O portal virtual do jornal The New York Times publicou nesta quinta feira (31 de outubro), uma extensa reportagem sobre a violência e insegurança pública que tem assolado o Estado do Maranhão nos últimos meses.
Utilizando como ponto de partida o caso do árbitro de futebol decapitado após uma apitar uma falta em um jogo de futebol em Centro do Meio (interior do Estado), a reportagem dos jornalistas Jére Longman e Taylor Barnes expõe o caos instalado no sistema de segurança pública. Foram ouvidos na reportagem, além da população local, integrantes do aparato estatal.
A reportagem destaca ainda o controle do Estado pela família Sarney, e como isso deixou grande parte da população do Estado "dependente, subserviente e abandonada".
A seguir, a reportagem completa:
A Yellow Card, Then Unfathomable Violence, in Brazil
By JERÉ LONGMAN and TAYLOR BARNES
Published: October 31, 2013
PIO XII, Brazil — It was midafternoon that Sunday when Otávio Jordão da Silva Cantanhede left on his bike to play pickup soccer. His father said he did not see him tuck a knife into his shorts or slide a blade into his backpack.
The New York Times
At 19, short and thin, Cantanhede rode through the remote town in northeastern Brazil with his younger brother George. They headed for the neighborhood of Centro do Meio, a few miles away down a red dirt road.
The lumpy soccer field had wooden goal posts with no nets. Grass had worn bare in spots, exposing the sandy soil. Informal matches were played there. One team usually wore shirts, while the other played bare chested. No bleachers or scoreboard obstructed the verdant backdrop of palm trees and banana trees and mango trees that gave wide shade to stray dogs.
During the first half, Cantanhede played on defense. Then he twisted his ankle or his knee and became the referee. It was June 30. That same day, 1,300 miles to the south in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s national team defeated Spain to win the Confederations Cup, a tuneup for the 2014 World Cup. Not until a week later would the world learn what brutality had occurred in Centro do Meio.
Fifteen or 20 minutes into the second half, Cantanhede ejected a player named Josemir Santos Abreu, 30, a friend and sometimes teammate who in an instant became an enemy. A yellow-card warning escalated into a red-card send-off, an argument, a lethal fight.
Cantanhede twice stabbed Abreu, who died by the time he reached the nearby hospital. In retaliation, the police said, Cantanhede was set upon by at least four of Abreu’s friends, whose bleakest impulses were fueled by alcohol, drugs and a crowd that stoked the violence the way wind stokes a fire. Cantanhede was tied up, smashed in the face with a bottle of cheap sugarcane liquor, pummeled with a wooden stake, run over by a motorcycle and stabbed in the throat, the police said. The moment of death remained uncertain. What came before did not stop another of the accused from a gruesome completion.
Graphic images taken by hospital workers showed that Cantanhede’s lower legs were cut off and left beside him like prostheses. His right arm and left wrist remained attached by strips of skin. He was decapitated and his head was placed on a wooden fence post across the road from the field.
“In the first moment, I didn’t believe it happened,” said Valter Costa dos Santos, the regional police chief and lead investigator in the case. “I didn’t think human beings had such perverseness to do this.”
For a week the story incubated in isolation. Then the news media picked it up, and it spread like a contagion. Two men lay in separate cemeteries beneath mounds of dirt and melted candles. A neighborhood invisible even in Brazil became visible to the world for the darkest inclinations.
People rushed to give meaning to the incomprehensible, to assign logic to the irrational. The killings were widely reported as an extreme example of soccer violence in Brazil, a grisly contradiction to jogo bonito, the beautiful game, as the country prepared to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
The truth seemed far more complicated. It involved two murder victims — a distressed teenager and an older friend with a temper — and interior Brazil’s wider culture of knives and revenge. It touched on hopelessness and rage born of poverty and inequality, and mistrust that seethed from inadequate policing and uneven access to justice. When formal justice seemed weak and unresponsive to one killing, another score was settled as scores have long been settled in this region of Brazil — with private justice, bloodshed trumped by bloodshed.
Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
Residents of Centro do Meio felt ashamed. The world did not know a humble community, only what had been described as a mob. Even some in nearby neighborhoods thought Centro do Meio was cursed.
When Livanete Santos, 13, told her schoolmates in Pio XII where she lived, some of the children made the sign of the cross.
