Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Security Briefings Briefly - São Paulo

This morning I got emailed a security message for US Citizens living or traveling in Brazil. It is advising that there are more strikes and protests planned for today in many cities in Brazil. It advises US citizens to avoid the protests and large gatherings. It seems to imply that we will be targets of violence, though perhaps I am reading too much into this one.

I am registered with the US Consulate in São Paulo and from time to time these alerts come out. The last one I can remember was a day late on mentioning protests, but the one before that was a handy mentioning that there had been some assaults on motorists taking the bridge that leads to the US Consulate. While I wouldn't count the general ones about protests particularly valuable (I read Portuguese and the daily papers so I know what's going on), I do appreciate the reminders.

I can honestly say that I have never felt myself, as an American, to be a target of violence in Brazil. And I'm not talking only about the recent protests, I mean over the eight years total I have lived here. While I have talked about house security and alarms and bulletproof cars, these are in place for me as a Brazil resident, not as an American ex-patriate. In fact, I think more about terrorism and violence in my own country--look at the targeted killings of Boston, New York and other mass murders. That is not common in Brazil.

I thought about this the week before the protests as I went with my husband to the social security offices in São Paulo. I had driven him there as he was suffering from two broken arms and is substantially not so mobile. To get into these government offices, we had to pass through a metal detector. The guard told us to put our cell phones and car keys in the little dish and then pass through the detector. I showed him I was carrying a purse; Vlad was carrying a backpack. No problem, said the guard, just carry them through. The metal detector beeped for both of us, of course, but he just waved us on after handing back our keys and cell phones.

Not every place is this casual with security. At all bank branches now, one has to leave everything except your card, your checks or whatever business you have in the bank and your ID in a locker in a small lobby. No purses, no backpacks, no cell phones, nothing. I believe this to be because the bad guys were taking photos of people who were withdrawing large amounts of cash and sending it to accomplices outside the bank. I don't know but I would rather stick a fork in my eye than go to a bank branch these days--the last time I went, I forgot my ID in my purse in the locker and had to leave the line, get to the locker, get out the stuff, and go back in. I wish someone would protest by stripping down to his/her grundies to get inside--don't worry, I leave the protesting to the Brazilians...

In the days before 9/11 and the air security nuttiness, many small airports in Brazil had no security machines. None. Not for people, not for bags. You simply walked on the plane. You still do not have to remove shoes or take off jackets or dump everything resembling yogurt (I am not bitter) while going through the security machines at the international airport in São Paulo.

Regardless of what is going on in Brazil now with change and protests and street violence, a Brazilian has a different view on terrorism. In general, bad guys don't blow up innocent folks for attention (yes, I do realize the military dictatorship did this--and that is a post for another day). Brazilians are generally loved around the world, unlike the Americans. Several people have tried to convince me to apply for Brazilian citizenship and passport because it is safer to have a non-American passport at certain times. That is not enough for me to become a Brazilian citizen--even if the process wouldn't take the better part of a lifetime. And I am guessing that the Brazilian consulate in the US does not have to send out warnings to its citizens about protests and gatherings--a Brazilian does not have to worry about being in a place with large gatherings of people. In fact, I think they would call that "Carnaval."

Americans are not targets. Foreigners are not targets. A system that is broken is the target.

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