Crime waves

A cowardly killing shocks the waveriding world as violent crime rages in Brazil.
Above: Much-loved Brazilian surfer Ricardo dos Santos was gunned down in his hometown on January 19. Photo: Ben Thouard/Surfer

Last week Brazilian big-wave charger and former World Championship Tour surfer Ricardo dos Santos was laid to rest with some 1,000 mourners in attendance. He was 24 years old. Days earlier Ricardo has been shot twice, reportedly in the back, after asking the occupants of a car if they could move on because they were blocking access to a pipe he was working on outside his Guarda de Embau home, in the country’s south. The accused killer, Luiz Paulo Mota Brentano, was an off-duty military police officer, who’d reportedly been on an all-night drinking binge when he shot dos Santos on the morning of Monday, January 19. The officer had been indicted on two charges before, relating to abuse of power and causing physical injury, but hadn’t been convicted in either case.

The Guardian reported that for many Brazilians, the killing reinforced the brutality of the military police, which had carried over from Brazil’s dicatorship era. “Brazilian police have killed more than 11,000 people over the past five years, averaging about six killings a day – six times more than police in the US, according to the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, which last year accused police of making ‘abusive use of lethal force’,” the January 22 report said. But more than that, Ricardo’s death was a reminder of the violent crime – e.g. homicides, muggings and vehicle robbings – that are seemingly increasing around a country, which, despite a recent economic boom, is still underdeveloped. Last year Brazil claimed 16 spots on a list of the world’s top 50 most murderous cities (excluding war zones) in Mexican agency Citizens’ Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice’s annual ranking. Mexico was in second place with nine.

In the wake of the tragic passing of dos Santos, we spoke to Brazilian bodyboarders Eder Luciano and Isabela Sousa about violence in their country, whether they’d experienced it firsthand, how safe they felt and what could potentially be done to curb the violence. Both knew someone who was murdered. Gold Coast dropkneer Matt Lackey, who recently returned home from holidays in the country with his Brazilian wife, also let us know his thoughts on the issue.

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Above: Isabela Sousa, Canary Islands, 2014. Photo: Carlos Padilla

Isabela Sousa

From the north of Brazil to the south it’s violent. I live in the northeast and the situation with Ricardinho happened in the south, more than four hours on a plane from where I live. But at my home it’s no different. Ricardinho was killed by a police officer who was on vacation and used his “police authority” to resolve a traffic fight against Ricardo. This is surreal, even for us Brazilians. It seems to not be true, but the fact is that people die like this every day in Brazil. About one year ago a kid close to me died, a bodyboarder. He was a good boy and became a gunshot victim. He was 18 years old. It’s crazy! I do not know what can be done in the short term. Brazil’s a very corrupt country and it’s hard to imagine big changes with rulers who only think about what will benefit them. But I think if Brazil had a greater investment in education and distribution of money, with time, it would be a fairer country.

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Above: Eder Luciano, Chile, 2014. Photo: Pablo Jiminez/APB Tour

Eder Luciano

Brazil’s a country with one of the highest indexes of crime and, referring to the violence with arms and homicide, it’s the highest in the world. This used to happen a lot in big cities, but nowadays it’s happening in little cities and the crime is getting bigger and bigger. It’s completely out of control and spreading all over the country – whether in big cities like Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo, or in little cities. Poor or rich. There’s a statistic that there isn’t one single Brazilian that doesn’t know, in their history, of a parent or a friend or someone that was murdered. It’s like so normal here. Thank God I’ve never seen anything like that in real life. The place where I live is still a calm place, but I can’t count with my fingers the friends that I’ve lost in that way.

What happened with Ricardinho was just one of the thousand cases that happen daily in our country. Some, like this one, just have repercussions when it happens to a rich family a someone famous. Ricardinho was a really nice guy. Everyone who knew him knows that, and he was famous around the world for surfing big waves. I wasn’t friends with him, but since we lived in the same state I was following his surfing career and I’d surfed with him in Hawaii. He was loved by everyone and unfortunately left us when he was 24… just 24 – with his whole career in front of him. I’m sure he would’ve brought a lot more happiness to all the Brazilian surfers and our country.

The repercussions of his death have been really big here in Brazil and I believe all over the world. I believe that this case is going to keep going – that justice is going to be done and that these kinds of things can be an example, because the ones who were supposed to protect us are the ones who, nowadays, we need to be afraid of as well.

This is just one case in so many that happen daily and it also affects people who want to visit this country. But aside from this criminality, I really believe we’re a nice population and that we always open our doors to those who want to come and visit. We have a beautiful country, beautiful beaches and amazing waves. So, for those who love the bodyboard and the waves like I do, don’t give up in coming to Brazil to visit and surf. You just have to be careful with what’s happening around you and stay in safe areas. It’s always a pleasure receiving people from other countries into Brazil. In the same way that I like to be well-received when I travel all over the world, I’ll do the same for those who come here.

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Above: Matt Lackey in Brazil circa six weeks ago. Photo: Barbara Becker

Matt Lackey

Brazil’s one of the only countries I could actually be happy living in other than Australia – beautiful beaches, fun waves and if you’re single the women will not disappoint! Rio for me is the ideal traveller’s/bodyboarder’s destination. It’s got fun wedgy beachbreaks with parties every night. The only thing that brings down Brazil is its violence, but to be honest I’ve never experience it in all the times I’ve been there. I’ve seen a few heavy things, but it’s very rare. It’s the kinda place that when things escalate, shit really hits the fan quick! But if you don’t act like an idiot and do use common sense you should have an amazing time in one of the best countries on Earth.