Reporter's Notebook

Tear-gassed In Brazil: When My Own Neighborhood Became A Battleground

Video taken Wednesday by Beatriz Moreira in Curitiba
CURITIBA, Brazil – It was around 3 p.m. Wednesday when I started hearing unusual sounds in my neighborhood. Like many other university students, I live in downtown Curitiba – a city known for its quality of life and peaceful neighbors. 

But that’s not really how it is in real life. At least, not for those who live in one of the more peripheral neighborhoods that surround the city’s inner belt. Anyway, the quiet and calm Curitiba does exist, even if only for a few of those who can afford to live in the city’s center.

Since Monday, around 5,000 striking public school teachers have been there, protesting at what we call our Civic Center, a concentration of local government buildings.
Many protests, marches and other demonstrations take place there. But this time it was different. From my home, I could hear bombs and shots being fired – it’s less than a mile away.
I could tell something was terribly wrong.
What I was hearing was a violent attack by the military state police riot squad, which is called Tropa de Choque, or Shock Troop.
At that point, me and my husband, who is also a journalist, decided to quickly get our cameras and run towards the fight.
When we arrived, I couldn´t believe what I was seeing. All the strikers were recessed in front of City Hall, afraid and screaming with horror, asking desperately for a truce. It was a scene like out of a civil war tale.
More than 1,000 military police officers from all over our state of Paraná had gathered to repress public workers and supporters who are against the governor’s proposed transfer of their public pensions from a savings account.
The scene was surreal. Curitiba’s mayor shut down City Hall and turned it into a hospital. According to the mayor’s office, more than 200 people were injured during the clash, eight of them badly.
At first, I froze. I couldn’t make up my mind between finding shelter and helping out somehow. My husband Phil was already up on a tree, taking pictures.
Innocent people ran away from the trench scenario as they bled from their faces, hands and bodies.
I decided to go on to the front and see what was happening. Bad idea. The police were still shooting rubber bullets and tossing smoke grenades, which hit the arriving ambulances and the protesters who were trying to get the injured people out of the battlefield.
In between a bomb and a handful of bullets, I ran into friends and acquaintances, all of whom had eyes red from the smoke.
For one hour and a half the protestors tried to resist and put a stop to the vote. Meanwhile, the police kept shooting.
Those who’ve seen someone inhale the gas from one of these bombs knows what I’m talking about. The eyes turn as red as two guarana fruits, and the nostrils and mouth are burned by each breath.
Nearby, a primary school teacher desperately asked the police to stop throwing bombs because the small children were being hit by the smoke.
Suddenly there came a new rain of bombs from a police helicopter and my left leg hurt. I’d been hit. A gas bomb landed right beside me.
As I started to choke, I ran away from there. A girl with her face all covered up offered me vinegar for my eyes.
I recognized her as an old friend from the university, but she quickly ran off to help someone else. She will never know how thankful I am for the rescue.
A few minutes later, I gave up.
By that time, the police had attacked the Phil’s tree with rubber bullets and smoke grenades. I was far from him and for my own sake, I had to assume he’d jumped from it.
He had. When we met up, I cried.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I wasn’t alive to see the civil-military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 1985, but I got the cursed heritage.
Then, it hit me: this happens every day in Curitiba, and all over the country, actually, in every slum. Just last month, the military police killed a 10 year-old boy named Bernardo in the Alemão favela, a poor slum in Rio. They shot him in the head.
The “Bullet Caucus” proposes – and their voters defend – the idea that “a good thug is a dead thug.”
But who decides who’s the thug? Isn’t the governor a thug when he steals the public workers’ pension money to repay R$ 8 billion (roughly US$ 2.6 billion) in public debts contracted by state government actions in various districts, to assure support on the re-election campaign?
It’s as though we are the thugs just because we believe in citizenship and democracy.
As for them, it seems they only believe in bullets and violence.
Today, Curitiba woke up in mourning. My professors cried during classes, my parents, my friends, journalists and people from other countries grieved.
Everyone who witnessed the event, who watched it on TV, who fought against the dictatorship in the past or those who simply understand that life is precious, came to the conclusion that this is a false democracy.
Many times today I heard people say, “Democracy is a myth.”
I cannot disagree.
Beatriz Moreira is a Junior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.
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