Nemesis – The Hunt for Brazil’s Most Wanted Criminal (Misha Glenny)


Another strenuously researched cramming of expert investigative journalism from Misha Glenny. Perhaps as an extension or off-shoot of his 2008 classic McMafia, which demonstrated organised crimes close co-action & mutual stimulus with Globalisation & Capitalism, Nemesis plunges into Brazil’s unique demographic & history at the table of modern illicit-empires in this socio-poverty-criminal epic. It’s an amazingly informative & extensive account, that can be read from a historical perspective, an ethnographic/anthropological perspective, or a penury/economic/criminologist/political/capitalism perspective in equal measure depending on the readers subjective bias. For me, Glenny’s writing has also advanced since McMafia, & this vast, varied & complex matter reads with terrific coherence & quality. The book is centred mostly around Antonia Francisco Bonfim Lopes or ‘Nem’, the don of Rocinha, a Favela in Ro De Janeiro & Brazils most wanted man until his arrest in 2011. Now held in the country’s most secure specialist penitentiary – Campo Grande, Glenny gained direct access & formed an in depth rapore with Nem, with much of his testimony & revelations appearing in the book as well as major supporting research & study from Glenny & many other characters. Misha covers the Favelas incredible inception in great detail (I won’t get into the multifarious byzantnism of this urban phenomenon here but this is the best account i have read on it so far) as well as the gaggle of gangs & militant political cells that dot the historical landscape (Camando Vermelho, MR-8, Amigos Dos Amigos, Third Command, TCP, Alliance Liberatadora National etc). The gang that probably comes across as the most reprehensible & definitely the most hated by favela residents is the police. Bent as fuck, super corrupt, violent & murderous they are constantly cited as a menace & object of aversion. Bribes, extortion, torture, death squads, summary executions, protection rackets, selling fire-arms to the bandidos they are supposed to be policing etc, it’s an absolutely awful litany of pure criminality & disgracement-of-duty flat-line. Most despised of all is BOPE, the Military Police Special Forces, also very disturbingly referred to as “The Skulls Of Christ” by some of their evangelical members. Their “pacification programmes” & murder sprees into the favelas have them hated as “no expression of state power is as intimidating as BOPE”. There are some decent coppers amongst all the killing of rough-sleeping children, suspect-suffocation, massively falsified evidence & drug-trade bribe takings, but the majority verdict on the police is abysmal with a capital-A.

An extremely interesting topic is the frequent scenario of gang administered law in the absence/indifference of the state & police. Most of the time, many Favelas are no go areas for the police unless they are on a raid/incursion or occupation with a pacification operation. Nem’s district of Rocinha was considered one, if not the safest (& later trendy) Favelas in Rio. As one resident explains about the Favela pre-Nem as don – “ The drugs trade was a necessary evil. Believe me. If it hadn’t been for the traffickers, everyone would have been stealing, everyone would have been killing. We would all have greeted dawn as dead people. The drugs business occupied the vacuum left by the state. Otherwise this would have been a lawless territory.” I found these sections amongst the most intriguing in the book. in many ways Nem’s recital itself is this very detail outstretched as he constantly has to navigate & regulate the realm in the absence of orthodox law enforcement.

The other essential feature of the book is the condemning of the genocidal stupidity & mass misery manufacturing idiot policy The War On Drugs that has wrecked so’ so much carnage across the world. In the name of total stupidity & an ever tumefying refutation & error, this vacuous, errant, futile-fallacy rolls on dragging millions into death, harm & incarceration. Writing on Rio Glenny notes – “Before the cocaine epidemic, people were not killed in large numbers. The local culture was no more violent than North America. Rio’s decline, beginning in the late 1980’s, was above all a consequence of a policy that had failed over decades: the War on Drugs. First Columbia, then the Caribbean and Brazil, and finally Mexico have paid with the blood of literally hundreds of thousands of men, women and children for a policy of narcotics prohibition which, were it part of a private sector strategy, would have been discarded decades ago as disastrously counterproductive.“ indeed, the war on drugs has stoked, enriched, empowered & even created colossal criminal empires & networks the world over, many which now exceed the resources & utilities of states themselves. beyond the growers & dealers it’s also a source of permanent revenue & tactical development for the security & arms industry plus a rich political option/vote fodder for politicians to pose & promise with more “get tough” & “crack-down” bullshit. Judging by the scale & obstinacy of the denial, blindness, and unshakable ignorance to the consistently catastrophic results & failures of this diabolic & paralogical policy, i can only assume that this “fall-out” is actually an undeclared intention & desired result, as seems to be the case of so many of our major modern crisis (Climate Extermination, Pollution, Terrorism) which suffer the same disastrous mishandling & unexplained vapidity.

Once again, Glenny notes the calamitous exchange of drugs for guns that’s so badly blighted tracts of South America, totally transforming them. “the drugs go north! The guns go south!” as America’s insatiable drug habit is nourished on an ocean of blood. You hear this constantly when researching Colombia & especially Mexico. I suppose the sickest thing about the War on Drugs is that it’s a capitalists wet-dream as it induces multiple markets – the drugs themselves, the surveillance, arms & “security” sales & the incarceration industry. The amount of money & waste coursing through must be astro-fucking-nomic! Hence it’s continuation despite the screamingly ultra-obvious. A “drug industrial complex” if you will. As Misha observes – “The AR-15, Beloved of the traffickers, cost around $2000 in the United States. In Rio, the going rate is around $4-5000, so while Brazilian drug traffickers were making a healthy profit from selling cocaine to the United States and Europe, American firearms dealers were getting a good chunk of the cash back. The logic of the War on Drugs, still firmly embraced in Washington and most of Europe, had created a vicious circle of murder and excess that united the arms manufacturers of America, the traffickers of South America and the coke habits of the middle classes from Berlin to Los Angeles.”

Approached from so many different angles, Nemesis is an incredible triumph of insight & analysis.

Author: Misha Glenny

Publisher: Vintage