ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 04

Export Zone

Author | Autor: Julio Ludemir

Translated by Alex Forman

Chapter 1
Is it a crime? 

As head of one of Recife’s civil police units, responsible for investigating crimes committed within her district, Delegada Beatriz Gibson had just closed a case that at first glance read like an apocryphal tale — Transsexual Raíssa Abravanel Commands Unlikely Death Squad. Under the protection of members of the military police, Raíssa controlled Recife’s better hotspots for homosexual prostitution. Anyone who did not pay her stipulated tax was excommunicated. Or, killed.
Despite her familiarity with seemingly implausible cases, Delegada Beatriz Gibson didn’t see any harm in the question posed by a couple who often frequented the Neighborhood Policing Project. She’d helped institute NPP meetings in the suburban neighborhood of Ipsep where she was later to head up the precinct, thereby taking on the dual role. Ipsep is a calm neighborhood when viewed in context of the statewide statistics on violence in Pernambuco.

— Is selling kidneys a crime, Delegada? — asked the couple after a meeting between the directors of the NPP and the residents of Ipsep and surrounding areas. 

Until then, the interim Police Chief had neatly categorized human organ trafficking as urban legend, in the same class as Papa-figo, Perna Cabeluda, and Mão Branca1.  In Olinda, where she was raised, ghost stories like these haunted children. Mothers created the scare tactic to keep their children close. They told innumerable stories of kidnappings and eviscerations. Beatriz’s mother was no exception.

—Yes, it is a crime, she said. —Why?
—No reason. —the couple changed the subject and soon after left the room. If there were any basis for this sort of crime, wouldn’t the Chief of Police know of at least one case that had been solved through the system? But, until that night in March 2003, she was only aware of unfounded reports, not a single one ever proven. Delegada Beatriz Gibson had all but forgotten about the matter when the same couple broached it again. 
—Is selling a kidney a crime, Delegada? — again the couple.

The first time they asked the question, she responded with certain indifference. She was, after all, a lawyer who graduated in 1988 with a degree from the Law Faculty in Recife. But their insistence intrigued her.
—What do you know about organ trafficking? — she asked.
They shut the door to the room.
—We are going to tell you a secret, Ma’am — they said. —But on one condition.
—What condition?
—That you don’t ask anyone, anywhere to confirm our claim.
Trust in the community, especially between authorities and residents, was one of the Neighborhood Policing Project’s hard earned trump cards. Delegada Beatriz Gibson wasn’t about to put such a delicate matter at risk. 

—If we learn that you have repeated this story to anyone, be it military police, civil police, we’ll deny it — they added, reinforcing the threat.
The informants then began to tell an incredible tale.
According to them, some kind of kidney chain had sprouted in the neighborhood contiguous to Ipsep: Jardim São Paulo. Someone who had already sold a kidney had to personally recommend anyone who would subsequently join the list. Once on this list, it was impossible to get off it. Only by submitting to transplant surgery in Durban, or by death.

—Are you certain about what you are telling me? — asked the Police Chief, perplexed.
Beatriz Gibson was reminded of Glacy, a transsexual who had become the laughing stock of the precincts when she reported death threats by Raíssa Abravanel. That is, until Delegada Beatriz decided to protect her. Glacy didn’t die that day because something told Delegada Beatriz that her story was true and she intervened. When they raided Raíssa’s home, they found a calendar that had Glacy’s assassination marked on it.

—Don’t you know someone who’s done the operation? — the Police Chief asked, already thinking about how to obtain solid proof to incriminate the squad.

The couple’s fear was visible. But they revealed two names: Gerson Luiz Ribeiro de Oliveira, otherwise known as Telinho, and Marcondes Lacerda de Araújo or, Marconi. They were the first from the neighborhood to travel to Durban, South Africa, according to her informants. And furthermore, following the couple’s account, the two became recruiters upon their return to Brazil. 

You can go to Barro, Miss, on Rua Padre Diogo Rodrigues — said the informants. — There you’ll find the liquor store Marconi purchased with transplant money. 

The following Saturday, to see it for herself, the Chief of Police took a drive in search of the poor man who went abroad and returned overnight with money to open his own business. She wouldn’t be able to confirm the source of his income, but she imagined that a scar from an operation of that scale had to be unmistakable. In the torrid heat of the Recife suburbs, the uncivilized habit of going shirtless had always annoyed her; but, under the circumstances, it might be the determining factor for whether the investigation would continue.

