Given all these outgoings, Nem recognises the importance of restoring the business to the flourishing enterprise it became under Lulu. How to do so is a colossal challenge. The police later tell me that he quickly developed an excellent reputation among medium and large wholesalers for being a good payer, and accessible. One of these, a Bolivian, told them, ‘Rochina is like a party – you go with coke and they’ll buy it on the spot with cash. You get there, you have women, funk parties and the business is sorted out then and there, cash with no awkwardness.’ The dealer then contrasted this with selling in Sao Paulo to the PCC. ‘It was terribly tedious.’ he remembered. ‘You pitched up with stuff to sell and they would then make you wait in a hotel for ten days before they’d see you. At your expense, of course!’
From A Whole Life to a real life on another side of the world. Nemesis tells how ‘Nem’ asks the ruler of his favela for money to save his daughters life and offers to work to repay it, leading him to eventually take over the favela himself, the drugs, the deals with the police, the usurpers and rival gangs, until he is the most famous and feared criminal in Brazil.
Reading Misha Glenny’s fascinating and enthralling account, you would be forgiven for thinking that his imagination was greater than that of Neil Gaiman or George R. R. Martin. The absolute fearlessness and impunity of the criminals, the incompetence of the police matched by their voracious appetite for corruption and behind it all the mastermind, painting himself as a good guy in a bad world.
At the beginning of the book, Glenny asks if Antonio Francisco Bonfim Lopes was the spider or the fly in Rio’s dirty web, by the end of the book you are no clearer, although there’s a wry smile on your face. Nem learnt from his predecessor Lulu that a peaceful environment was good for business, and so tried to keep the peace in Rochina as much as possible, including keeping his young security detail from being trigger happy and keeping the police out. His move from every man to drug kingpin comes from his calm intelligence which is reflected in his handling of most situations throughout his life. While the initial portrait of a normal man driven to extremes by circumstance is valid at the beginning of the book, Nem comes to fully embrace his life before looking for an escape towards the end of his time in Rochina.
The structure of the large gangs controlling the favela’s, the influx and influence of drugs is reported in detail by Glenny, giving colourful and relevant background to life in the favela’s and even outside, as two officers spent years collecting and collating data on one of the most secretive bosses in Rio’s underworld, who had different phones to talk to different people and who bought the loyalty of the favela by providing basic goods and services in the absence of any state apparatus. The rules and behaviour of the favela’s were both horrifying, such as microwaving, and incredulous in turns, if the boss picks a girl, once he got bored and put her down no one else was allowed to touch her. However when Nem is confronted by his wife and his girlfriend, he threatens, sulks and runs off, this even when he was at the peak of his powers.
As the favela changes gangs, as people try to leave but find they can’t, as the few honest and capable members of the police close in, Nem starts looking for a way out that would guarantee the safety of his family (including all women and children) and it’s largely thanks to the incompetence of the civil and military police that he somehow manages to achieve this.
Given the interest generated by the myriad of documentaries about El Chapo, the success of shows like Narco’s I would be surprised if more people don’t ending reading this, it’s a brilliant book that gives a detailed insight into a life that I can barely imagine, and yet is everyday for the city of Rio. A massive thank you to Misha Glenny for researching, interviewing and writing this, an important and fascinating read into the marvellous city’s underbelly.
Later that evening, once word of his arrest spread, Simone went to his mother’s apartment, where the clan was gathering. Everyone was crying and lamenting the news of Nem’s detention. ‘Except, of all people, Dona Irene, who was sitting there perfectly calm sipping a beer,’ Simone recalls. ‘I imagined she, as his mother, would have been among the most upset of all.’ Amidst the hubbub, Simone heard her say quietly, ‘Well, it was a little quicker than I thought.’
‘Sometimes,’ I tell Antonio on my last visit to the jail, ‘I can’t help thinking that you planned the arrest yourself.’ I leave the sentence hanging. He doesn’t say anything, but he looks at me and gives me a cheeky smile.