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Brazzil - Behavior - February 2004

Brazil, Land of Carnaval and Scandal

Brazilian politics is so rife with scandals that teams of journalists
could spend the next 20 years uncovering them. Brazil's most
recent political scandal has shown that President Lula's Workers
Party is as capable of dirty deeds and looking after its own as the
other parties it used to decry during its years in opposition.

John Fitzpatrick

Dirceu and Diniz Deserve Each Other

We are in the middle of a big political scandal involving an adviser to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's right-hand man, José Dirceu. This adviser, Waldomiro Diniz, was filmed allegedly demanding bribes from a shady character involved in the equally shady area of gambling. The bribes are supposed to have made their way into the coffers of Lula's Workers Party (PT) for electoral purposes and Diniz's own pockets.

Diniz was summarily sacked and, of course, Dirceu said he knew nothing about any illegal activities. The media is getting excited as each magazine and newspaper tries to get a scoop and show that Dirceu did know about the adviser's dodgy activities.

Predictably the term "Waldogate" has arisen as the country's hacks try to emulate Bernstein and Woodward whose Washington Post articles ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon over the Watergate affair.

Dirceu is reported to have offered to resign, but Lula refused to let him go. Instead Lula issued a decree banning bingos, which are widely suspected of being used for laundering money from criminal activities.

There are already signs that the story is flagging and whether anything dramatic, i.e. Dirceu's resignation, will come of it is doubtful. Brazilian politics is so rife with scandals that teams of journalists could spend the next 20 years uncovering them.

All this has shown is that the PT is as capable of dirty deeds and looking after its own as any of the other parties it used to decry during its years in opposition when it claimed the moral high ground.

Political Reform Ahead?

It would be good if this latest scandal were to give some impetus to much-needed political reform, but the opposite may occur. Congressional leaders are due to discuss reform proposals shortly but if the fuss over Diniz continues and, above all, if a congressional inquiry is opened then these reforms will be put aside.

The reforms focus on two main points: the introduction of public funding for electoral campaigns, which would, in theory, end the undercover search for funds by the parties; preventing candidates from jumping from one party to another for political or personal expediency within two years of elections.

Carnaval—Time to Exploit the Tourists

Some months ago, I wrote an article on Brazil's failings as a tourist destination for foreigners. I mentioned the poor infrastructure, lack of security and scarcity of English speakers, amongst other points. During the Carnaval, I spent a few days in Poços de Caldas, a popular tourist resort in the state of Minas Gerais and, once again, was struck by the complacency of those involved in the tourist trade.

This town is famous for its thermal springs and has been an important spa resort for about a century. Tourism is of vital importance to the local economy. However, you would not think so if you were to go there. The main tourist information office was located inside a municipal building. The entrance contained a notice board with a few pictures of the town and a map.

A few pamphlets, mainly adverts for companies and shops, were scattered on a table. To get to the tourist information office you had to go down a dark corridor, past a couple of lounging local government employees to a poky, dingy room which stank of stale cigarette smoke. There was a torn plastic sofa to sit on next to an overflowing ashtray and a coffee table with a few leaflets.

To my surprise one of these was in English, but on reading it I saw that it had been translated by someone with only basic knowledge of the language and much of it was unintelligible. The staff was helpful enough on a personal level but the place was depressing and gave a poor impression of the town.

A visit to the thermal station, which is one of the town's main attractions, was also a waste of time as it was closed. My hotel even tried to close the restaurant on Sunday evening in order to give the employees time off, but apparently there was such a hostile reaction that it changed its mind.

Another attraction of Poços de Caldas is a Cristo Redentor statue situated on a mountain overlooking the town, but to get there by a ski-lift system costs R$ 10 (US$ 3) per person, not much for an American, but a lot of money for a Brazilian family. The local taxis were offering trips to landmarks but charging per person rather than for the ride as a whole.

The positive side was that there were plenty of Carnaval events and everyone (including me) had a good time. However, once again, you see that Brazil has a long way to go before it can match the levels of professionalism of other places which exploit their tourist appeal.

Carnaval Tarnishes Brazil's Image Abroad

After all the recent fuss about fingerprinting and photographing American visitors, the Carnaval offered Brazil the chance to show a more welcoming face to foreigners. However, unfortunately, a fair number will be going home with unhappy memories of this country, especially Israelis. More than 100 foreign tourists are reported to have been robbed and/or assaulted in Rio de Janeiro.

These included the member of an Israeli airline crew who was robbed of US$ 5,000 by—guess who?—a couple of policemen. A group of Israelis were also harassed by a gang of gunmen during the Banda de Ipanema samba parade. The worst case occurred in Recife where two young Israelis were hit by stray bullets. One of the victims was hit in the heart and, at the time of writing, was on a life support machine.

Who could believe that Brazil at holiday time would be more dangerous than Israel, a country in an undeclared state of war with its Palestinian community and most neighboring countries? Brazil's image there must be pretty low.

No Kahn Do

What a pleasure it was to watch footballer Roberto Carlos repeat Brazil's 2002 World Cup victory over Germany in this week's European championship match between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. The Bayern goalkeeper, Oliver Kahn, was the captain of the German national team in the final and was humiliated by Ronaldo who put two goals past him to clinch the trophy for Brazil for the fifth time.

This time it was Roberto Carlos's turn to embarrass Kahn, whose craggy, brutal features make him look uncannily like Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Brazilian took a free kick and in his usual style aimed straight for goal. Kahn dived and caught the ball easily but, instead of clutching it to his chest, somehow or other managed to slide it underneath his body into the net.

It was the kind of blunder you would not even expect at a schoolboy game. Ronaldo, who also plays for Real Madrid, must have secretly gloated since, for some bizarre reason, the journalists covering the World Cup voted Kahn and not him as the best player of the tournament.

Partying with Preta

According to the Vejinha magazine you can invite a celebrity to your party or social event providing you pay out enough cash. The magazine reported that at a recent pre-Carnaval bash in São Paulo two of these celebrities, Adriane Galisteu and Luana Piovani, earned R$ 25,000 (about US$ 8,000) for a night out.

However, bargain chasers should go for Preta Gil, who charges only R$ 4,000 (US$ 1,300). Why? Well, Preta may not be able to dance or sing very well (neither can Adriane Galisteu and Luana Piovani), but she happens to be the daughter of Gilberto Gil, famous singer/composer and Culture Minister to boot. Perhaps she might persuade her Dad to come along to your party. If so, she would be worth every centavo.

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 2004

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