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Brazzil - Foreign Relations - August 2003

Inspector Clouseau Bungles in Brazil

France has been accused of using Brazilian territory to help free
a former Colombian presidential candidate held by Colombian
rebels. And it was in Paris that São Paulo former governor
Paulo Maluf was picked up by French regulators and questioned
for several hours, under suspicion of money laundering.

John Fitzpatrick

Ooh-la-la Lovers Tiff 1

Brazil's love affair with France took a knocking this week when it turned out that those naughty Frogs had been secretly using Brazilian territory to help free a former Colombian presidential candidate held by Colombian rebels. Details are still not clear but apparently a French plane, which landed in Manaus in July, was part of a mission to help release Ingrid Betancourt who has joint Colombian-French nationality. The French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, was accused by the Brazilians of giving false information about the purpose of the mission.

Villepin is alleged to have told Brazilian Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim, that the plane was carrying a medical team to help a member of Betancourt's family. When the Brazilians learned that the team was involved in efforts to secure the hostage's release they expelled the plane and called in the French ambassador for a dressing down. The whole affair is a bit strange since the FARC guerrillas, who kidnapped Betancourt about 18 months ago, have denied that they were planning to release her. Whether they are telling the truth or not, it looks as though Inspector Clouseau is still alive and kicking in Paris.

Ooh-la-la Lovers Tiff 2

Another Brazilian Francophile, Paulo Maluf, the ex-governor of São Paulo state and former city mayor, is also a bit miffed with the French these days. Maluf, who regularly stays in the swanky US$ 700-a-night Plaza Athénée Palace hotel in Paris, was picked up by French regulators recently and questioned for seven or nine hours, depending on which report is true, over a deposit of around US$ 1.5 million he had made in a French bank.

The investigators wanted to know the origin of the money which, according to Monsieur Maluf, was completely legitimate and arose from the sale of property in São Paulo. Since a man is innocent until proven guilty we must accept his word and recall that, despite the many accusations of corruption flung at him over the years, Maluf has never been convicted.

However, the French have not been impressed by this spotless reputation and have decided to freeze the bank account and open an investigation into possible money laundering. Maluf is free to come and go for the moment but even then he might face a little problem. Apparently, this most undiplomatic of men has been traveling on a diplomatic passport to which he is not entitled to. On his return to his hotel after being questioned, Maluf was his usual blunt self. Not only did he deny that he had been interrogated, but said he had volunteered to give information. He also called on the head of Crédit Agricole bank to fire the manager of the branch where his account was held.

Well-oiled Wheels of Justice

While the government was trying to sort out the threat of a strike by Brazil's greedy judges and prosecutors, who want the rest of us to provide them with an iron rice bowl for life in the form of generous pensions, it was interesting to learn this week that a judge in one of Brazil's poorest states, Maranhão, has just picked up a monthly paycheck which came to 220 times the minimum wage.

Now let us be fair to this public servant. The paycheck for R$ 52,651.50 (US$ 17,752) did include a 50 percent advance on the 13th salary of R$ 14,110 (US$ 4,757) and holiday pay of R$ 9,411 (US$ 3,173). To remain fair it should be pointed out that she paid income tax of R$ 10,007 (US$ 3,373) and other social contributions, which left her with only R$ 38,926.80 (US$ 13,124) cash in hand.

The judge refused to comment on this payment and left it to a spokesman for the local bar association to say that since this judge is the head of the state court, her work was "very important for the Judiciary and Maranhão society". For those who do not know, Maranhão is a fief of the Sarney clan, whose patriarch, former President José Sarney, is currently head of the Senate. His daughter, Maranhão state governor Roseana Sarney, pulled out of the presidential race last year after cash amounting to R$ 1.3 million (US$ 438,000) was found in the safe of a company she owned. Despite ongoing investigations we still do not know where this money, which was to be used in election expenses, came from.

