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Brazzil - Brazil-USA - January 2004

Welcome to Brazil - Say "Cheese"

Simply because Brazilians have to be photographed and
fingerprinted in the US is no reason why Americans have to be
treated in like manner in Brazil. After all, the Americans have
good reason to be wary of foreign visitors. The judge's reason was
petty and vindictive and not based on any legal statute or argument.

John Fitzpatrick


The ruling by a Brazilian judge that American visitors must be photographed and fingerprinted on entering Brazil is petty and pointless. It was imposed arbitrarily in retaliation for an American decision to do likewise for most foreign visitors to the United States. If this Brazilian measure reduces the number of American tourists and business visitors then Brazil only has itself to blame.

The mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Cesar Maia, who knows the value of tourism to the city, was quick to criticize it. However, there is more to this affair than meets the eye and I suspect it is an attempt by the judiciary to draw attention away from its own misgivings and the contempt in which it is held by the general public.

First of all, the judge in question seems to have forgotten that his job is to interpret the law, not make it. That is the job of the legislature i.e. the Congress which is made up of elected representatives. This obscure judge from Mato Grosso, a Midwest state which does not even have an international airport, was elected by no-one and has no right to make blanket rulings affecting foreigners' right in Brazil.

There are reports that the federal attorney general's office will move to have the order rescinded. Let us hope so. Regional judges in Brazil often have inflated opinions of themselves and have a habit of issuing rulings like this. The privatization auction of the big CVRD iron ore company during the Cardoso administration was held on several occasions by similar arbitrary rulings.

Nasty Nazi Parallel

The judge's reason was petty and vindictive and not based on any legal statute or argument and his comments were exaggerated and offensive. His description of the US position as being "worthy of the worst horrors committed by the Nazis" was particularly unfortunate since tens of thousands of American servicemen were killed fighting the Nazis and 600 Brazilian troops died in the Italian campaign.

After the War, a number of Nazis ended up in Brazil, including the notorious Josef Mengele. I wonder if Mengele and his pals were fingerprinted and photographed when they arrived here. If so, it made no difference since Mengele lived untroubled by the authorities for almost 20 years until he died in 1979.

This brings us to the next point which is what will actually happen to the photos and fingerprints. Will they be studied and checked against lists of suspected criminals and terrorists? If so, what will happen then? The chances are they will probably be dumped in a drawer or filing cabinet since no-one knows what to do with them. The whole episode is just a waste of everyone's time and money.

At the time of writing, the process has been streamlined and is being carried out quicker than in the first few days. May that continue. I hope the technology has been improved since I was fingerprinted some years ago to get my resident's card. After my prints were taken, the official offered me a large tin of yellow grease which I smeared on my fingers. I was then given an old telephone directory and told to rip out some pages to remove the grease. I then ended up with hands covered in ink, grease and smudged telephone numbers. There was a washroom near by which had one tap with only cold water but no soap or towel. I ended up ruining my shirt by using it as a towel. Welcome to Brazil!

Simply because Brazilians have to be photographed and fingerprinted in the US is no reason why Americans have to be treated in like manner here. After all, the Americans have good reason to be wary of foreign visitors and, in any case, Brazil is not being singled out.

I would be interesting to know if this judge has visited the US and been mistreated. If so, I sympathize. Even in pre-September 11 days it was often an unpleasant experience to enter the US. I remember the first time I arrived at New York's Kennedy airport. We were herded to a dingy arrival hall by slovenly-looking officials who motioned us along with batons as though we were cattle.

Anyone who hesitated was bawled at. "No stoppin' there. Come on keep movin'". I was glad to be on my own and felt sorry for those with children. However, the fact that American immigration officials can be boorish and suspicious does not mean that Brazilians have to be the same.

Judges Should Clean Up Their Own Backyards

Judges in Brazil desperately need to do something to improve their tarnished image and this judge probably thought he was onto a winner. "Let's bash the Americans" might take the focus off the wrongdoings of the judiciary and onto those damned gringos. Over the last year the collective image of judges has plunged and they have lost any respect they may have had from the general public.

They had the audacity to threaten to go on strike to protect their cushy pension plans when the government introduced reform measures. This led a Workers Party representative to ask why they had never gone on strike during two decades of military rule when human rights had been overturned. The chief justice also had the gall to say that judges deserved their 60 days paid holidays a year (everyone else gets 30) because they got up early and had to work late, as though everyone else awoke late and finished work early.

This judge also revealed that many cases were not judged individually but en masse, because of the huge backlog of cases to be decided. (Did he wonder if the backlog was perhaps caused by the fact that the judges are on holiday for two months of the year?)

Judges have also been involved in a variety of crimes including diverting public funds to offshore bank accounts, corruption and passing lenient sentences to criminals in return for payment. Three São Paulo judges were recently photographed and fingerprinted ahead of trial proceedings. These are the people who should be subject to this treatment, not innocent tourists and businessmen who are singled out just because they are American.

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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