Nemesis: One Man and the Battle for Rio


Description: His name was Antonio, but they would call him Nem meaning ‘babe’ as he was the youngest in his family. From the infamous favela of Rocinha in Rio, surrounded by the comfortable middle-class neighbourhoods of Brazil’s party city, he was a hardworking young father forced to make a life-changing decision. If the only person who will lend you money in a crisis is a drug baron, then the only way you can repay him is by going to work for the gang.

Nemesis is the story of an ordinary man who became the ‘don’ of the largest slum in Rio. It is a story of fate and retribution, of the inevitable consequences of moral collapse and the blurred boundaries of the law. Brazil’s most wanted criminal, Antonio (or ‘Nem’) tried to bring welfare and a crude kind of justice to a favela of over 100,000 citizens; a world governed by violence and destitution, existing beyond the rule of an equally corrupt state. But his period of ascendancy coincided with the nation’s attempts to earn international respect first of all through hosting the football World Cup and then winning the right to stage the 2016 Olympics.

This is the story of how change came to Brazil. It begins with Misha Glenny meeting the eponymous Nem at a high security prison in 2012 , the account that follows is of a country’s journey into the global spotlight, and the battle for the beautiful but damned city of Rio as it struggles to break free from a tangled web of corruption, violence, drugs and poverty.

1/5: It’s 2012 and Misha Glenny travels to Brazil’s top security jail to meet Antonio, known as Nem, who became one of the most feared yet respected crime lords in Rio.

2/5:Antonio and Vanessa are delighted with the arrival of their baby daughter, Eduarda. But when Duda is diagnosed with a rare illness the cost of the hospital bills is beyond their means.

3/5: Violence escalates between warring factions in the favela of Rocinha. The responsibility is too much for Nem to bear.

4/5: When Nem eventually takes over in Rocinha, a prosperous and safe environment begins to flourish.

5/5: The authorities cannot risk further internecine violence in the city which is due to come under global scrutiny. The policy of ‘pacification’ is escalated to include Rocinha.

From wiki: Glenny is the son of the late Russian studies academic Michael Glenny. He was educated at an independent school, Magdalen College School, in Oxford, and studied at Bristol University and Prague’s Charles University before becoming Central Europe correspondent for The Guardian and later the BBC. He specialised in reporting on the Yugoslav wars in the early 1990s that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia. While at the BBC, Glenny won 1993’s Sony Gold Award for his ‘outstanding contribution to broadcasting’. He has also written three books about Central and Eastern Europe. In McMafia (2008), he wrote that international organised crime could account for 15 per cent of the world’s GDP.

Antônio Francisco Bonfim Lopes aka Nem: drug lord, gangster and murderer.

I was slightly wary of listening to this as Brazilliant mentions that this account glorifies drug lords. Glenny set out to find the truth by interviewing Nem ten times, and spent vast amounts of time talking to both defence and prosecuting lawyers, police, and people from the favelas. Poverty and addiction in a lawless region will always equal murder and mayhem.

For the most, I feel Glenny succeeded in informing the reader as to the state of affairs and think the title is clever, turning Nem into Nemesis, however as Laura points out, there were apologist episodes, sympathetic interludes that left a rank taste in the mouth. Glenny’s book has convinced that Rio is not a place I would wish to visit anytime soon.


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