12 November 2012

The Great Escape

Back in September I wrote about what my husband and I call the "obligatory mention," the way aspects of Brazil — its culture, its music, its geography — are often mentioned kind of out-of-the-blue in movies, books and magazines from other countries. In that blogpost I warned that I would soon write about the most frequent obligatory mention of all, The Escape to Brazil after Committing a Crime. But this theme is not just a quick mention, sometimes it's the entire plot point. And this criminal escape idea isn't an arcane one, it's alive and well, even here in Búzios. Many people, for instance, have often wondered out loud what Mark and I are doing here, anyway. The initial, and most prevalent, idea was that we were CIA agents. Then people thought, no, there's nothing in this beach resort any government would want to know. They're probably hiding out from some nefarious deed. Could that explain the deference with which some people treat us?  

Brazil does enjoy — if "enjoy" is the right word — a dubious reputation for being the escape hatch for fugitives from justice, particularly Nazi fugitives. Back in March of this year, secret National Archive files were opened, and they revealed that 9,000 Nazi war criminals fled to South America after WWII, 1,500 to 2,000 ending up in Brazil, most of them "under a false name and with a dark past." Straight out of the movies, huh? I mean movies at the end of which the few surviving characters pile onto an airplane and fly off to Rio, like Nuns on the Run, Five Fingers, A Fish Called Wanda, The Lavender Hill Mob, That Man From Rio, Notorious and The Thomas Crown Affair (famous for Steve McQueen's Brazil rant, "samba, Sugarloaf, jungle, piranha").

Biggs holding his safety net
Many people blame this whole image on Hollywood, but Hollywood has certainly fed off real life and vice versa. Brazil was the destination of choice for Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, who sought and enjoyed refuge here for 36 years, "protected" by the Brazilian child he fathered (back when it was common knowledge among fugitives that Brazil would not deport anyone who had fathered a Brazilian child). More recently, Brazil finds itself harboring Cesare Battisti, convicted in absentia by an Italian court for four murders, after then-President Lula vetoed a Supreme Court order to extradite him. But here's a heads-up to fugitives: things are changing. Jesse James Hollywood, an American drug-dealer who fled to Brazil in 2000, was arrested and deported in 2005, with no concession made for his having a Brazilian child. And Kenneth Andrew Craig, an American child molester who had fled to Brazil in 1998, was found in Rio, arrested and deported in 2011.

Battisti , unable to wipe the smile off

In a wonderfully ironic twist, Florida has become the destination of choice for Brazilians fleeing Brazilian justice. Mind you, it's mostly white-collar crimes, corruption, extortion, that sort of thing. There are scores of them. Everyone seems to know someone — or know someone who knows someone — who's fled to sunny Miami. The most recent and notorious example is Ricardo Teixeira, former president of the Brazilian Football Confederation. Teixeira was so mired in allegations of tax fraud, money laundering, bribery and embezzlement that he finally resigned his post last March (citing medical reasons), disappeared from Brazilian headlines for a while, only to reappear in Florida, where he happily counts his money in his $2 million Boca Raton mansion.

Teixeira's new digs

Note to readers: For those who can't get enough, you can read an interview with me on the website called ExpatBlogs that was published last week:

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