What’s Eating Brazil

What's Eating Brazil

I have an offer from the bureaucrats in the port of Santos, Customs
and Revenue Service to pay for
six persons an all told sum of
US$ 12,000 so that they can "release" my belongings! I am expected
pay six corrupt civil servants of the Brazilian government
to come into possession of the photographs
of my mother!?


Roman Latkovic


To the Honorable President of the Federal Republic of Brazil, Sr. Luiz Inácio Lula da

Cristovam Buarque, your Minister of Education, says that illiteracy in Brazil is "shameful" and that you,
Mister President, and your Administration have inherited "Brazil with the wound of illiteracy". Wounds and diseases
should be treated, as you know much too well, and illiteracy is not the only Brazilian "wound". I propound a "challenge"
for you to use the power bestowed upon you by 57,757,437 (61.28 percent) Brazilians on the October
27th, 2002 elections and substantiate the HOPES that, according to the poll of January
23rd, 2003, 89,898,208 (78 percent) Brazilians with a right to vote are expecting! The wound is corruption, that hundred-headed serpent that is
suffocating Brazil, and I put forward for your consideration, Mister President, the possibility to take my case to exercise
your authority and perform your duty to decapitate one of the serpent’s heads in favor of the children of Brazil!

I am a writer and journalist, 43 years old, a Croat, and because of my political writings I was proclaimed
"public enemy no. 1" by the totalitarian government of Croatia at that time, hence I left my native country to the United
States and was granted political asylum by the US Government. In New York I run a small computer business. The
beauty of Brazil and Bahia’s axé brought me here to try to build in a small piece of understanding between this
exceedingly beautiful country and the world that does not know it enough, and I chose Salvador as my place of residence.

I’ve become familiar with Brazil from many
aspects and have seen much of Brazil’s wounds. I’ve undergone dengue and have
seen the hospitals. I’ve been robbed and attacked by knives. And I’ve come to
know "Buarque’s" wound personally through a marvelous woman and the story of her
life. She was childbearing at the age of 12. Today she has five children and
lives alone. The father, who beat them is no longer with them and she, now free
from torture asked me, one day as she looked at the posters in my apartment of
Paris and New York where I once used to live, whether the Eiffel Tower was in
New York?

 It was heartbreaking
because she is a woman of such admirable character, so courageous in her
struggle for the lives of her children and as beautiful as her Brazilian smile,
totally isolated from the rest of the world. Yet she knows, knows better than I,
that all she needs to provide for her children is to give them an education, and
so she drudges day in and day out to achieve that goal.

And if anyone knows the qualities of Brazilian women, then it is you, Mister President. Dona Lindu, your
mother, "gave birth to a hope" as was avowed on one of the posters in Caetés, Estado do Ceará. Once again—HOPE! It
is the embodying symbol of President Lula, the hope that Brazil can and will become better! And the hope that a
worker, a loser of three presidential elections, would finally overcome 500 years of arduous Brazilian history in spite of
not belonging to the so-called elite, without being one of the
"coronéis" or an elite-supported PhD, would become
the President of this huge, hard to understand and easy to love, exceedingly beautiful and exceedingly tormented
country of Brazil, had the support of yet another strong woman in your life, the First Lady of Brazil—Dona Marisa

Yet in São Paulo when I talked about my plans to write books and make films about the beauty of Brazil, about
Aleijadinho or Jorge Amado, about Chapada Diamantina, about Machado de Assis or Portinari, to try to convey to the
world some knowledge about this mystical land, in impeccable English I was told that my ideas are
bullshit and that I ought to make porno movies because they are more "profitable"!

This leads me to my further experiences of Brazil. In Ilhéus, drugged children came forward offering sex for
R$ 20 (US$ 7)! Twenty reais for the pain and doom of a child’s soul! This country is suffering from misery, from the
agonizing misery that one encounters on the GRU! The offer cropped up from misery! Alternative to prostitution =
starvation! On "my beach", at Praia de Piatã in Salvador, a French history teacher asked me how was it possible that
people here were so lean. It can’t be starvation, she said, it simply can’t, and on she went talking about the sea, the
sunshine, the promenades…

Still Dancing

Indeed the sea, sunshine and promenades are a part of Bahia, but a part of Bahia is also the truth that
according to the daily newspaper A Tarde, from August 10, 2002,
373,262 children in Salvador are undernourished! At the
same time, 82,520 mothers are in the same situation. You are a President who does not hide his emotions and
therefore I ask you, how can one not cry over these data? Yet in this deep misery in which he lives, the Brazilian still
manages to laugh and dance, to say "sim, a vida não é
facil" (yes, life is not easy) but he staunchly believes that
"vai melhorar" (it’s going to get better).