—I saw the scar — said the Police Chief when she saw the informants again. — It begins below the lower rib on his left side and runs across the center of his back. Then she asked, —Why are you reporting this now?
—I’m really scared, Delegada. Confessed the husband.
The reason for his fear was simple: tempted by all the money that was changing lives in the neighborhood, he had placed his name on the donors list. But as the departure date neared, he began to fear reprisals to his family if the operation wasn’t a success. According to the couple, retaliations were becoming more and more common.

—They are killing them, Detective.
There were two types of victim: the potential donors who travelled to South Africa and, once there, decide not to undergo the transplant, and relatives of donors complaining about post-operative problems. When these relatives sought the agents for help with hemorrhage cases resulting from these precariously performed surgeries, they were only harassed. The agents would tell them to turn themselves right around, or take a bullet.

—I want out — admitted the informant. —But I’m afraid they’ll kill me because I know too much about the scheme.  From the start, the Police Chief knew she was dealing with a federal crime. She would be taken off the case, even though it occurred in her precinct’s jurisdiction. The international reach of the squad barred her from acting. For everything indicated that where the surgeries occurred, in Durban, was the site of the crime. 

As she’d gleaned from the Police Academy, where she’d studied after receiving her BA in Law, the methods were textbook Mafioso. Believing it to be her civic duty to pursue the investigation, even if informally, she concluded that a solid report would make opening an inquiry inevitable.

She appealed to another Neighborhood Policing Project regular: a cop she knew who worked security at Barro on his day off. The Police Chief never revealed his name, not even to the Feds. He had made many friends in the neighborhood. One of them was the dark and short mechanic-motorist Rubens Farias dos Santos Filho, or Rubinho, Telinho’s ex brother-in-law. Rubinho was the most important conquest of the entire investigation. Neither local nor federal police would have gotten anywhere if not for the information he’d initially passed over a bar table, which was later corroborated.
The Police Chief’s intuition was spot on. In a few days, she had the name of the lab that provided tests to potentials, and those whose results checked out okay were guaranteed admission to the Donor’s Club: it was the Gilson Cidrim Clinic, in Derby. Rubinho also had the monies amounts and wherewithal exchanged in this international butchery: a commercial operation yielding US $150K to traffickers when the kidney donor traveled to South Africa for transplant surgery; the kidneys were earmarked primarily for the Israelis. According to Rubinho, the donors received US $15 K for an organ.

The informants’ descriptions of the kidney trafficking made the Police Chief think of Raíssa Abravanel’s death squad. In addition to both being similarly highly improbable cases, their modus operandi had many common points. Raíssa’s recently disbanded gang had international connections that brought homosexuals to European whorehouses. And the band functioned under the protection of a so-called “rotten bunch” of police.

—The squad commander is the wife of one Captain Ivan — said the informants. — The woman is the sister of a Federal Officer.

Delegada Beatriz Gibson considered that the majority of crimes end in a pizza party of impunity, because of just this kind of patronage. No wonder so few killers, responsible for the more than 20,000 murders during the eight-year term of Governor Jarbas Vasconcelos, were ever brought to justice. Extermination squads took cover in the Military Police.

They imposed their law on all quarters of greater Recife without challenge from those actually responsible for State public security.

In addition to her acute sensibility as a cop, inherited from her father, also a chief of police, Delegada Beatriz Gibson carried the burden of having a child with only one kidney. Credit for disbanding the band is ultimately due to him. The crime affected her family directly, as much as it did society.  Sooner or later, her son would need a kidney. And she couldn’t cough up $150K to buy one on the black market. She harbored doubts until Easter week. Then she took the trip to her mother’s house in Gravatá, a city in rural Pernambuco that had been had been a winter retreat for the upper middle class since the 70s.

There she met with her cousin, the psychologist Anália Belisa Ribeiro who was the Brazilian coordinator for the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking. This program is linked to the National Secretariat of Justice, which was directed by Rio de Janeiro’s renown criminologist, Elizabeth Sussekind, for much of Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s Presidential term. It was Elizabeth Sussekind who took the project to Brasilia.

