English translation of article “Minha Dor Não Sai no Jornal.” From Piauí Magazine by Nilton Claudino, published in August 2011.
[Context: This story is dramatized in the film Tropa de Elite 2. The article by Claudino has received significant press and blog coverage (it took the cover of Piauí over an inflammatory interview with Defense Minister Nelson Jobim that eventually led to his removal by Dilma). While it is easy to discover who the two politicians are, few newspapers or blogs actually published their names.]
My Pain Gets No Press
I was a photographer for the newspaper O Dia in 2008, when I went to live in a favela to do a report about militias. I was discovered, tortured, and humiliated. I lost my wife, my children, my friends, my house, Rio, the sun, the beach, soccer, everything
I am not a criminal, but I am afraid of the police. I walk the streets disguised in a city distant from my own because I think that I am under a death threat. I live anxiously and I have difficulty sleeping. In a medical report, my psychologist described my state this way: “Neurosensoral agitation and mental fixation in images that he is incapable of releasing and that take over his mind.”
Many times I cry alone. I have nightmares. I remember that one of my torturers, when I was kneeling, blindfolded and handcuffed, said in my ear, “Your life will never be the same.” He was right.
Now and then, I still hear this with clarity, as if it was actually being played again, the angelic music that the criminals played during my captivity. The sound sends me back to that dark place—I was hooded and still didn’t know what would happen to me. I heard that music, created to be pleasing to the ears, coming from a portable boombox a few meters away. There were flute sounds, smooth and tranquil, that religious literature associates with the angels. A pastor’s voice, meanwhile, preached in a terrifying way: “This man who has a knife to your neck is going to kill you. Send your soul to God and repent for your sins.”
The message lasted a few minutes. There was an interval of silence and the recording started again—again with the flute and the pastor’s talk, as if it were a CD on auto-repeat. This was the mild part of the punishments I would suffer. Three years later, during many early mornings, I still wake up startled with this melody in my head.
I came to journalism in 1977. In the beginning I worked as a messenger at the Rio branch office of Veja magazine. Later, I was promoted to produce the magazine, with tasks that included research and sending photographic materials to the headquarters in São Paulo. I later transferred to Placar. I spent hours in the laboratory, where I learned any and all techniques. I paid a lot of attention, especially to the work of Ricardo Chaves, Rodolfo Machado, and J.B. Scalco, one of the best sports photographers that I know.
One weekend, when there wasn’t another photographer available, I wielded a professional camera for the first time to shoot a game in the Brazilian championship series. That is how I entered the profession that I would embrace for the rest of my life. It is funny that soccer had bought me to be a photographer. I dreamed of being a player and I played a bit in Madureira when I was very young.
I frequented the house of Arthur Antunes de Coimbra, known as Zico, in Quintino, in the North Zone, after pick-up games on dirt fields that fed my hope to follow in the footsteps of the already famous striker—the best soccer player that I had seen in action. A knee injury would interrupt my trajectory, always difficult since I left the Pantanal of Mato Grosso, where I grew up among ten brothers, to try my luck in Rio de Janeiro. I was born in Corumbá, between the Christmas and New Years of 1958; I studied in a religious school and thought that I would follow the career path of the priests who taught me. In a sense, to become a photographer is a profession of faith.
In 1990, I started working for Jornal do Brazil, which won me international awards and professional recognition. In 1992, I transferred to O Dia newspaper, where I was photo editor for six years. I won an honorable mention from the Vladimir Herzog Prize with the photo “A View of the Law,” after living with the reporter Aloisio Freire for two weeks in the favela do Maré, investigating complaints about the so-called Blue Command, a group of vigilante military police who were committing atrocities against residents and other criminals.
Journalism would lead me to another risky situation, in Capitán Bado, in Paraguay. Accompanied by a guide, we reached a large marijuana plantation and began shooting with a mini-camera when I noticed drug traffickers arriving. I hid the machine in my underwear and took a huge pumpkin. I said I was stealing it to eat it. Under the threat of AR-15 rifles, the guide and I, who spoke Guarani, took a long time negotiating our freedom. It was a shock that did not stop me from taking another risky assignment: I spent 28 days traveling in an investigation into cocaine trafficking to Brazil from Peru and Bolivia. What impressed me most here was the poverty and the use of child slave labor on the coca plantations.
The incentive for investigative journalism came from my friend Tim Lopes, a reporter with whom I worked at Placar, JB, O Dia, and Rede Globo. Tim was murdered in 2002 by drug dealers in Complexo do Alemão while doing a story about open-air drug sales in the favela, and investigating the sexual exploitation of minors at funk parties.