“They were protecting themselves from us,” Santos said.
In the final minute of an amateur match that he refereed about a decade ago, Raimundo Sá blew his whistle and motioned for a penalty kick. The offending team began crowding around, shouting, threatening.
“You won’t get out alive,” one player said.
“He’s a policeman, he probably has a gun.”
Sá, a police colonel, told the story in his office in São Luís, the capital of Maranhão state, which includes Pio XII. He now heads a police unit responsible for crowd control at professional games in Maranhão.
Sá did not absolve soccer completely in the Pio XII deaths. The great passion in Brazil, the clamor of the ball, the samba celebration of style and flair, could also foster a kind of hypnosis, he said.
“A person curses or beats somebody, and it seems as if he is in a trance,” Sá said. “Someone snaps a finger, and the guy comes back to a normal state. It’s adrenaline.”
It was rare — and illegal — for a referee to have a weapon at a soccer match, but not unheard-of. At amateur games where there was no police presence in São Luís, some referees had begun carrying a knife or pepper spray for protection, Sá said.
For meager pay, he said, some felt, “I’m not going to lose my life over this.”
A sociologist’s study found more deaths directly related to fan violence in Brazil than any other country. The number escalated from an average of 4.2 per year about a decade ago to 23 in 2012.
The Brazilian soccer weekly Lance! reported 155 soccer-related deaths between 1988 and 2012, with only 27 arrests. But these deaths were mostly linked to fan groups, which are infiltrated by criminal gangs and have complex relationships with teams and the police.
What, if anything, did soccer have to do with the murder in Pio XII? Mauricio Murad, a sociologist at Salgado de Oliveira University in Rio who is considered the foremost authority on soccer violence in Brazil, called it a mistake to connect the murders to the sport.
“It doesn’t have a direct link with football,” Murad said. “It could have happened in any other place, in a bar. When we talk about football violence, it is between fan groups cheering for their team. This is an issue of violence in Brazil more than soccer violence.”
A study published in July by the Brazilian Center for Latin American Studies, an academic research center in Rio, depicted Brazil as the world’s seventh-most violent country. Only five to eight percent of homicides are solved, compared with 65 percent in the United States.
Impunity was a word often heard about unpunished criminals and corrupt politicians. The word needed no explanation, like the single names of Brazil’s soccer stars.
Contrary to widespread belief, the study argued, the spread of organized crime and drug trafficking was less responsible for murder trends than impulse — an argument between friends or neighbors, a domestic dispute between husband and wife.
While the murder rate had fallen in big cities like Rio and São Paulo, it had dramatically increased in Brazil’s northeastern states, the study said.
Larger in size than New Mexico, Maranhão was a place of pastoral conviviality and tropical lushness, but also one of the most impoverished and increasingly violent areas of Brazil.
From 2001 to 2011, the murder rate in Maranhão more than doubled, to 23.7 homicides a year per 100,000 residents, from 9.4 a year. The police were historically undermanned there. For a population of 6.7 million, there were 11,000 officers — compared with 34,500 in New York City — and a need for 6,000 more, said Sebastião Albuquerque Uchôa, the secretary of justice for Maranhão.
Sgt. Antonio Lima de Carvalho of the Pio XII police said: “Unfortunately we are behind in everything in Maranhão — police cars, men, infrastructure, phones. We don’t even have radios.”
Knives and Justice
Pio XII, named for the pope whose response to the Holocaust has long been in dispute, is a cattle, agricultural and trucking hub of 22,000. Perhaps 200 families live in the neighborhood of Centro do Meio, an enclave of farmworkers, laborers and fishermen.
The simplest houses were made of mud with hard-packed dirt floors and roofs of tile or thatched palm fronds. Rising prosperity in northeast Brazil, coupled with land reforms and cash stipends, has helped lift millions out of stark poverty and introduced plumbing and electricity.
In this neighborhood, though, the safety net was fragile. In a country with the world’s seventh-largest economy, Centro do Meio remained a subsistence community with a grave understanding of the difference between what the state promised and what it delivered.
Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
Motorcycles buzzed the bumpy, unpaved roads. Nelore cattle grazed the green countryside with fatty humps on their shoulders and folds of skin like fans beneath their necks and a bovine tolerance for heat that could feel equatorial even in winter. To catch a breeze, people sat on porches and pulled chairs beneath shade trees. They peeled green beans. They kept their windows and doors open, their eyes and ears open, too, for outsiders, of whom they were both welcoming and wary.
Visitors were offered a seat out of the sun, handfuls of bananas and guava fruit, meals of rice and meat, sometimes a hammock to stay the night. Children played flutes carved from papaya stems. Chicks scurried with their heads dyed pink and purple as if for Carnival. “This is a calm place,” José Cunha, 30, a farmworker, said as he sat on a stump beneath a tree. “You can fall on the ground drinking, and no one will mess with you. If you come to my house and you are hungry, we will kill a chicken and feed you.”
Neighbors could remember only one killing in recent years, during a break-in of a home. Yet when calm retreated in Pio XII, there were only seven local policemen and two police cars to keep the peace. Some residents complained that the authorities seemed as indifferent as they were short-handed.
Recently, when a rat ran from beneath her stove, Edna Maria dos Santos, 31, a farmworker, told her son to catch it. He stood there.
“You are just like the police,” she scolded him.
It was not uncommon to see a man carrying a knife, a slight bulge visible beneath his shirt. Joaquim Arruda, 67, a planter wearing a Yankees cap, pulled a five-inch blade from his jeans and told a long tale about himself and another man’s woman. He pointed to scars on his hand, arm and neck. He smiled and called it a love story.
“You need a knife to peel oranges and pineapples and to defend yourself,” Arruda said. “The police don’t help anybody.”
Edna’s husband, Manoel dos Santos, 30, a trash collector, said trash cans at the police station often contained knives, confiscated and discarded but not destroyed. Doctors and nurses at São Sebastião Hospital said they treated wounds from knife fights once or twice a month.
Alcohol, marijuana and crack cocaine were also prevalent in the area, the authorities said. Almerinda Alves Sousa, a nurse, treated patients who entered the hospital in anguish from drugs, unaware what was wrong with them. And young people who were hallucinating.
“People always leave home afraid of a fight,” Sousa, 27, said.
Reprisal as a form of improvised justice was traced by some academics to Brazil’s colonial times and the scheming of elite landowners and their armed supporters. It was part of the afflicted history of a country that was the last in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery and was once broadly dominated by agrarian oligarchs who dispensed favors and controlled rural areas like fiefs.
A vestige of the power of political bosses remained evident in Maranhão, which had the lowest life expectancy, 68.7 years, and among the lowest rates of literacy of Brazil’s 26 states. For decades, the state has been controlled by the family of a politician named José Sarney, a former president of Brazil. His daughter, Roseana Sarney, is the governor of Maranhão.
Along with immense land holdings, the family owns a media conglomerate and has maintained its power while fighting back charges of nepotism, corruption and restriction of news media freedoms.
The Sarneys have “a lock on the state,” said James Green, a professor of Brazilian history at Brown University. Such concentrated power, he said, has left many people in the state feeling “dependent, subservient and abandoned.”
A spokeswoman for the state government of Maranhão said the fatalities could not be attributed to the social situation there, “given that tragedies like this, or even larger ones, happen in developed countries, one example being the United States.”
Please, Otávio Cantanhede’s aunt implored him, do not leave the neighborhood anymore to play soccer. Even a few miles away in such an insular place, he would be considered an outsider.
Two days before the pickup game in Centro do Meio, his aunt asked again. Cantanhede decided to continue playing. “Don’t worry,” he said, “they are my friends.”
He lived with his father, brother and a sister in a modest home on an unpaved road in the Pio XII neighborhood of Santo Antônio. During the week, he awoke with the roosters and herded cattle and felled trees to make fences. At night, he attended his third year of high school. He wanted to be an accountant.
“That was his biggest dream,” said Lucélia Saraiva, 27, Otávio’s eldest sister.
Weekends were consumed by soccer. Cantanhede supported Fluminense, one of the big pro teams in Rio. And he admired Neymar, the star forward of the Brazilian national team, which next year will seek to win its sixth World Cup. Cantanhede especially loved the way Neymar could flick the ball over his shoulder with both feet and arc it beyond a surprised and vulnerable defender.