Gun Law: MST Leader Sentenced to Jail; Bent Judge Set Free

The MST landless peasant movement rarely gets a good press. Its tactics of well-publicized land occupations and aggressive comments by its leaders have made it extremely unpopular. During last year's election campaign it kept a low profile so as not to endanger the chances of the PT's candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. If Lula thought his victory would mollify the MST he was wrong. The movement has turned up the heat of late and hardly a day goes by without some new occupation or incident. In one of the latest occupations a photographer was shot dead in front of a crowd by a criminal who tried to steal his camera gear.

The MST leader, João Pedro Stédile, was quoted as describing the movement's activists as "our army" and calling for it to "get rid of" (acabar was the Portuguese word allegedly used) the 27,000 landowners facing the 23 million people involved in the "countryside fight" (luta camponesa). Fiery words indeed and Stédile should be condemned for this inflammatory language, if indeed he did use these words. However, it is interesting to note that the MST's other main leader, José Rainha, has just been condemned to a prison sentence of two years and eight months for allegedly illegally carrying a firearm. Rainha is currently in custody on other charges and the judge ruled that he should stay behind bars.

While one cannot condone the carrying of illegal weapons, if anyone needs personal security in Brazil it is certainly someone like Rainha whose foes from the UDR landowners' association are heavily armed and have killed many MST members over the years. Rainha and Stédile have been demonized by the Brazilian press. No wonder even moderate PT representatives like Senator Eduardo Suplicy and congressman Luiz Eduardo Greenhalgh have voiced concern at Rainha's detention.

The political dimension is simply too strong in this case to believe that justice has been done. Compare Rainha's treatment with that of the disgraced former judge, Nicolau dos Santos, convicted of embezzling about U$ 60 million of taxpayers' money destined for a courthouse project in São Paulo. He was sentenced to eight years in prison in June last year and ordered to surrender all his goods. Lalau, as he is known here, has just been released from custody and allowed to go back to his luxury home, presumably bought from the profits of his criminal deeds, to serve out the rest of his sentence. The reason was the ex-judge's poor health.

No African Safari for Lula

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva should have been packing his bags for yet another foreign jaunt, this time to Africa. He had been due to visit South Africa and Namibia as well as two Portuguese-speaking countries, Angola and Mozambique. However, domestic problems arising from the government's pension reform proposals have led to the trip being postponed.

Despite this, a large business delegation led by the Foreign Trade Minister, Luiz Furlan, will still go to South Africa. Brazil´s exports to South Africa almost doubled in the first half of the year to US$34 million. What is particularly noteworthy is that these exports have not all been the usual commodity products, of which South Africa has its own share. Automotive products were responsible for US$6 million of this sum.

There are close cultural links between Africa and Brazil, where probably more than half the population have some African descent. According to Furlan, Lula wants Brazil to have closer relations with African countries, similar to those of its Mercosul partners.

No HaHa from Kaká

Talking of Brazilian exports, pity poor little São Paulo football star Kaká who has just returned home with the under-23 team, which lost the Gold Cup final to Mexico. As if this were not enough bad news, he learned that he would not be going to Inter Milan as he had hoped. His greedy team turned down an offer of US$ 7 million from the Italian club with bad grace. "We wouldn't sell Kaká for double this amount" proclaimed a club official.

São Paulo are officially holding out for US$ 15 million but are believed to be prepared to accept US$ 10 million. However, European clubs are not as rich as São Paulo appear to think and the boy star himself is reported to be upset at the imperious rejection. This may be bad news for him, but is good news for local fans. This is because nowadays virtually every star player sees his future in Europe and supporters rarely see their idols wearing Brazilian team shirts. Kaká is one of the few members of the selection which won the World Cup last year who actually plays in Brazil these days.


John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987 and has lived in São Paulo since 1995. He writes on politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic Comunicações - www.celt.com.br, which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian and foreign clients. You can reach him at jf@celt.com.br

© John Fitzpatrick 2003




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