Tuesday, August 6, 2013

An exercise in futility - CONSEG - São Paulo

Cartoon credit: www.marcbilgrey.com

I was going to write about beer today. I have lots to say about beer. But something happened between yesterday and today and that was another CONSEG meeting. Some of you may remember my first CONSEG meeting back in June which was, frankly, a silly affair of passing the baton to the new board. You can read it here: Yes We Can! Neighborhood Security.  I missed the July meeting since I was in the USA. I was pretty excited to go to this meeting because between June and now, this city was rocked by protests about everything from bus fares to violence. We should have lots to talk about.

Stepping back a bit, maybe you have forgotten what a CONSEG is. Why would you remember? Because you re-read my blogs all the time, right? Okay, from the Conseg site, this is the definition of the CONSEG's mission: "CONSEGs are groups of people from the same neighborhood or district who meet to talk about, analyze, plan and follow-through on community security issues, develop educational campaigns and strengthen bonds of understanding and cooperation between various local leaders." Community security meets neighborhood watch.

And here is what actually happened. 20 or so people showed up in the audience. Of these 20 people, I recognized at least 15 from the last meeting. So, there is longevity in attendance. Serious longevity. Of the 20 people, 90% were over the age of 60. And of the 20 people, 90% liked to hear their own voices. They mostly had no respect for the vice president's calls for order. But I am jumping ahead.

The long table on the stage at the front of the room was taken up by the president of the Conseg, a representative of CET (traffic cops) and SPTrans (ummm, traffic too? Let me look it up. Ah, here it is: the public transport system guys), a representative of the submayor (the sub-submayor), the civil police (and he was quite polite), the military police (we got the new bam-bam-bam captain and our usual lieutenant) and the civil guard.

As always, the meeting started with standing up and applauding the Brazilian flag. This is weird.  Then the civil police talked about the events of July in a most relaxed way. Mostly our crime statistics had stayed stable, which seems unlikely but how am I to argue with men with guns? Our neighborhood's biggest problem coming out of July is the existence of the "Black Block"  (yep, he said it in English, but with a Portuguese pronunciation which made it the Blackie Blockie, and no I did not giggle though I wished to). The Black Block was blamed on Germany, by the way, though I did not catch why this is. Origins of skinheads? I don't know. These are the troublemakers who infiltrated the Passe Livre group (the group that wanted lower bus fares and went about it with peaceful marches) and just want to break things. As he says, they are just here to wreck stuff. Then he proceeded to identify the bad guys as mostly students and middle class. And that there was "pézinho" or little foot in University of São Paulo. This provoked some hissing that I assume had to do with some alumni in the audience.

So here I am thinking that we are off and running on security issues. But instead we get diverted down a road of too much noise in the neighborhood, how the civil guard is dealing with homeless and illegal businesses and then the SPTrans guy talks about the new Mobility Plan for the city. He mentions that the city is close to total breakdown since the number of people in cars is equaling the number of people in public transport which provides an answer to a fancy equation and basically we are all dead meat. I can hardly wait for the World Cup, you?

At this point, four people leave the room and go to the anteroom to discuss football loudly. And at this point (1 hour into the meeting), I have come to the following two possible conclusions about the lack of attendance and relevance of this meeting:

1. The residents of the neighborhood do not give a sh** about security. How else to explain the lack of attendance and lack of discussion?
2. The residents of the neighborhood do give a sh•• about security but realize that the CONSEG is not able to do anything or get anywhere on this subject.

I really don't understand how tens of thousands of people take to the streets in July to say "we've had enough" and not one shows up to say politely to the commanders of the military police and civil police "what are you doing and how can I help you?" Okay, late in the meeting, a Senhor Benedito, aged 70ish and pretty mad, says there was a gringo recently assaulted in the neighborhood and word is getting out that Sao Paulo is dangerous and what are we going to do? This is the forum to get in front of the security forces. Where is everyone? Is it easier to walk down a street and protest than attend a monthly meeting at 7:30 pm? Please someone explain. I am guessing I am heading to conclusion 2: people care about security but don't think that CONSEG is the place to make changes.

The military police did answer Sr. Benedito. They are doing what they can. If they know a problem, they will help. The community must do their part and give feedback through police reports (B.O.s) about the crimes. They can only concentrate their forces where they know there are many problems. Also, the parents complaining about assaults around schools should be counseling their kids not to pull out their iphone and other expensive gear and wave it around.

He also mentioned that the justice system must be refined. One of the local policewomen was held up crossing through the local park by three minors with a knife. She pulled out her gun and badge and they were all arrested. Two hours later, these minors were released minus their knife, and the three cell phones they had stolen. There was no way to hold them.

At this point, when the meeting was getting interesting and about security, the president of CONSEG interrupted and said that we would be celebrating the 453 years of the Pinheiros neighborhood on 13 August at 7:30 pm in this same building. Anyone who wants details can let me know. Then he told everyone to stand up and applaud the flag. Meeting over.

Back to beer tomorrow. Should be more fruitful.


  1. I have been to one or two public meetings in Curitiba and I swore never to go again. A complete and utter waste of time with nobody sticking to any agenda (not that we had one) and everyone just droning on and on and on.

    So I would go with your second option.

    1. I was pretty well amused for the first hour. It made me realize that I never had gone to a town hall meeting in my life in the USA. Maybe we applaud the flag there too...maybe we have a Blackie Blockie...I just don't know. But the second hour was a drag--I should have gone out to discuss football (though I know nothing about it--that's never stopped me yet) with the rest.

      But yeah, I think the second option is the winner.

  2. This sounds really frustrating. I have not yet braved a public meeting in Brazil, but I am sure that once I am settled on my farm in rural Minas Gerais I will attend. Recently, there was a public meeting in the village where my farm is and our neighbor went. He told me it was a complete waste of time and that the town had been having the exact same meeting, raising the same issues and points each year...and nothing has changed....frustrating!