On June 30, Cantanhede ate lunch and took a nap before leaving for his match. He dressed in a T-shirt and blue-jean shorts. Underneath, he wore a pair of soccer shorts, a replica of those worn by Chelsea of the English Premier League. As Cantanhede left home, his father said, he appeared to carry only his cleats and his backpack.
“I don’t think he walked around with a knife,” said José Raimundo Rodrigues Cantanhede, Otávio’s father. “Maybe he did. I’ve never seen that.”
Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
Others had. Felipe França, 14, a neighbor, said he had once seen Cantanhede sitting with a knife in front of his house. A friend, Gustavo Henrique, also 14, said he had seen him pulling a knife out of his shorts at a match and putting it aside. His life seemed more complicated than the jaunty, hang-loose gestures he made with his hands when he posed for photographs.
In February, at a Carnival celebration in Pio XII, Cantanhede was stabbed by another man in the shoulder and arm and behind his ear, his father said. Otávio received stitches and spent the night in the hospital.
“Some guy confused him with another guy,” said Leonildo Lima, 20, who played soccer with Cantanhede and said he stood near him during the Carnival attack.
Hudson Rony Oliveira Lima, 18, another friend of Cantanhede’s, said the fight might have been over a woman.
“He was scared after that incident,” Lima said.
Cantanhede had also despaired after the death of his mother, Welida Marques da Silva, two years ago, his sister said. She had been killed at age 46 by a truck driver while she rode her bike along the highway. For Cantanhede, “it was a very great shock,” Saraiva said.
The truck driver was believed to be using drugs, said Hudson Lima, Cantanhede’s friend.
“He felt indignant with life,” Lima said. “He felt he had to get revenge.”
Josemir Abreu had intended only to watch the pickup soccer match, his mother said. He was an attendant at the post office in Pio XII and had spent the weekend visiting a sister. She lived a few houses from the neighborhood field in Centro do Meio. At the last minute, his mother said, Abreu had been recruited to play.
Two days earlier, he had celebrated his 30th birthday. He prayed at home with his wife, and cake and soda were served at a small party.
As a teenager, Abreu had fathered a son and had quit school to begin working, his mother said. He had since married a teacher and was taking classes toward completing high school. He was the third of Maria Abreu’s five children. She described Josemir as a dutiful son who was affectionate with his nieces and nephews and wanted another child of his own. His nickname was Mimi.
“He really liked sports,” Maria Abreu said. “He never got involved in other things.”
On the soccer field, Abreu was a sturdy midfielder known for an aggressive style and for playing with epilepsy. It was Maria Abreu’s folk belief that her son had contracted the neurological disorder by falling out of a tree when he was 13.
Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
Sometimes Abreu grew agitated during the stress of a match and on occasion experienced seizures, falling to the ground, local players said. His mother said he took medication to keep himself calm and control his convulsions.
“He always wanted to fight with us,” said Leonildo Lima, 20, a player from the nearby neighborhood of Vila Batalha.
Abreu could be a little unpredictable, said Leonardo Lima Ferreira, 21, Leonildo’s brother. But there was always going to be muscular play, heated disagreements, even in a pickup game. Everyone knew how to deal with it. When tempers boiled, players were separated until their anger lost steam.
“We never expected this,” Ferreira said. “They were both our friends.”
Abreu and Cantanhede were different ages and in different stages of their lives, but they sometimes played on the same pickup team. Friends and relatives said they won a neighborhood championship a week or so before the game in Centro do Meio and went to have beer in the plaza.
In February, when Cantanhede was stabbed during Carnival, Abreu visited him in the hospital, according to Abreu’s wife and a friend of Cantanhede’s.
“They weren’t great friends, but they knew each other through football,” said Leticia Abreu, Josemir’s wife.
Four months later, Cantanhede and Abreu began the match in Centro do Meio on opposite teams. Then Cantanhede became hobbled and had trouble running, players said. So he became the referee.
About 15 or 20 minutes into the second half, Cantanhede issued a yellow-card caution to Abreu. Numerous explanations were given: Abreu protested too vehemently when Cantanhede made a call in favor of his own brother, George. Abreu kicked the ball prematurely after a halt in play or complained that the other team did. He touched the ball with his hand. He raised his leg dangerously high.
