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
© John Fitzpatrick 2003