The reporters Alexandre Medeiros and Marcos Tristão and I had begun to ask for help in the favelas in search of a clue that would lead to the whereabouts of Tim. One day, I was confronted by a person who approached from behind and did not let me see their face: “Go up Complexo do Alemão to a place called Pedra do Sapo and have them dig in the shadow of the bamboo. The body is there,” he said. I could not turn my face toward him. If I did, I could die.
Colonel Venancio Moura, the then-commander of BOPE, the elite squad of Rio’s Military Police, investigated the information. I went the woods with the officers, along with the reporter Albeniz Garcia. Firefighters performed the excavation. In the second movement of the hoe, one could see bones and the Globo identification plate for a camera. It was very hard, but I had to photograph it. We all started to cry. It was the remains of our friend Tim Lopes. I always carry the book of Psalms in my pocket and I began to read number 23, to try to mitigate the despair: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
In early 2008, I was called by the managing editor of O Dia, Alexandre Freeland, for a top secret assignment: to investigate a militia group (comprised of military and civilian police, firefighters, and prison system officials) who operated in Jardim Batan, a favela in Realengo in the West Zone.
Batan was a big farm, where there was livestock. Its name comes from a typical tree, the ubatã or chibatã. It was the site of many violent clashes between criminal gangs, who sought to control drug trafficking there. In 2007, militiamen got together and drove the traffickers out, taking over businesses like the sale of gas and pirated cable TV, public transportation vans [kombis], and charging the residents a “security fee.”
To investigate this reality, a driver, a reporter for the O Dia newspaper, and I moved to Batan, where we rented a house. We arrived there on the morning of May 1st, 2008. We went straight to the closest bakery, which was run by the owner of the house we rented. We had breakfast there, got the key to our new house, and went to move in.
It was a three-story house. We were on the third. We found out that there was nothing inside. We started contacting residents to help us furnish it. The first floor neighbor introduced us to other people in the community, when we had the opportunity to wrangle up a used television. At the market in Bangu, we bought mattresses and food.
To introduce myself to the residents, I said I was from the Pantanal and was waiting to be called to work in Macaé, as a contractor for Petrobras. I introduced myself to people with this speech because the militiamen did not want any so-called “bums” around: unemployment is not tolerated. I was gaining the confidence of the neighbors. I made friends with the first floor neighbor; he was from nearby, where the driver working with me also grew up. I threw a barbecue on the corner by the house as a way to deepen our relationship.
I pretended to be the husband of the female reporter. I said that she was an evangelical, was from Minas Gerais, and the marriage saved me from alcoholism. She began attending a church close to the house. We have been living this way: I was a guy in search of recovery; she took a job as a cook. Everybody believed it, which allowed us to begin to gather information discreetly.
Every day we sent a report to our editor by e-mail from a cyber cafe. Few people at the newspaper knew of our assignment. As a cover, we told everyone that we were on vacation.
Everything seemed to be going perfectly well. Mother’s Day fell on May 11. We made a celebratory lunch for about ten neighbors. My “woman from Minas” made feijão-tropeiro, a local specialty from Minas. I made noodles and gave roses to the mothers in honor of the holiday. Every day we made more friends, and one of them gave us a couch as a present. Ordinary people, really good people.
I’m very Christian. I pray every day. I began to feel that my guardian angel wanted to warn me of something. I told the reporter that I had had visions that we would be discovered. I read a lot of the pages of Habakkuk, a prophet of the Old Testament. I had the vision that the militiamen broke into our door. ”Nah, it’s okay,” she answered.
I have taken important photos showing the punishment that militiamen impose on drug users. “Potheads” were painted white and sent weeding the neighborhood streets to be marked by the community. Others had to sit on hot bricks for hours. The head of the militia, whom everyone called 01 (Zero-One), used a wooden stick that he called Madalena. The residents were very afraid of Madalena, which was used in public beatings. Another billy club was jokingly dubbed “Human Rights”.
There were many police and prison guards in the streets all the time. Police in uniform and without uniform. They drank with their police cars at the door of the bar. I photographed that too. It had never been seen, as I saw there, a female member of the military police working with a militia. The blonde PM of Batan, who walked with ease among many others in uniform, was one of the surprises in that situation.
I had already arranged for a van driver who served the community to take me to the bus station the next day. I thought the job was finishing up. I had taken all of the material that I photographed to the driver’s mother’s house, which was located on the other side of Avenida Brazil. There was no journalistic material where we lived. I never used a flash. They were all natural light pictures, taken at low speed with a high sensitivity mode to make good images. I had photographed a lot: movements on the streets, drunk PMs, chastisements, punishments, the accumulated carcasses of stolen cars on Army property, the secret depository of gas tanks.
