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Brazzil - Behavior - May 2004

Only in US, Brazil's Lula Is a Drunkard

The New York Times piece on Brazilian President Lula's drinking
habits did not justify its claim that Lula's drinking had become
a "national concern" or that his many gaffes were due to
excess alcohol. Lula may be a loudmouth and ramble on at times,
but he is no Boris Yeltsin who was a drunken disgrace to Russia.

John Fitzpatrick


Picture The New York Times article suggesting that President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was a lush told you as much about Americans' absurd approach to drinking as it did about Brazilian hypersensitivity to criticism.

The last time I was in New York I found there was no mini-bar in my hotel room since city law prohibited it and, in order to have a beer, I had to call room service. You are also not allowed to drink beer in the streets in the US as you can here or anywhere else.

You have to put the can in a brown paper bag, which makes you feel like a criminal or a down and out. Perhaps, measured by this puritanical approach, Lula is a heavy drinker in the eyes of the New York Times, but by normal Brazilian and European standards he is just a guy who enjoys a pinga or two.

The article certainly did not justify its claim that Lula's drinking had become a "national concern" or that his many gaffes were due to excess alcohol. Lula may be a loudmouth and ramble on at times but he is no Boris Yeltsin who was a drunken disgrace to Russia.

However, the response of many Brazilian politicians was typically small-minded and fatuous. It seemed as though everybody in Brasília had an opinion and was ready to rally round Lula. Many of the comments were ridiculous, especially those suggesting that the article was part of a plan by the Bush administration to destabilize Brazil.

One Senator managed to bring in references to "coke-sniffing" American soldiers and said the reporter should have been writing about abuses against Iraqi prisoners although he did not explain what that had to do with covering Brazil.

What a pity this sense of solidarity by our political representatives cannot be shown when it comes to important matters like reforming the economy and ending the endemic crime and corruption.

As for the New York Times reporter, he should have known what to expect. Brazilians are extremely thin-skinned when it comes to taking criticism. They expect people to love them, not complain about their behavior, as I know this from personal experience.

Most recently a columnist for a leading Brazilian newspaper threatened to sue me and Brazzil magazine because I had criticized the cult of Ayrton Senna and the antics of Catholic priest Father Marcelo Rossi. If a fellow journalist does not know the difference between fair comment and libel then what can you expect from other people?

Relief in Sight for São Paulo?

The people of São Paulo have something to look forward to next October when they have the chance to get rid of the current incompetent mayor, Marta Suplicy. It is beginning to look as though José Serra, who lost the presidential race to Lula, may stand for the post.

If he does, he has an excellent chance of beating Marta and, at the same time, giving Lula's government a bloody nose. During her three years as mayor, Marta has managed to annoy almost everyone, from the favela slum dwellers to the overtaxed middle class. Her chances of being re-elected are slim.

She is a member of the Workers' Party (PT) but dresses and behaves like a socialite. She comes from a moneyed background as does her ex-husband, Senator Eduardo Suplicy, but whereas Senator Suplicy enjoys almost universal respect, Marta is widely unpopular.

She has a habit of disappearing to European capitals when crises hit the city. She was recently in Paris and was elected chairman of a new international body set up to represent large cities. She claimed her election was a tribute to women and developing countries like Brazil, but no-one was interested or impressed.

To cover up for her absence, she had some political propaganda commercials shown on television. These displayed an almost breath-taking arrogance. In a reference to two major construction projections, which are causing traffic chaos, she blithely told us that "you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs."

Serra to the Rescue?

By contrast, Serra is a political heavyweight who is the national president of the PSDB, party of former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Serra has stood for the post before and lost but the chances this time are much better.

Apart from Marta, his only potential high-profile rival is the veteran Paulo Maluf (PP) who is in the midst of yet another financial scandal. During a spell as mayor, Maluf is alleged to have diverted hundreds of millions of reais into his own pockets.

As ever, Maluf denies the charges and to this day has never been convicted of any crime. There are signs though that even his party is getting a bit fed up with these corruption allegations and he may not even be a candidate. Incredible as it may seem, there are many people around who would still vote for him despite the allegations.

Films Again

In my last article I mentioned the Brazilian Culture Ministry's plan to find 100 Brazilian films to be shown abroad. I irritated a few readers by saying I could not think of a single Brazilian film worth showing abroad.

Several people have mentioned films they value highly and one reader sent the following list: O que É Isso, Companheiro? (1997), Bufo & Spallanzani (2001), Copacabana (2001), Houve uma Vez Dois Verões (2002), Carandiru (2002), Janela da Alma (2002), Amarelo Manga (2003), Ônibus 174 (2002), Madame Satã (2002), O Caminho das Nuvens (2003), O Homem que Copiava (2002), Cidade de Deus (2002).

I also see that a correspondence has started on the Brazzil forum. While I respect these readers' opinions, I still think it will be very difficult to get a list which comes near 100.

The Mighty Dollar

Finally, a piece of advice to those of you abroad who are wondering whether to pay a visit to Brazil—come! The economic crisis is a worry and a mess to those of us who live here, but it is a great opportunity for those of you with dollars.

The real has started losing ground again and is now trading at around R$ 3.10/US$ 1.00. There are many reasons for this, one of which is the feeling that American interest rates will rise soon, thereby reducing the amount of funds foreign investors have been placing in Brazil to benefit from high local interest rates. With nothing on the horizon to cheer up the Brazilian economy, the dollar is likely to remain around this level for some time. Good news for the tourist.

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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