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Brazzil - Nation - January 2004

Brazil: Mr. Lula Never Goes to Washington

Brazilian President's trip to India has been marked with the usual
speeches about the need to end hunger and improve the gap
between the rich and poor countries. Lula is being naïve if he
thinks that countries like India and China will give any real
support to Brazil. Lula would be better off traveling to Washington.

John Fitzpatrick


Just what is President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva doing in India? Does he not realize that he was elected to sort out Brazil's problems? Last year he must have spent more time on an aeroplane than a professional pilot. Much of his time was wasted on trips to places like Syria, Libya, Cuba and São Tomé e Principe, which have no strategic importance for Brazil.

His Indian trip has been marked with the usual speeches about the need to end hunger and improve the gap between the rich and poor countries. He spoke of the need for developing countries like India and Brazil to band together to fight protectionism and develop their own industrial strength. Of course the locals applauded such sentiments, but Lula is being naïve if he thinks that countries like India and China will give any real support to Brazil.

Both these Asian giants are rivals for foreign investment and are beating Brazil hands down at the moment as is a country closer home, Mexico. With less than one year to go before the Free Trade Area of the Americas is due to be established Lula would be better off traveling to Washington and trying to negotiate a decent deal with President George Bush.

Meanwhile, back home a new government was taking place following the reshuffle to take into account the official entry of the PMDB (Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro—Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement) into the ruling coalition. Two important ministries—Communications and Pensions—were given to PMDB members as the price for the party's future support. Since neither new minister brings any qualifications to the post the reshuffle was almost as meaningless as the president's trip to India.

Novelas—the Color of Money

A new novela started this week on TV Globo and great stress was laid on the fact that the heroine is a black girl, the luscious Taís Araújo. Taís became a national star in 1996 in Xica da Silva, the story of a slave who became the wife of a noble and turned the status quo upside down. The actress was due to turn 18 during the shooting and her birthday was heavily publicized in advance because at the age of 18 she could legally take her clothes for the camera.

Hardly had the candles gone out on her birthday cake than she was filmed in the nude having a makeshift shower under a waterfall. Just to make sure the voyeuristic audience got its share of thrills, the shower sequence lasted four minutes. Still photos were later published in newspapers and magazines.

It is unlikely that we will have the chance of seeing her in the buff this time around since the novela, Da Cor do Pecado (literally, The Color of Sin) is being shown in the early evening. Race rather than sex is the gimmick this time and Globo is feeling proud of itself. Just to get the message over, the heroine is called Preta which means "black".

She plays a poor market girl from Maranhão state, who becomes romantically involved with a rich, white botanist from Rio de Janeiro. (I have never heard of a wealthy botanist either but one does not look to Brazilian telenovelas for reality.)

Media Takes the Bait 1...

The media has fallen into Globo's trap and given the series enormous free advance publicity. One weekly news magazine, Isto É, featured a picture of Taís on the cover and presented an article on the position of blacks in Brazil. About a year ago the magazine Veja also ran a cover story on black people's place in Brazilian society.

After reading that piece I wrote to Veja and asked how many black professional employees it employed and whether any black journalists had contributed to the piece. Veja refused to print my letter or provide the information I had sought even though the piece had highlighted the lack of professional opportunities for black people.

I sent a similar e-mail to Isto É almost a week ago but so far have had no reply and do not expect to receive one. Once again, part of the Brazilian media shows that, while it is prepared to present the plight of Brazil's black population, it is not prepared to play an active part and help them. At least TV Globo is actually doing something concrete as is TV Bandeirantes, which has several black newscasters on its 24-hour news channel.

Media Takes the Bait 2...

The recent fuss about photographing and fingerprinting American visitors to Brazil brought a lot of anti-Americanism to the surface. This unpleasant hostility did not reflect the feelings of the majority of Brazilians who are generally friendly and welcoming towards foreigners. However, it exposed the gut anti-Americanism shared by a wide spectrum of Brazilians ranging from the older nationalistic generation to the younger anti-globalization movement. There was an interesting little aside in another Isto É article on security, which highlighted this fear and distrust of Americans and showed that it can become paranoiac.

The article quotes Othon Pinheiro da Silva, an admiral who coordinated the Brazilian navy's nuclear program. He was quoted as saying that when it was reported recently that Brazil would enrich uranium to supply its nuclear power plants an American moved into the building where he lived in the Jardins district of São Paulo.

"He rented an apartment below mine and it became obvious that he was trying to get access to information", he was quoted as saying. If this were true then it is surprising that the Brazilian authorities have not made more of it. Isto É presented the allegation as a fact in an accompanying caption without verifying it or getting a quote from the US embassy.

As far as I know, no other Brazilian publication has followed the item up. It would be easy to find out where the admiral lives and check out on his neighbor to find out if he is, in fact, a spy. It would also be interesting to learn how this "spy" managed to rent an apartment conveniently located just under that of a senior military official with access to such sensitive information.

Maybe there is some truth to this tale but for a supposedly serious magazine to print such an allegation without checking it out just shows how easy it is to make anti-American allegations without presenting any proof, and a section of the media will present them as facts.

A Welcome Break

Lula was not the only Brazilian institution in India recently. The World Social Forum, which took place in Porto Alegre over the last three years moved to Mumbai (formerly Bombay). This was a welcome relief and saved us from the annual rants from the usual moaners and groaners complaining about everything from the destruction of the rain forest to the invasion of Iraq.

Out of sight and out of mind. Let's hope it stays in India. What a pity that another boring annual event which dominates the news and brings the world's exhibitionists to our screens and newspapers—the São Paulo Fashion Week—won't be heading off in another direction.

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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