Many versions of what happened next emerged in affidavits and interviews with players, witnesses and two suspects charged with homicide in Cantanhede’s death. Some accounts were sharper, some blurrier. Each was refracted through a lens of chaos, the blinkers of friendship and, for some, the warp of alcohol. Abreu dared to be given a red card and said he would not leave the field unless Cantanhede also left, some players recalled. George Cantanhede, 18, told the police in an affidavit that he ushered his brother to the sideline and that Otávio told him, “Keep calm.”
Some players thought it was settled. An older man intervened. Cantanhede and Abreu seemed ready to go home. Instead, words were said that could not be taken back.
Cantanhede called Abreu a clown, and Abreu called Cantanhede’s late mother a whore, said Hudson Lima, a teammate of Cantanhede’s.
Abreu punched Cantanhede and kicked him behind the leg, some players said. Cantanhede went to the ground, and when he got up, he had a knife in his hand. The length of the weapon expanded or contracted with each telling of the story. Five inches. Ten inches. Some witnesses saw Cantanhede draw the knife from inside his shorts. Lima said it came from a backpack. It has not been found by police.
Abreu was stabbed twice on the left side, once in the chest, once in the ribs. He fell at the edge of the field. The chest wound struck his heart, doctors said. A man who lived across from the field drove Abreu to the hospital. Someone found a rope, and Cantanhede was tied up so he could not escape.
“If he was let go, he would be in a nearby city and no one would have done anything to him,” said a player who asked that his name not be used because he feared reprisals. “He’d be laughing.”
Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
A number of calls were made to the police in Pio XII, witnesses said. Lima, Cantanhede ‘s teammate, said he called seven times himself, only to get a recording: Officers were out of service range.
Luiz Morais de Souza stood just beyond the soccer field, drinking a potent sugarcane liquor called cachaça. A cheap brand, known as 51, had an alcohol content of 39 percent and was said to go from the stomach to the brain like a missile.
By his own estimation, de Souza drank three bottles of cachaça that Sunday. This seemed an extreme exaggeration, or suggested a severe drinking problem, the authorities said. It would be difficult for a man to stay on his feet with so much alcohol in his belly.
However much he drank, de Souza said he was too wobbly to continue in the game after halftime. Two players said he was removed because he was drunk. One described him leaving the field with a bottle of cachaça tucked under his arm like a newspaper.
A driver and mechanic, de Souza had traveled from 50 miles away that weekend to visit his grandmother in Pio XII. His 27th birthday was the next day. He had known Josemir Abreu since childhood. Abreu was godfather to his niece. They were almost related.
Word quickly spread about the stabbing. People came and went from the soccer field. Some arrived on foot, others on motorcycles. Twenty people seemed to gather, then more. Some went to the hospital, others made phone calls. Adrenaline and alcohol stretched time and compressed it, fermented details, stirred the order of things.
Surrounded, tied with a rope, Cantanhede pleaded to be handed over to the authorities, the police said.
“Why did you stab Josemir?” de Souza said he asked Cantanhede.
“To revenge the death of my mother.”
“Who killed her?”
“A truck driver.”
It was not clear whether the men who pressed around Cantanhede began their revenge immediately or waited to hear that Abreu was dead. De Souza said he hit Cantanhede in the face with a bottle of cachaça and beat him on the head with a wooden stake found on the ground.
“Josemir was raised with us,” de Souza said. “He was a good guy. Otávio didn’t have any motive to kill him like that.”
George Cantanhede, Otávio’s brother, was threatened and rode away on a friend’s motorcycle. Traumatized, he moved in with an uncle and would not talk about what he saw.
Raimundo da Costa Marçal, a farmworker, drove past on a motorcycle. He said he was headed to buy a chicken when he saw people running. A young boy told him that Abreu had been stabbed. The man who did it was tied up on the field.
Marçal rode into the crowd. He said he asked Cantanhede why he had stabbed Abreu. Cantanhede had not meant to do it. It happened in the moment.
“He just stared at me,” Marçal said.
By that time, Marçal said he had shared about 30 beers, and wine and cachaça, at a bar with a friend. He called himself “very drunk.” As he left the field, he fell off his motorcycle.
Days later, Marçal, 31, would turn himself into the police and be charged with homicide. He would sign a confession, saying he rode over Cantanhede three times.
The attackers were not finished. Josimar de Sousa, the man who had shared beers with Marçal, stabbed Cantanhede in the throat, the police said. He fled and was believed to have left Maranhão.
