Thursday, October 21, 2010
My friend, and fellow blogmate, Yrsa Sigurdardöttir writes delightful mysteries set in her native Iceland. I often wonder how she does it. The population of her country is only (get this) about 320,000 people. (Betcha most of you didn’t know that.) That’s less than two percent of the population of the city in which I live.
Yrsa tells me (I admit to having visited Iceland only once) that there isn’t a great deal of ecological or cultural diversity; that the society is relatively egalitarian; that murders, by and large, are confined to banal incidents like family members getting involved in drunken brawls and taking blunt instruments to each other. Fortunately, Yrsa has a rich and fertile imagination. Time after time, she comes up with brilliant content. And most of it comes from inside her head.
I don’t have to think things up. They’re happening all around me.
The total population of this country is in excess of two-hundred million.
Brazil covers more than eight million square kilometers.
That makes it about eighty times the size of Iceland with five hundred times the population.
And, each year, we experience tens of thousands of times the number of major crimes.
How’s that for a surfeit of inspiration?
Ecological and cultural diversity?
We’ve got steamy jungles in the north, winter snowfalls in the south, more species of fish swimming in the Amazon River than in all of the Atlantic Ocean.
The city of São Paulo boasts more Lebanese than in Beirut, more Portuguese than in Lisbon, more ethnic Japanese than all but two cities in the home islands.
That’s ecological and cultural diversity incarnate.
Some people think this is a poor country.
Our GNP is greater than that of the next six countries in South America combined.
We’re the world’s largest exporter of soybeans and beef.
We’re independent in terms of petroleum and natural gas.
We have nuclear power plants, largely a matter of national pride, or shame, depending on how you look at it, because we have enough rivers to generate all of the hydroelectric power we’ll ever need. (Twenty percent of all of the world’s fresh water flows through just one of them – the Amazon.)
We have restaurants, and shops, on a par with any in Paris or New York.
And you know that traffic problem I mentioned?
The wealthier folks in São Paulo get around it by flying over it, in the largest fleet of helicopters in the world outside of the United States. (All of them domestically produced.)
If you live in the U.S. or Europe, and drive a Volkswagen or a Fiat, there’s a good chance that the engine was constructed in Brazil. If you are a frequent flyer, one who visits smaller airports, the odds are you have flown in a Brazilian aircraft, and if pick up a telephone to call Brazil, you’re going to be speaking via a Brazilian satellite.
Brazil’s social problems, including the high crime rates, stem not from a lack of income, but rather from an inequitable system of income distribution. Only two countries in the Western hemisphere do a worse job of it: Haiti and Bolivia.
Day by day, the rich get richer. And the poor – react.
The number of policemen murdered, each year, in Rio de Janeiro alone, exceeds the number killed in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom combined.
Seventy-percent of all crimes remain unsolved. And, because of a corrupt judicial system, only one felon in ten serves out his/her sentence.
They’re members of the Brazilian Federal Police, the least corrupt of Brazil’s law enforcement bodies.
But, since the system itself is corrupt, they often have to achieve justice by breaking the law.
(How’s that for a twist?)
In Brazil, there is no Secret Service, no Customs and Immigration Service, no Drug Enforcement Administration and no Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Those functions, and more, are assigned to the “feds”, which is good for me, because it means I can involve my guys with every conceivable kind of crime, some of which, like the ongoing land wars, are unique to this society.
Well…uhhh…maybe not live, exactly.
Posted by Michele Emrath at 5:05 AM