Tapped phone lines can undermine investigations involving cops, since the police have access there is a greater risk of information leaking to the target of the investigation, but this wasn’t Beatriz’s primary concern in avoiding calling her cousin. In truth, everything seemed strange. The Police Chief felt like she was a protagonist in a horror flic. Not because of the macabre drama. Scary stories only become real in the unusual alignment of circumstances. What a coincidence that the first organ trafficking squad was operating in her cousin’s jurisdiction when her cousin was of one of the few specialist criminologists in the country! 

—We need to talk — said the Police Chief to her cousin when they met at the family’s country house.

The psychologist Anália Belisa Ribeiro was catalyzed by the discovery of the kidney connection. At once, she perceived this case could remove organ trafficking from the uncomfortable realm of urban legend, in which it seemed entrenched. It would also contribute to general understanding of human trafficking, a broad category of crime that included slave labor, sexual exploitation, and organ trafficking. The large Mafioso organizations of the world were all migrating to this type of crime. 

—We need a strategy —the Delegada considered.
They reviewed the obstacles that might compromise an investigation together. Perhaps the most important of these was the fact that the squad counted on the protection of a captain and a federal officer. And this brought to mind the old rivalry between former Pernambuco Police Commissioner Fernando Gibson, Beatriz Gibson’s father, and the current Chief of Police, Officer Aníbal Moura. This quarrel had already brought Beatriz some setbacks in her career. She remained Delegada in title only, and had not been permanently granted the position of Chief of Police. 

—We’ll report it to the Public Prosecutor — suggested Anália.
The psychologist knew what she was taking about. She had learned to take advantage of the moral patrimony of the Republic’s prosecutors in 1977 when, under the protection of the Attorney General’s Office, she implemented and oversaw the Witness Protection Program at the Ministry of Justice, a real armata brancaleone.

Under this protection, she and three others were able to monitor police action and bolster the judiciary, even in complicated, notorious cases such as Colonel Hildebrando and his chainsaws, in Acre.
—We’re dealing with the Prosecution, a decisive institution, for which an action like this needs a beginning, middle, and an end —she added. —With the Attorney General’s Office involved, no other institution will be able to stop the investigation.

The first step was to take the report to Brasilia for review by the same team that had honorably encountered Colonel Hildebrand’s chainsaws. Attorney Ricardo Lins was a member of the armata brancaleone. Subsequently, Ricardo Lins would take command of a similar program in the Pernambuco State Government. In Recife, Jarbas Vasconcelos was the only governor in the country to add the fight against human trafficking to his public security policy.

Another measure that the psychologist considered important was to take Rubinhos’ testimony, though his name would remain secreted. It was the first testimony Rubinho gave in an official capacity. Rubinho is a contradictory figure, and according to several sources worked for the neighborhood kidney recruitment network. But he became the key witness in dismantling the Recife-Israel-Durban trafficking connection. 

Rubinho felt intimidated when he gave his testimony. His performance in no way resembled the day he called the Police Chief to the bar where the criminals were finalizing details on sending a new levy of kidney donors to Durban. Even so, his testimony was enough for psychologist Anália Belisa Ribeiro to send out letter no. 065-TSH/PE to the Federal Prosecutors on June 9, 2003. This letter, written in her own hand, contained all the information her Chief of Police cousin had uncovered. 

Theoretically, Beatriz Gibson should have walked away from the case then. But as chance would have it, typical of provincial towns like Recife, she was kept at the center of events for a little while longer. The then public prosecutor for the Attorney General’s Office in Pernambuco was none other than her childhood friend and college classmate, Dr. Antonio Carlos Barreto Campello. The Prosecutor accepted the report when he learned who was behind it. A word from a friend of Carnavals-past was all Attorney General Antonio Carlos Barreto Campello needed to believe in this urban legend. He referred the case to Attorney Samuel Miranda Arruda on June 12, and promptly went on vacation. On July 12, Samuel Miranda Arruda sent a letter to the coordinator of the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking informing her that the report brought to his office had given rise to a police investigation by the Federal Police Department’s Regional Superintendence.

Analia's strategy had worked.

[1] Translator’s note: Papa-figo, a legend from Bahia, tells the story of a leper who fed on the livers of lying children; Perna Cabeluda, an unsolved murder in which a hairy, dismembered leg appeared floating in the river of Recife in the 70s; Mão Brancam, a vigilante member of death squads in the Baixada Fluminense of Rio de Janeiro in the 80s, who left a white glove on his cadavers.

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