At 9:30 P.M. on Wednesday, May 14th, we spoke with the managing editor. I always reported to him. The possibility of the involvement of a state congressman and a city alderman with the militia made us decide to extend our time there. We wanted undeniable proof.
Fifteen minutes after that phone call, I was picked up in front of the pizzeria next door to our house. They started beating me already. They shouted that they knew I was a journalist. They instructed me to get the reporter, who was on the third floor. She resisted, and they attacked her fiercely, forcing her down the stairs with blows and kicks. I was the one who took the bigger beating, because I had drank beers with the militiamen, in search of information. They hated me for having deceived them for fourteen days.
We were handcuffed, hooded with black caps and stuffed in the backseat of a car. We drove a few minutes to the place that we would be in captivity. To avoid Avenida Brazil, our captors took a country road with many bumps. On the way, we took more beatings. One of them was playing Russian roulette with a gun to my head. I was sure that we were dead. When we arrived, I noticed that the house that served as the captive seemed to be under construction. There was gravel under our feet. They were saying: “You’re gonna die! You’re gonna die!”
The boss, the so-called Zero-One, sat in front of me. I tried to negotiate. He said: “I have sway at the newspaper. Let’s forget all the beatings. You release us, and we won’t say anything. Don’t kill a journalist. Look at the Tim Lopes case. He was my brother; he was a very close friend. ”
“So it seems the problem is with the family,” 01 responded. ”You will die and you need to know that you were snitched on by friends in the newspaper. I’ll prove it: in your cubicle you have photos of one of your two children playing guitar. Your children are beautiful. You live in the South Zone,” he said, then offering my exact address.
I froze, and he continued: “You guys are assholes. You were snitched on by your friends. We have informants in all that is newspaper and television.”
He then gave an order: “Call the cameraman.” Our torture was filmed. Someone, someday, will get this tape of the torture that we suffered. What happened there, they made a point of recording.
I was blindfolded most of the time. But I knew that a lot of policemen were around. I felt the kicks from their boots. Zero-One left. In the distance, cows mooed. Then the flute began playing and the pastor began preaching: “This man who has a knife to your neck is going to kill you. Send your soul to God and repent for your sins.” Theatricality, a man put a knife to my neck each time the recording played.
Between the torture sessions, there were five “tribunals,” where the militiamen came together and thought what would be our destination. Each of the five times, they announced our death sentence. They wanted to take us to the Favela do Fumacê, nearby, burn our bodies and say that drug traffickers had killed us. They also discussed calling together the Batan residents so that we could be stoned in public as traitors. I have no doubt that if they ordered it, the residents, tyrannized by them, would stone us.
Then came the person who everyone called “Colonel.” They took our email passwords. They read all the reports that we had sent to the newspaper. I spoke of the photos I had taken, describing them in detail; the reporter contextualized the information we collected. Knowing everything, the Colonel decided that we would survive. But take more beatings. The militiamen still referred to another chief, whom they called “Commander”.
During the torture, we were side by side, the reporter, the driver, and I. We were in a dark room, lit only by cell phone screens that they used so that we could watch each being beaten. The driver asked that I remove the scorpions that had climbed on his back. I couldn’t help him. We heard the footsteps of many PMs. They took off our blindfolds and replaced them with plastic bags, like the ones from supermarkets. With them, they temporarily choked us. But you could see the uniforms when you looked under the plastic,
The reporter recognized the voice of a city alderman, a state representative’s son. And he acknowledged it. He resumed the ass kicking. This politician beat me a lot. He asked what I was doing in the West Zone. He wondered if I did not love my children. The attackers were wearing ski masks. There was a moment that I thought I had died. I felt like I was going up to heaven, but it wasn’t my turn. I had to get back to tell the story. God made me to come back.
More and more police cars were arriving. After taking a lot of beatings, we were subjected to electric shocks. It was an instrument that was shaped like a pizza with a pipe in the middle. They took off my clothes and gave me shocks in the lower region and the feet. I cannot, I should not, I do not want to go into the details of the brutalities and humiliations we suffered.
We were taken to the house of the parents of the driver, so that the militia could take the memory cards and camera. I had not left the camera in the community at any time. I used it secretly and kept it in a nearby area so as to not compromise our safety. We arrived in a convoy late in the night.
The driver’s parents left the house in fear. The militia asked me to teach them how to photograph. They took portraits of us. I taught them how to change the ASA on the camera (to increase or decrease the sensitivity to light). They photographed me like the police photographers shoot criminals, forcing us to lift our chin with their hands. They took our pictures as prizes. Therefore, I cannot return to Rio to this day.
We were released at 4:30 in the morning, on Avenida Brazil, after more than seven hours of torture and abuse. The father of the driver drove the car that brought us out of the favela. I wanted to go to an Army barracks. But first I wanted to talk with the directors of the newspaper.
