. I said to myself I would like to go back to Brazil to find an interesting story to write about.

Wave: When did you first heard about Nem?
Glenny: Strangely I first heard about Nem when I went to a tour in Rocinha. I asked somebody towards the end of the tour “Who is this guy ‘Nem da Rocinha’?” and he said “Nem is the man who keeps peace in the Rocinha”. I thought it was a very interesting answer. I was in Rio in 2011 when Nem was arrested. It was a big television show and I was fascinated watching the television clips. He was considered the public enemy number 1. When I read his interview to the media, I thought he was different compared to the other drug lords. That’s why I thought it could be a story that I was looking for to write.

“He only wants his daughter to survive, grow and prosper. He senses that his life is about to change and that things may not end well. But in his mind, he challenges anyone who would point the finger of blame at him: ‘And what would you do in my place’?”
(Quote from the book)

Wave: How different?
Glenny: My interpretation was that he realized that violence was bad for business. Once he was in power, in 2006, he told his man to keep the weapons off the street. I checked one research from the Federal University from Rio regarding the homicide rates and noticed that it was on its lowest since 2000. If your homicide rate goes down, the cocaine sales go up because people are not afraid to go to the favela to buy drugs. He does not agree with me on this.

Wave: So, can we say that was one Rocinha before and other one after Nem?
Glenny: Yes, we can. Inside the Rocinha he was very popular. He gave money to the capoeira classes, judo and built a stadium. 1000 baskets with basic groceries were distributed to the poorest people on the community. He also used to pay for funerals and medicine. He had very strict rules about everything. But of course, this was not a democracy. His decision was the final one. This was the Brazil’s problem: traffickers became the state in the absence of the government.

The book “Nemesis: One Man and the Battle for Rio” is now available in Canada and it will be published in Brazil in March 2016.

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