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Brazzil - Life - October 2003

Brazil: Women's Flaws at Lula's Cabinet

Two Brazilian women ministers are having a hard time.
Benedita da Silva had to explain a trip to an evangelical meeting
in Buenos Aires at taxpayers' expense. Lula forgave her. Marina
Silva didn't resign after genetically modified crops were
approved against her will. Lula is not happy with her.

John Fitzpatrick


Lula's Women's Woes 1

Two of Brazil's most politically correct figures are having a hard time. Benedita da Silva, the Minister of Social Assistance and Promotion, (whatever that means) is Brazil's best-known black female politician. She comes from a poor background and has worked up her way up the PT ladder. Last year she became the state governor of Rio de Janeiro when the then governor, Anthony Garotinho, stood down to run for the presidency. She did not do an impressive job as governor and Garotinho's wife won the election easily. The record of Benedita, as she is known, is patchy and if she were white she would not have her current high profile.

Last weekend she went off on a trip to an evangelical meeting in Buenos Aires at public expense. When there was widespread criticism of a minister making a private trip abroad with the taxpayer footing the bill, she claimed that the trip would also include a meeting with the wife of the Argentinean president.

From press reports, it seems that this was not true and the meeting was only arranged after details of the private nature of the trip emerged. In any case, Benedita has survived the storm and has been given Lula's blessing. "I accepted her excuses because we cannot crucify people", said Lula in an appropriately religious tone. Lula's token black female minister is still around.

Lula's Women's Woes 2

The second icon of political correctness, Marina Silva, the Environment Minister, is also having a hard time and Lula is not being so gentlemanly with her. Marina Silva, who is from a humble background in the Amazon, has spoken out against the use of genetically modified crops. However, since agricultural exports are so important to Brazil's balance of payments, the farm lobby has been putting lots of pressure on the government to relax the ban on genetically modified crops, particularly soybeans.

Lula, in a splendid example of how not to be a leader, says he is neither for nor against their use. However, he approved a temporary decree lifting the ban despite the opposition of Marina Silva. Instead of resigning, she has announced that she is not fundamentally opposed to the use of genetically modified crops so long as their use is shown to be safe.

Misleading Marketing...

Talking of politically correctness, I have just been reading a travel guide* to Salvador, which was dismissive of the main market called the Mercado Modelo. That's the place next to the elevator which links the lower and upper parts of the city. According to the guide, this market is "filled with restaurants and shops, Salvador's worst concession to the tourism business."

It then recommends us to see what it calls a "typical" market known as Mercado São Joaquim. To do so "...take the Ribeira or Bom Fim bus in front of the bottom of the elevator for about three km and get off after the Pirelli Pneus store on your left...You are bound to come across some great singing and dancing at the barracas (stalls) serving cachaça (cheap rum)." I wonder if any well meaning tourist has ever followed this absurd suggestion and survived.

The guide propounds a common notion that somehow you find "real" life in street markets. This is not unique to Brazil, but markets here can be dangerous places. However, the Lonely Planet guide fails to mention this important fact and gives the impression that wandering around a market in Salvador will be a safe and colorful experience. As to the instructions on how to get there on the "Ribeira or Bom Fim bus... get off after the Pirelli Pneus store on your left", these show a negligence verging on the irresponsible.

...and Unpleasant Reality

In São Paulo this week we had an example of the "real" life found in street markets. A couple of city inspectors had a confrontation with one of the thousands of illegal street vendors, called camelôs, in the old center. In the middle of the argument, the camelô produced a cellular phone and made a call. A few minutes later a gunman appeared and opened fire, wounding the inspectors and some passers by before fleeing. So far they are still free.

About six months ago, one of these street vendors ambushed an inspector who had upset him the previous day and stabbed him to death. While you probably won't be killed shopping in a market, there is a fair chance of being robbed. The day after this incident I was walking in the same area when someone tried to rob me. The thief moved so fast that I did not see him since he tackled me from behind. Fortunately I reacted so quickly that he got nothing. When I looked around for police there were none in sight.

Most of the goods sold in these places have been stolen or smuggled into the country. While most of the sellers are honest poor people trying to scrape a living, there is a criminal element which will rob and kill to maintain its control. Instead of encouraging tourists to visit these places the guide should warn them to keep away or visit in the company of a local person.

Road Hogs Roasted

I have written before about the behavior of São Paulo's selfish road hogs who will break all the rules, even to the extent of running pedestrians over and driving off, to exert their right to drive their cars. Therefore I was pleased to see that many of them have been conned recently by a company selling a spray which is supposed to make cars invisible to radar traps - www.flashphoto.hpg.ig.com.br/index.htm. (No, today is not the First of April.)

The price of this miracle spray ranges from R$ 90 to R$ 1000 (30 to 300 plus dollars) and promises the maniac behind the wheel that he can ride as fast as he wants without being detected. Sales are made through the Internet and the company says that demand comes mainly from the better-off areas of the city such as Jardins, Alphaville and Butantã. I don't know whether to admire these conmen for duping the gullible drivers or condemn them for encouraging criminal behavior.

A Tale of Two Divas

About a year ago the American singer Barbara Hendricks came to São Paulo and gave a concert in Ibirapuera park. She was a bit staid for the first 20 minutes or so, but relaxed a little when she was joined by the Italian heart-throb singer, Alessandro Safina, who charmed every female in sight and made all the men jealous. Her repertoire was not very adventurous, but no-one expected anything too erudite and she managed to create a fairly good relationship with the audience.

She showed her obvious irritation at the antics of a helicopter from a television station which flew overhead at low level, regardless of the protests of the crowd, which waved fists and shouted words which I will not repeat here because respectable Brazzil readers are not interested in learning how to swear in Portuguese.

This year another diva cropped up to sing in the same location—Dame Kiri Te Kanawa from New Zealand—who is probably better known nowadays for the fact that she sang at the wedding of England's Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana than for her artistic achievements.

The difference between the two women was extraordinary. Dame Kiwi appeared in a white dress and shawl that looked as if it were made of spun sugar and left over from the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast. Her hair was a cheesy-blonde color and she was very nervous as though she was in the middle of the Amazon jungle instead of in the world's third largest city.

Her repertoire was as unadventurous as that of Barbara Hendricks, but she made no attempt to relate to the crowd. One did not expect a "Hi, Brazil, how ya doin? Is everyone having a great time?", but a "Bom dia. It's nice to be here" would have been appreciated by an audience sitting on the grass in a temperature above 30º Celsius (86º Fahrenheit). We peasants did not even get a "thanks" from Dame Kiri and even her encore was one miserly song given grudgingly.

This event is an annual one sponsored by the American cosmetics company, Avon, which receives a generous amount of free publicity for it. I doubt if Avon will be inviting Dame Kiri back.

* Brazil: A Travel Survival Kit, Lonely Planet, 1989 edition

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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