By Bob Chiarito (Brazil, July 1, 2021)
The police shootout that claimed the life of the Brazil’s most-wanted murder suspect last week brought relief to many, but they say there is work to be done to counter the image, exacerbated by the 20-day manhunt that the country is crime-riddled and violent.
Lazaro Barbosa, 32, became the target of a manhunt by hundreds of police officers after allegedly hacking a couple and their two sons to death on June 9. The search for Barbosa gripped Brazil, with some residents near Brasilia saying they were afraid to leave their homes.
Barbosa, a known criminal who had been found guilty of rape and robbery in the past, escaped from a jail in Aguas Lindas, west of Brasilia, in 2018, along with three other inmates and was the only one not to be recaptured. It was his second escape, having escaped also in 2016.
Hours away, in the remote Amazon jungle south of Manaus in the state of Amazonas, even those with limited electricity followed the manhunt both online and on television.
For 31-year-old jungle guide Gilmar Tavares, the search was fascinating, but bad for Brazil.
“I follow it on television. The police spent a lot of resources to find him. It’s very bad for Brazil,” Tavares said.
Indeed, news site G1 reported that more than 270 officers as well as a helicopter and sniffer dogs were deployed to catch Barbosa.
Tavares, who had just caught a one-year-old cayman with his bare hands and a boa constrictor that was high up in a tree to show to his tour clients, joked during the manhunt that the government might want to consult him about trapping Barbosa.
“I think he’s using Black Magic to allude, but I think I can catch him,” Tavares said.
But then, Tavares added that despite his ability to catch and tame animals in the jungle, he would have been scared to cross paths with Barbosa.
“If I saw him I’d be really afraid because he had a pistol,” Tavares said.
Tales of Black Magic and harrowing encounters seemed to grow each day Barbosa remained at-large, with many claiming in local media that they were robbed, shot at or almost kidnapped by the “Serial Killer of Brasilia.”
Police confirmed that Barbosa did shoot residents of one farm, took hostages in another, and stole cars and weapons over the three-week period that he was on the run, according to Folha De S. Paulo newspaper.
Barbosa was shot after opening fire on police who were closing in on him. Local media showed a video of military officers dragging Barbosa, riddled with bullets, from the back of a vehicle and into an ambulance and could be seen cheering as the ambulance sped away.
According to the police report, police fired approximately 125 rounds at Barbosa with pistols and a rifle. Hospital officials where he was taken said he was shot at least 38 times, adding that he was dead on arrival.
The case was so big that once it was confirmed that Barbosa was dead, Brasilia President Jair Bolsonaro took to social media, writing “Lazaro: CPF CANCELLED!” Using the expression that a popular TV personality coined to commemorate the death of criminals.
Tavares summed up the feeling of many once the search ended in Barbosa’s death.
“Now people can sleep.”
But Luiz Lima Jr., a 36-year-old tour guide in Manaus, said the frenzy caused by Barbosa has caused Brazil to suffer another hit to its reputation, something businesses like his battle because they rely on tourism money. He said the pandemic was already bad for business in Brazil (As of June 16, the U.S. State Department lists Brazil as a Level 4-Do Not Travel country because of Covid-19) and the belief the country is dangerous will not help, adding that he feels the work of restoring the country’s reputation is a job for all citizens of Brazil.
“Brazil is not just the stereotype of beautiful women, crime and parties. We have much more to offer, our cultural diversity, good people who are always ready to help travelers, our immigration history by being a country generally super well receptive. Of course we have dangers in big cities as well as any big city, but people should just use common sense and do tours with reliable agencies and always listen to what people in the region have to say and don’t ignore the warnings and tips,” Lima said.
Bob Chiarito is a Chicago-based reporter who writes for The New York Times, Agence France-Presse and others and was in the Amazon jungle during the manhunt for Barbosa.