Francisco Edson Morais de Souza, Luiz’s brother, came from his home, carrying a sickle with a curved blade. Both brothers had been charged with burglarizing houses and pickpocketing, but had not been convicted, the police said. A family photograph of Francisco, 32, showed him with a trim mustache and a nose that seemed to have been on the other end of a fist.
He was widely described as a heavy drinker and user of drugs. On this afternoon, the police said, Francisco was “completely out of his mind.” He swung his sickle at one man on his way to the field. He shouted. He warned that he would kill anyone who got in his way. He beheaded Cantanhede, the police said, and tried to quarter him.
Teresa Ferreria, 52, a farmworker who lived adjacent to the field, saw Francisco holding Cantanhede’s head like a trophy. She was afraid to leave her porch. Francisco placed Cantanhede’s head on a post on a barbed wire fence, the police and witnesses said. Then Francisco left. One man saw him sitting in the middle of the road.
Calls came into São Sebastião Hospital. Someone had been dismembered. Almerinda Alves Sousa, a nurse, gathered extra plastic bags. She was met at the field by an ambulance and another nurse, Jane Cantanhede, Otávio’s aunt.
They waited a half-hour for the police, Sousa said. She called and asked if officers planned to record video of the scene. The reply, she said, was, “Film it yourselves.”
It was getting dark. A motorcycle shined its headlight on Cantanhede’s body, and Sousa pointed her cellphone.
Jane Cantanhede removed her nephew’s head from the fence post. She let out a small cry. She later told the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo: “If they had just killed him, they would have gotten their revenge. Did they have to cut him up the way they did?”
Cantanhede’s body was cleaned and sutured and bandaged at the hospital. Abreu’s body was mended, too, and both sons were returned that night to their families. Unconcerned about the police, Luiz and Francisco de Souza attended Abreu’s wake and helped dig his grave.
At 11 the next morning, Valter Costa dos Santos, the regional police chief, received a phone call. Thin and fit at 44, with a receding hairline, dos Santos wore jeans and cowboy boots. His sidearm protruded from a flap in his sports coat. The ring tone on his cellphone played the calming sound of sea gulls.
He could not believe what he was hearing. It must be a lie. He drove 20 miles from his office to Pio XII for hideous confirmation.
Vital hours had been lost. The suspects had gone into hiding. And no autopsy report had been written before Cantanhede was buried.
Dr. Rafael Oliveira, who was not on hospital duty the night of the killings, wrote a belated report as the police investigation began. Unable to examine Cantanhede’s body, he based the autopsy on photographs and video taken by hospital workers.
Without an established cause of death, anyone arrested might walk free. The case might be closed.
“Justice likes paperwork here,” Oliveira said.
On July 2, two days after the killings, dos Santos and his investigators traced Luiz de Souza to the town where he lived 50 miles away. He was spotted in a house that appeared to be uninhabited. The giveaway was a bottle of water and a cup left on the windowsill.
For more than a week, dos Santos and his team tracked Francisco de Souza through thick woods at night. They had no dogs to assist them, only their instincts and word of an occasional sighting. Francisco was said to be carrying a machete. A month passed, then two. A few people had claimed to see Francisco. He was reported to be bearded and extremely skinny. He kept eluding police.
Dos Santos had two theories about what sparked the killings. One, Cantanhede carried a knife to the match with “bad intentions.” Two, Cantanhede was fearful and felt he needed protection, even among friends, because his refereeing had been criticized in a previous match.
“He wanted to be the authority on the field,” dos Santos said. “The only way he had to impose authority was violence.”
He considered the killings a cultural issue. He spoke of the despair of poverty and lack of education. People did not want to be humiliated in front of their friends. They often overreacted when confronted.
“The law of the strongest is what prevails,” dos Santos said.
Still, one death did not have to become two, dos Santos said. The response of the Pio XII police, he added, “really disappointed me.”
That Sunday, the chief of police in Pio XII was on vacation and two officers were on patrol, dos Santos said. One of the officers said they were working in another neighborhood that lacked a cellphone signal and never received the calls from Centro do Meio. There was a discrepancy. Some witnesses told dos Santos they did speak with the police.
