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Three complaints a day: Intolerance against Afro-based religions increases in Brazil

Every day three complaints are filed for religious intolerance in Brazil. Only in the first semester of 2022, 545 calls were made, according to data from the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights. This is an increase of 45.6% compared to the same period of the previous year. In addition, 78% of the priests of the Afro religions suffered some type of violence. Report by Valeria Saccone and Amin Guidara. São Paulo is the state with the most cases of religious intolerance, followed by Rio de Janeiro. In this city, in recent years, the traditional offenses against the followers of these religions have been added to the destruction of the ‘terreiros’, as the temples dedicated to umbanda and candomblé are called. Those responsible are in many cases drug traffickers who converted to the evangelical religion in prison. In 2019, one of the main factions of the Rio de Janeiro drug cartel, the Terceiro Comando Puro, invaded a group of five favelas, renamed ‘ Israel Complex’. Immediately afterwards, he prohibited the cults in the ‘terreiros’. The leader of this faction is the drug trafficker Álvaro Malaquias Santa, known as ‘Peixão’. In one of the raids to destroy these Afro temples, his group of thugs left the message “Jesus owns the place” on the wall.  It happened in the city of Nova Iguaçu, on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, which together with Duque de Caxias has a record number of complaints of religious intolerance. “Here in Nova Iguaçu there was a very large number of depredations, invasions and even a ‘pai de santo’ (priest) was murdered in a favela”, says Itamara Silva, spiritual guide of candomblé, a religion that came to Brazil by the hand of the more than five million African slaves. Behind religious intolerance is structural racism. Its center is located a few minutes from the one that was devastated by those evangelical drug traffickers. The ‘mãe de santo’ responsible for the destroyed ‘terreiro’ received death threats and since then she has not dared to speak to journalists. Today Itamara gives voice to those who fear for her life. He did a master’s degree in Psycho-Sociology on the growth of religious attacks in his city. But despite his militant profile, he acknowledges that he is afraid: “My friends tell me: sister, get out of here, this is dangerous. Don’t keep reporting the attacks. Leave it, “he says. & Nbsp; The drug traffickers are not the only ones responsible for the attacks. “Behind religious intolerance is structural racism,” says Geraldo Bastos, a researcher at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. “It is a state project, a political project that wants Christians to be hegemonic, to be able to enjoy their all their rights, while other religions such as spiritualism, umbanda and candomblé are left out”, he adds. The tools of the authorities to combat attacks of a religious nature are not enoughTo try to stop the attacks, in 2006 it São Paulo, the Police Station for Racial Crimes and Crimes of Intolerance (Decradi), a division of the Police specialized in this type of crime. Subsequently, Decradi was implemented in other Brazilian cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Salvador de Bahía. For Ivalda Aleixo, director of the Homicide Department of the São Paulo Civil Police and head of Decradi in this city, the rise of the Internet allowed the spread of stop the number of attacks against the ‘terreiros’. At the same time, she offered a certain anonymity to those victims who are wary of reporting: “The bureaucratic procedure can be carried out in any Police unit, but there is also an electronic police station, which is also in charge of crimes against LGBTI. So if the victim doesn’t want to come here, it doesn’t matter. She denounces the Internet and measures will be taken in relation to her complaint, “explains this commissioner. & Nbsp; The investigative work of the Police works as a deterrent, but fails to stop the attacks. Nelson Colino Júnior, an investigator who has worked for 18 years with this type of crime, has verified that religious intolerance is often mixed with machismo and homophobia. “Unlike other religions, umbanda and candomblé were the first to place women as spiritual leaders, in addition to homosexuals and blacks. What is prejudice? Is it from religion, from the necklaces used in umbanda and candomblé, from its divinities? Or is it against the leadership of a woman, the empowerment of women, blacks and homosexuals?” asks Colino. This policeman recalls that the narco-evangelicals who destroy the temples in Rio de Janeiro represent an exception within the national scene. The most common are verbal offenses or through social networks. Not all evangelicals are radical, nor do they support repression and the use of violence In Rio de Janeiro, the pastor and singer Kleber Lucas has shown his support on more than one occasion explicit to the religions of African matrix. His attitude has cost him several attacks from his fans, especially once he sang in a ‘terreiro’ destroyed and rebuilt with the help of some evangelical pastors.  “Before I was a pastor, before I was a Christian, I am a black man who grew up in a favela. I was raised in a very plural environment. When I was little, many times I was fed by the ‘pais de santos’ of the favela. From the moment that, being a public man, I see ‘terreiros’ attacked, victims of religious intolerance, I cannot remain silent”, points out this gospel music artist, who even sang at the inauguration of President Lula and has just recorded a song with Caetano Veloso. “I am a friend of the ‘macumbeiros’. From time to time, these faithful with their drums appear here in my church. And it’s all good. Everyone fits at the table of Christ ”, Kleber affirms to his parishioners during the evangelical service. This progressive pastor is a living example that not all evangelicals are intolerant, nor do they identify with religious fundamentalism.  

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