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
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
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
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
Relief in Sight for
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
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.
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 Brazilcome!
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 email@example.com.
© John Fitzpatrick