Cantanhede was tied up for perhaps an hour, maybe longer, by most estimates. If the local police had come, dos Santos said, Cantanhede could have been arrested instead of killed. The law of the state might have prevailed over the law of retribution.
Some people apparently had tried to do the right thing. They restrained Cantanhede and called the authorities. Maybe the two local police officers were afraid of the crowd, dos Santos said. They could have asked for reinforcements.
“It is a shame that this happened because of the police not acting,” dos Santos wrote in a summation of the case.
Facing 30 Years
The pretrial detention center in the town of Santa Inês, 20 miles from Pio XII, had double rows of razor wire and smelled of disinfectant. Prisoners hung laundry in a sun room on a morning in mid-September. Country music wafted from the Bar of Love, a tavern across the street. Luiz de Souza wore a T-shirt and shorts. He was handcuffed. He wore a hat and a thin beard. His hands trembled, and he picked at his thumbs. He had quit school after first grade to fish with his father. His handwriting was wavy and childlike. Sometimes he spelled his name Luiz, other times Luis.
Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
He faces 30 years in prison if convicted of homicide. He had found religion and inked it on his arms. One tattoo said, “God is faithful.” The other said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
He did not remember much, de Souza said. Only that he had been drinking and he hit Cantanhede in the face with a bottle of rum and a wooden stake. And he would have to pay for what he did. If he had been sober — “in a good state” — he does not think it would have happened.
“I repent,” de Souza said.
Raimundo Marçal sat with him, also wearing a T-shirt and shorts and handcuffs. He was paunchy, with a full face and thin sideburns. The names of his two children were tattooed on his arm.
He had finished high school and worked in a fancy hotel in Rio, then returned to the rural life in Centro do Meio. No one in his family had been in trouble with the law, he said.
Marçal had hired a lawyer and recanted his confession. It was a lie that he had driven over Cantanhede three times with a motorcycle, he said. He had only bumped him with the front tire.
“I never ran over him,” Marçal said.
He blamed the absent police for what happened in Pio XII. And alcohol.
If he had not been at the bar, Marçal said, he probably would not have gone to the soccer field. He would not be charged with homicide. He would not face three decades away from his children.
“One person feeds off another: ‘Let’s beat him,’ ” Marçal said. “You might not have the courage to do it, but someone else does.”
José Cantanhede had meant to restore the house he bought a year ago, but it had all been too much for him. He had lost his wife in 2011. Now his eldest son was gone. He sat in his living room, the walls bare except for a clock and two calendars and photos of his granddaughters and the patron saint of Brazil.
He was 60, a laborer. He wore shorts and sat without a shirt, his tanned skin the color of almonds. When he talked about his son, his eyes watered.
“I think anyone would have done what he did in that moment,” José Cantanhede said.
His thoughts circled and collided against themselves. If he had not been sick at home that afternoon, Cantanhede said, he would be dead, too, because he would have gone to the field to defend his son. Why didn’t the police come? Why didn’t any of the players step in and say, wait, stop, this has gone too far?
Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
“How much time have I spent breaking up small fights in the middle of a game?” he said. “No one needed to die.”
A few miles away, in another neighborhood, Maria Abreu, 50, sat on her back porch. Her daughter read the Bible. The house was once a store. A sign painted on the front said, “Snacks sold here.”
Abreu worked as a janitor in a bank. She had light green eyes. She seemed worn out. She could not sleep. She could not stop crying. Josemir had always obeyed her, she said. She could not imagine her son dying at a neighborhood soccer match, stabbed to death two days after his birthday.
There were still many rumors about what happened, but Maria Abreu did not want to know anything that was not proved.
“I don’t have the head to listen to anyone,” she said.
A month after the killings, a formal game was organized in Centro do Meio. A peace match it was called. On a weekend in mid-September, a pickup game was played on half of the field. Two goalkeepers stood in the same goal for reinforcement. They joked. It was only for fun. Otherwise, the field went vacant.
A man took a driving lesson on the grass in a borrowed car. A donkey grazed on the sideline. A young girl climbed a tamarind tree. Sometimes the girl rode the donkey to collect coconuts when they fell to the ground.
José Cantanhede visited the cemetery where his wife and son were buried. After two years he waited, still, for the ground to settle before having a cement tomb built for his wife. He pointed to other tombs built in grief and haste and how they were cracked and crumbling.