When we were at Leopoldina Station, soon after our departure from Avenida Brazil, we got into a big discussion. The reporter revealed that the torturers had called her by a nickname that only the editors used. The certainty of the betrayal left us insecure. We went to my house. My wife said, “Didn’t I tell you this would happen?” I hugged my son, who had just woken up. It was nearly 6 A.M. We were barefoot, wounded, destroyed. We bathed in my house. My son went to school. Then the worst torture began: my family living in fear for the rest of our lives.
They reached the house of the managing editor and executive editor. They called the newspaper’s owner, Gigi Carvalho, daughter of the former owner of O Dia, Ary Carvalho. A year and a half later, she sold the newspaper to a Portuguese group. They spoke with Security Secretary José Mariano Beltrame.
That morning, after being released by our kidnappers, strangely, they did not take me for a forensic examination. I went to the Hospital Copa D’Or, where, even stranger, I was instructed to say that I had fallen off a horse. I could not say that I had been tortured. At home, I saw that there were some guys at the door, looking like policemen. We were being watched.
That began our escape. My children, my wife, and I first went to the mountains of Rio de Janeiro state. In the June 1st Sunday edition, two weeks after falling into the hands of the militia, the newspaper finally made the case public. ”Torture – West Zone militia kidnaps and beats reporter, photographer and driver from O Dia,” was the headline.
At that time, I was at a Marine barracks, away from everything. I got a call saying that there were Marines who were militiamen in Rio and that my life was at risk. I do not know how they found me there.
That was when my niece, a teenager, was the victim of an attempted kidnapping. They tried to get her in front of her school and only failed because a 70-year-old man managed to get her out of the hands of kidnappers. Only God knows where he got the strength to do that. My niece is traumatized to this day. They called her mother and said it was “quite a coincidence” that my escape and the attempted kidnapping of my niece happened at the same time. They said they would not leave me in peace. They said they would kill me.
Brazil was not safe for me. I decided to flee to Bolivia. I hid in a city of 20,000 inhabitants in the region of Santa Cruz. After the first few weeks, I missed my family, who were at a beach town in southern Brazil. I went to see them at a hotel facing the sea.
My wife and my children did not speak to me. To see their suffering was the greatest pain I felt. I wanted to kill myself, throw myself off the 20th floor of the hotel. It was consuming me. The only one who understood me and gave me love was Sávio, my dog. As if enough had not happened, Sávio died.
I abandoned my family. I disappeared for fifteen days. I went to pick up my things and to announce that I would let them live in peace, which would not be possible with me around.
I moved to a distant city where I live today. I suffer alone. My friends from Rio cannot talk to me; I will never see them again. With the possibility of being betrayed by a co-worker, I cannot speak to anyone in the newsroom from O Dia. The Justice Minister proposed giving me a new identity, but that never happened.
In Rio, an investigation occurred. It identified the leaders of the militia. Zero-One was the civil police officer Odine Fernando da Silva, also head of a paramilitary group called the Eagle. Zero-Two was Davi Liberato de Araújo, a convict who lived out of jail thanks to the involvement of prison guards within the militia. The two were sentenced to 31 years in prison but the sentence was recently reduced to twenty years. In Batan, a Police Pacification Unit was installed.
And nothing happened with the city alderman and state representative whose voices the reporter recognized while in captivity. They denied involvement in the militia and were never punished. Last July, the congressman appeared alongside the governor of Rio in a picture for the inauguration of the new UPP, not far from where we were tortured.
Some of the thugs are in jail, but it seems that I’m the villain. I imagine that each day that they are in prison they hate me more. I wonder how many militiamen lost money when the gang in Batan was dismantled, and how many want me dead for it.
Resuming my life is difficult. I undergo psychological and psychiatric treatment, and I take a dozen different pills. I hardly see my children, who are growing away from me. I now have a grandson who I barely know. I don’t know anything about the reporter and the driver—they’ve disappeared. I’ve forgotten about friends. I need photos to remember the faces of people I like. But I remember clearly those who tortured me.
Was it worth it? It was my chosen profession. But what hurts most is that we were given away by our colleagues in the newsroom. I thought I never had enemies.
I haven’t photographed anything since I fled. I started taking photos again not long ago. Before, I would send help to some children from favela da Rocinha. A family with nine children. At the parties for Nossa Senhora Aparecida, in the Pantanal, I also gave gifts to the children. Once a month, I participated in the soup kitchens for those who live on the streets.
Today I do not do any of this. I also lost Rio, the beach, the sun, soccer, and drinking beers with friends. Occasionally, someone tells me that everything is over. Over for whom? Not for me. The torture continues. It’s all the fault of those sons of bitches.