Used to the relatively benign presence of the local military police who sleepily sat out their days at the entrance to the beachfront police station only venturing out for occasional and seemingly pointless motorbike patrols through the uneventful town of Abraão, it was somewhat disturbing to observe a sudden switch to Rio-style policing on the island. Troops of booted rifle-wielding police dressed top to toe in black started marching purposefully through the streets and checking boat arrivals and departures on the pier.
What had changed?
I fervently hoped that they were not on a mission to ferret out Europeans on the island. I was acutely conscious that in spite of the laid-back atmosphere on the island not everyone welcomed tourists. I had several times been stopped and questioned by a few vigilante residents who left me in no doubt that foreigners and potential carriers of lethal diseases were not welcome here.
I knew that the military police took their cue from President Bolsonaro. In the case of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, decisions appeared to be devolved to state governors and mayors. A video I had seen on the news recently showed Bolsonaro urging his supporters to take up arms and defy the state governors and mayors and I hoped that the people of Ilha Grande were not so stupid as to listen to his ridiculous advice. However, in this case the police activity seemed not linked to the Corona pandemic or the political crisis playing out across Brazil - it appeared to be a simple case of a local crime needing to be solved.
it transpired that a local hotel and property owner had been robbed of a substantial quantity of money, rumoured to be up to R$3 million, a huge quantity by any standards but particularly so in Brazil. The victim of the crime was said to have a reputation as a ruthless local businessman – a few people spoke of business deals where he had not fulfilled his side of the bargain - but his undoing appeared to be his peremptory firing of a large number of staff.
The rumour was that four former employees had robbed their former employer of his millions and were now on the run. Unfortunately for them, their faces had been captured on camera during the robbery and it was widely speculated that if the police did not arrest them then the property owner who had been robbed would see to it that they did not get off the island alive.
A day later I heard that the fugitives had allegedly made their way to Praia de Palmas – a hard 2 hour trail away from Vila do Abraão – and tried to bribe a local boat owner to take them to the mainland in return for R$50,000. A further update from a reliable source who had been involved in the search for the fugitives revealed that one man had been arrested and two men shot dead – it was not clear who had shot them. One man was still on the run, thought to be hiding out in the mountains and I was warned against venturing out on any trails for the foreseeable future.
I decided to play safe and stay off the trails for a few days until the remaining fugitive had been caught. I wondered how it had felt to live on the island when it housed the notorious prison for high security prisoners, operational until 1994. Whole villages had been abandoned by local inhabitants for fear of escaped prisoners who once on the loose presumably had nothing to lose, much like our current fugitive.