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Brazil

Day 54: Rio de Janeiro

 
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Inside the HQ. Behind me a graphic of the hard men in action.
Michael Palin - BrazilThen the instructors call them to order and before they get down to the exercises there's a lot more ritual shouting. Group shouts are very big here. The technique of responses, bawled back and forth between a sergeant and his men, is intended presumably to strengthen solidarity and stimulate aggression.

As they start a workout stretching, press-ups, twisting and turning I take a tentative look at the place. No one seems to mind my nosing around these big wide open-plan floors. There isn't much furniture. But there is quite a lot on the walls. Emblems, symbols, mottoes: 'Nada impossivel para o soldado do BOPE', even naf paintings showing their big, black armoured vehicles pushing aside barricades. An enormous photomontage of their home base ringed by shots of the men in action has a long black bench in front of it, as if for contemplation of the brave deeds of BOPE. On one wall is painted 'A Prayer for the Special Forces'.

A pony-tailed girl in a T-shirt and sweatpants whom I'd taken for one of the catering staff turns out to be Marlisa, a Captain and public relations officer for BOPE. By the time of our interview, up on the roof of the building, she has been transformed into a black-booted, black-clad action woman with a glare which no smile can crack. It's only as the interview gets under way and we're discussing the risks to life and limb when they go into danger zones, that I become aware she's wearing a pair of dangly silver earrings. As she's telling me how the BOPE elite is made up of 470 men and six women and that women are not currently allowed on first-strike operations, I can't, of course, take my eyes off the earrings.

Marlisa is a good publicity officer. She thinks pacification is working, but that BOPE alone can do nothing. There has to be a will for change on everybody's part.

We have to abandon the interview for a time as a helicopter is coming in to pick up a young officer from the roof we're standing on. It swoops over from the east. Small, black and nimble, like the man climbing aboard. The engines keep running. The pick-up is effected and the helicopter drops down from the roof racing over the favela, deliberately and intimidatingly low. Marlisa warms up a little after this and by the end of the interview I feel emboldened to ask about the earrings. She shows them to me and at last I can make out the design. It's a pair of crossed handguns behind a skull with a knife embedded in it. Perhaps noticing the expression on my face, Captain Marlisa briskly explains the finer points of the design. The knife, she points out, is coming out of the skull, not going into it. It's not about death, but victory over death.
 
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Captain Marlisa, the PR face of BOPE, wearing an earring to die for.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 54: Rio de Janeiro
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Rio de Janeiro
  • Book page no: 223

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