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Brazzil - Politics - May 2004

Brazil: Reporter Expulsion Is No Censorship

Brazil's Minister of Foreign Relations, Celso Amorim, avowed he
would not admit anyone condemning the Brazilian government
for practicing press censorship when it cancelled the visa of Larry
Rohter, the New York Times correspondent in Brazil. He called
the report abusive and the reporter unfit to be a journalist.

Edla Lula


Picture Displaying irritation over the New York Times article in which President Lula's alcohol consumption is said to be a cause of concern among the Brazilian population, Brazil's Minister of Foreign Relations, Celso Amorim, avowed he would not admit anyone's condemning the Brazilian government for practicing press censorship when it cancelled the visa of the reporter responsible for the article.

"This case has nothing to do with freedom of expression; it has to do with a an article that is libelous, abusive, dishonest, and an affront to the country."

Amorim commented that the article was published in the world's largest newspaper and is detrimental to the country. "I don't know whether this was the object, but it certainly had the effect of striking a blow against President Lula's emergent leadership and Brazil itself. The individual is unfit to practice journalism," the Chancellor concluded.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on Tuesday ordered the Ministry of Justice to take action against the newspaper The New York Times because of an article of May 9 by Larry Rohter. "Don't ask the president to respond. The author, someone I do not know, and who does not know me, is probably much more worried about this today than I am," declared Lula, adding that what was needed was not a response but action.

So, the Ministry of Justice, based on a law (#6.815) dating from the military dictatorship (1980), which deals with foreigners in the country and says that a foreigner in Brazil can be expelled if his presence is considered "inconvenient," has revoked Larry Rohter's visa.

One of the counsels of the Brazilian Press Association (Associação Brasileira de Imprensa) (ABI), Carlos Chagas, who is a professor of ethics, as well as a journalist, condemned the May 9 article in The New York Times. Chagas called the article an unjustified invasion of the President's privacy, based on gossip and rumors.

In testimony before the Economic Development Commission of the Chamber of Deputies, Chagas urged the immediate use of Article 220 of the 1988 constitution. "The article permits punishment for journalistic errors, which can include fines or suspension of activities," explained Chagas.

The same Chagas, however, wrote in his daily column in Rio's Tribuna da Imprensa: "Who is losing sleep because Lula is drinking cocktails, or drinks whiskey rather than cachaça? The malice of the accusation made outside Brazil didn't have to have been followed by the stupidity of indignation here in Brazil."

Correspondents' Indignation

Brazil's Association of Foreign Press Correspondents issued a note with regard to the Larry Rohter article calling the cancellation of the reporter's visa, a violation of freedom of the press.

This is the full text of the note:

"Notwithstanding the content of the article by New York Times reporter Larry Rohter, the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents considers the cancellation of his visa, or rather, his expulsion from Brazil, a very grave act that violates the freedom of the press and recalls the darkest periods of the country's history.

We greatly lament this decision, which does not conform to the principles of a free and democratic society. We fear that this drastic attitude constitutes a warning to foreign correspondents that, in order to work in Brazil, they should write articles that please the Government."

Getting Ready for China

President Lula exuded a high level of self-esteem and lots of numbers to prove that his administration's foreign policy has been successful. He met the press to talk about his upcoming trip to China, which begins on May 21.

Lula called the China trip the crowning of a successful foreign policy that began on January 1, 2003, when he took office. He then proceeded to review the objectives and results of his 22 foreign trips.

According to Lula, the central objective of the government is to draw up a new geopolitical map, balancing out the forces of the United States, the European Union and the rest of the world. "One way we can make our partnerships with the US and the EU more flexible is to seek out additional partnerships. That makes us less dependent," said the President.

The China trip is being called "The Great Journey" by Lula. Not only because it will bring together regional giants of the developing world, but two countries with coinciding positions on numerous issues. "We hope to make this one of the most important political and business trips of the government," declared Lula, as he announced that six ministers will also make the trip.

The perspectives for the China trip are so good that, up to now, a total of 421 businessmen have signed to go along (the largest number of businessmen to accompany a president abroad up to now was 150).

Business possibilities exist in tourism (the two countries will soon inaugurate direct flights), aerospace, manufacturing, railroads, steel and agriculture.

Lula pointed out that Brazilian exports have risen almost 60 percent to countries he has visited since taking office—without counting China. "This is very satisfactory for us," said the President, adding that, in fact, exports have risen across the board, to every part pf the world.

He announced that exports to Brazil's neighbors in South America were up 61.5 percent. For nations in southern Africa, they rose over 36 percent. But it was in the Mideast that the return on effort has been highest: exports to the Arab world rose 63.3 percent

Speaking of the Arab world, Lula said his visit to Libya was an example of Brazilian self-esteem and foreign policy boldness. He pointed out that Brazilian exports to Libya had risen almost 110 percent since the trip and he recalled how his visit to Muammar Qaddafi was the subject of criticism and even jokes.

"And then when Blair and Chirac visited him it was marvelous, modern, good politics," said Lula. "We have to be bold enough to rise above this kind of thing. Otherwise we will be stuck politically and economically forever in the Third World," said the President.

As for China, Lula said that this year is the 30th anniversary of bilateral relations and his trip will be the definitive consolidation of those relations. In 2003, China became one of Brazil's biggest trade partners, with bilateral trade reaching US$8 billion. Brazilian exports to China have risen from US$1.1 billion in 2001, to US$4.5 billion in 2003.

In China, Lula will meet Chinese leaders, install a Brazil-China Business Council, inaugurate an exposition of Brazilian indigenous art and participate in a business seminar.

Edla Lula works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at lia@radiobras.gov.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by Allen Bennett

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