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Brazzil - Politics - May 2004
 

Brazil United Against NY Times

Allies and foes of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva
were unanimous in offering their solidarity to the President and in
attacking the Sunday New York Times report that accused Lula
of being a little too friendly to beer and other alcoholic beverages.
Brazil's Senate should approve a vote of censure against the paper.

Émerson Luís


Brazzil

Picture For José Alencar, Brazil's Vice-President, the act was an "ignominy"; for the Lula administration's Chief of Staff, José Dirceu, "it was offensive to Brazil, to the institution of the Republic's presidency and to President Lula and citizen Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva." The opposition leader in the senate was indignant against what he called "an offense to the country's dignity."

Allies and foes of Lula were unanimous in offering their solidarity to the President and in attacking the Sunday New York Times report that accused the Brazilian President of being a little too friendly to beer, distilled spirits and similar alcoholic beverages.

Written by Larry Rohter and entitled "Brazilian Leader's Tippling Becomes National Concern," the article set the tone of the piece in the first paragraph: "Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has never hidden his fondness for a glass of beer, a shot of whiskey or, even better, a slug of cachaça, Brazil's potent sugar-cane liquor. But some of his countrymen have begun wondering if their president's predilection for strong drink is affecting his performance in office."

Alencar told reporters, "President Lula is an honorable man and all of us Brazilians have to fight back. This text is disrespectful to our President." Dirceu, the President's Chief of Staff, announced that he has been talking to Attorney General, Álvaro Ribeiro and Justice Minister, Márcio Thomas Bastos to decide whether to sue the paper responsible for the attacks against Lula:

"It's evident that we live in a democracy in Brazil and in the United States, and I respect the right to freedom of press, but I consider the report offensive to the country, to Brazil," said Dirceu adding: I believe that all Brazilian men and women have to repudiate that."

"Lula is a not an absent President, he is dedicated to the government's decisions," commented Antonio Palocci, Brazil's Finance Minister. "Lula is involved in the administration and such a report makes no sense." Palocci called the New York Times story "very irresponsible." But he didn't seem to believe that the article would influence negatively the Brazilian economy.

For Planning Minister, Guido Mantega, the Times article is part of a bigger picture or conspiracy: "The New York Times is held in high regard and wouldn't slander the President without a broader purpose. Behind all of this there's the intention of weakening President Lula, who gave the country a new international position."

José Genoíno, the President of PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores—Workers' Party), the same party of Lula, called the Times text "bad journalism mixed to slander and defamation in a political attempt to go back to old times when prejudiced and unfounded accusations against Lula were the norm." Genoíno called his colleagues in Congress to the fight against the New York paper: "We offer our solidarity to companion Lula and we have to take the necessary measures in court. I believe that the Presidency of the Republic was assailed, but if it becomes necessary, the PT will also take measures."

Vote of Censure

The President of the Senate, José Sarney, from the allied party PMDB (Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro—Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement) revealed that he was in favor of a vote of censure to be taken against the NY Times, this Tuesday. The proposal to censor the Times was made by Ideli Salvati, the PT's leader in the Senate. Most of the Senate debate on Monday was related to the American paper's polemic article.

The opposition leader in the senate, Arthur Virgílio, from the PSDB (Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira—Party of the Brazilian Social Democracy), talked about the intention of his party to take the high ground despite their determination to continue o "hitting hard" the administration:

"In this episode, however, President Lula can be sure that our party is not going to hit low or use personal attacks. I am not going to help to tarnish the President's image or to add to his undoing." Virgílio classified the article as an "offense to the country's dignity".

In São Paulo, State governor Geraldo Alckmin, also from the PSDB, offered his solidarity to the President: "The piece is unfair and malicious and the federal government is entirely right in its indignation."

Professor Luizinho, the government's leader in the House, went for the attack mentioning the international scandal that became the discovery that the New York Times reporter Jayson Blair was fabricating his stories. Luizinho said that the American newspaper should have learned a lesson from that episode and confessed that he was mystified by the idea conveyed by the newspaper that "there is a climate of national commotion due to the President's behavior."

"What's baffling is that the reporter knows the role that the President has in Latin America, he knows about the opening of the markets with the Arab countries, and China and Russia, he knows about the negotiations in the FTAA and the Mercosur. Maybe that's the problem. Why so much hate, so much rancor and prejudice in so few lines?"

Another PT Representative, Arlindo Chinaglia, called reporter Larry Rohter irresponsible: "He assumed the role of spokesperson for a coup movement, but here in Brazil we have an established democracy. I wonder whether he is defending some economic interest."

Writing in the Folha de S. Paulo, Gilberto Dimenstein, veteran columnist for that daily, commented that the government was right in getting upset at the Times story, but added. "Where there's smoke there's fire." Dimenstein observed that the subject Lula and drinking is nothing new and it has been talked about frequently among the Brazilian political and economic elite.

"He frequently appears holding a glass," wrote the journalist , "which would not mean anything at all if it weren't for the fact that he had in the past a more intense familiarity with alcohol.

"It also doesn't help that he has been seen in private meetings ingesting alcohol in an amount that might bring about innuendoes. The damage is done. From now on, Lula will have to take better care of his image, being aware that when an individual is President, appearances and words have special weight."

Official Reaction

The official response from the Brazilian government was swift. On Sunday, the same day that the New York Times article appeared, Lula's spokesman, André Singer, released a note calling the Times report "an example of the worst possible kind of yellow journalism."

The note went on to say: "We were surprised to see this type of thing in The New York Times; it has no factual basis and infringes upon the most elementary norms of journalistic ethics.

The Brazilian ambassador in Washington has received instructions to contact the newspaper and transmit the Brazilian government's indignation and surprise at allowing such gratuitous insults to be directed at the President of Brazil.

President Lula exercises the duties of his office with total responsibility and dedication. His work day is more than 12 hours long, which is easy to prove just by talking to anyone who works with him, including journalists who work at the Palácio do Planalto."

The note hinted at the end that the Brazilian government was considering legal action against the paper: "The Brazilian government is studying legal recourse to defend the honor of the president of Brazil and the country's image abroad."



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