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Brazil

A Life for 3 Minutes on TV

Guilherme Lopes Neves, OhmyNews International (Independent), Seoul, South Korea, August 14, 2006

Journalists stand by the main entrance of Globo Network headquarters, Brazil's most popular TV channel, in São Paulo, Brazil. (Photo: Mauricio Lima / AFP-Getty Images)

A criminal group known as P.C.C. (First Command of the Capital, in English), based in São Paulo, Brazil, kidnapped a reporter and a technician from Brazil's biggest television corporation, TV Globo, on Saturday, demanding that it air a three-minute video containing a message to security authorities.

In the video, the group denounced inhuman conditions in Brazil's prisons and demanded improvements, including an end to the isolation imposed on those prisoners the authorities consider to be the most dangerous.

Two days after the kidnapping, both hostages were released in good condition, but the debate sparked by the incident continues among the public.

A man in a black mask read the group's demands into a camera in front of a wall with a banner that displayed the words "Because of the injustice in prisons."

The strategy used by the P.C.C. is similar to those used by terrorists. What is unique, however, is that the message was read in Portuguese and the hostage was a Brazilian reporter from the largest TV company in the country, Rede Globo.

The events that led to this unusual broadcast in the early hours of Sunday morning began almost a day before. Early last Saturday, journalist Guilherme Portanova, 30, and his colleague Alexandre Calado, 27, were assaulted by two men — out of a group of four or five, according to the police — while they stopped at a bakery for a coffee before work. They were put into a car with their faces covered. After a while, they changed vehicles.

Almost 15 hours later, Calado and Portanova were separated when Calado was released at 11 p.m. with a DVD containing the images to be shown by TV Globo that same night upon threat of Portanova's death.

"They set me free to bring the DVD with their message saying that the life of Portanova depended on those images," said Calado to the TV Globo program "Fantastico."

At 12:28 a.m., the three-minute video was broadcast showing a man who identified himself as a member of the gang that operates from the prisons. He demanded the suspension of the severe regimen applied to 144 detainees at the prison of Presidente Bernardes in São Paulo — already in function for 4 years and 4 months with no escape attempts registered.

Over there, the prisoners have restricted leisure time, only one hour of sunlight, no access to TV, radio, magazines, or newspapers, and controlled visits. This regimen is applied to prisoners considered dangerous to society and to the detention system, including chiefs of organized crime and leaders among the prisoners.

More than 24 hours before the video was broadcast, Portanova was released a few blocks away from the TV station where he works.

The case had a happy outcome; none of the hostages was injured in captivity. But the debate about Brazil's public safety has taken on a new level.

On May 12, the P.C.C. began a series of attacks on police departments and other public offices that resulted in the deaths of several policemen and other civilians in São Paulo. Since then, Brazil has witnessed new tactics often typical of terrorist groups. Burned buses, bombs, and shotgun blasts on public buildings and security agents are some of the results.

What Brazil is witnessing is the emergence of a parallel power. TV Globo, which complied with the kidnappers' demands, justified it as a defense of the life of its reporter, but clearly faced a familiar law-enforcement dilemma: whether to negotiate with criminals. Just where to draw the line is the subject of an ongoing debate in Brazil.

From OhmyNews International.

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