But I ask myself, how will the life of a kid I know, 14-year old João, who works on the Estrada do Coco, at
Linha Verde, north of Salvador, near Imbassaí get better? That small town, located at 12’29.961” parallel South and
37’57.814 latitude West, is a genuine tropical paradise. But, only a few kilometers away from the sea and sun, João
works as a waiter for a monthly salary of R$ 50 (US$ 17). (Yes! For a fifth of the lawfully guaranteed minimum!

He sleeps on a bed smaller than the seat of my car and if any of the guests breaks a glass or a plate, he
has to pay for it! Jacqueline, Baiana who abhors Brazil, social inequality, misery, crime, and who never misses the
chance to tell me I’m a fool for leaving New York to come here, asked me whether I still think Brazil is a paradise? And
indeed, I’ve seen slavery in Brazil, for what else could João’s situation be but slavery!? Through his eyes I now know
that one of the synonyms for Brazil, concealed from the eyes of the average
gringo, is suffering.

The gentleman who robbed me of my money also robbed me of my company. Forging my signature on the
Powers of Attorney he stole the company from me and intended to steal my belongings. Because, from New York to
Salvador I had forwarded a container with computers for business purposes along with my personal possessions.
Without a company I could not do anything and that has been the beginning of my agony that has now been going on
for a full six months!

With the help of a dishonest despachante and constant lies, the
Receita Federal has wasted much of my time and in the end, confiscated the container. The fact that I, as a victim who was swindled twice, was now
swindled for a third time, means nothing at all; legal security in Brazil—for instance, in an
injunction to prevent irreparable harm—is almost non-existent! And the container contains photographs of my mother and father, my childhood
souvenirs, my clothes, my manuscripts, my computer, all my memories, my books, films, music, documents regarding
my political asylum are there, my whole life…

My Life in a Box

But there are computers in the container, loudspeakers, my TV set, items of interest that could be shared
with others. According to the law, confiscated goods should be placed on
leilão within 30 days. Already 75 days
have gone by, and nothing. I am without any documentation regarding the issue. But I have something else! I have
an offer from the bureaucrats in Santos, at porto de
Santos, Alfândega and Receita Federal to pay for six persons
an all told sum of US$ 12,000 and they will "release" my belongings! I am expected to pay six corrupt civil servants
of your government in order to come into possession of the photographs of my mother!?

I am not writing to you for the sake of weeping over the sad destiny of a swindled
gringo, you have more important matters to deal with, and there are many other duped
gringos,, I’m quite sure! I am offering you a challenge! In
the publication Brazzil, John Fizpatrick writes that you are nothing but "style" without "substance", and in spite of
opinions about your being a "man of the people" you still have a long way to go to "become the leader of the people"!

My challenge is that you should act in defiance and show that you are style and substance and symbol.
After all, Lula is a symbol. Lula is the man who was once a barefooted boy standing on the roadside, the symbol of
someone who got his first taste of bread at the age of seven, and who today sits in the Palácio do Planalto. Does the
road you have taken stop or begin in the Palácio do Planalto? I believe that the Palácio and Tony Blair’s Rolls-Royce
did not distance you from the people who have elected you. Lula is a symbol of HOPE that we have spoken about,
Lula is both a man of Davos and of Porto Alegre, Lula has the power given to him by Brazil and the duty to use that
power for the welfare of Brazil!

Mister President, get rid of these corrupted villains from the Port of Santos, who for equipment with a tax
value of U$400.00 demand a bribe of U$12,000.00 and let them have a taste of the "luxuries" of unemployment,
another Brazilian wound! Get rid of them and give me back my cherished memories and in return I will donate 12 of my
computers from that unfortunate container as a present to the children!

Let’s make them a gift of 12 topnotch Gateway 500SE computers with 17" monitors, top-grade Sony MDRV
DJ headphones and 12 majestic Situation Leather Manager’s chairs! Don’t forget to ask a cable provider to provide
the children with a free connection to the Internet! Make the children happy, and with that symbolical gesture show
anyone in doubt that your style possesses the substance of your actions!

The boundless Brazilian masses that support you have given you immense power and a follow-through
responsibility to bring about changes in this country. This is not an issue regarding 30 billion dollars from IMF or
FTAA. You are well aware of what big business does to low-income countries. This is the symbol, style and
substance of a small gesture!

I ask you, Mister President, what would be the decision of the Brazilians if they were in your place? Would
they let the group in Santos illegally distribute my computers among themselves, or give them away as a gift to the
children? I rest assured that the question is rhetoric, and the one and only man who can answer it is—Brazil’s Symbol
and Brazil’s President—Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva! The corrupt or the children? The decision is up to you.

With deepest respect,

Roman Latkovic


Comments welcome by the author at



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