In Brazil, the One-Tongued Is King

In Brazil, the One-Tongued Is King

Never in the whole history of the Brazilian Republic has a President
uttered so much nonsense in
just six months. What we have now
is a President who is proud to display his lack of culture, a

President who flaunts his monoglotism and brags about not needing
to speak any English in order to
be respected abroad.



According to all indications, only God can attack mankind from now on. Since God doesn’t exist, we are indeed in a
jam. This is what we heard from our President last week: "Rest assured that there’s no rain, no frost, no nose turned up, no
National Congress and no Judiciary Branch; only God himself can stop us from making this country gain the position of
prominence that it should never have failed to gain" ("us" understood as "me"). Translation: paltry mundane institutions such as
Congress and the Judiciary are no obstacle for the stud from Garanhuns, the one who prides himself in impregnating at the first
mating. And then we have the so-called prominence that Brazil supposedly should have deserved and failed to deserve, as if
Brazil had ever enjoyed any prominence in anything besides soccer or the rumps of

Now in power, Lula finally shows his claws. Imagine if it had been Fernando Henrique uttering such an absurdity.
He would immediately be ran down as a crook or dictator. In previous essays, I pictured Lula as the reincarnation of
Chance Gardener, Jerzy Kosinski’s emblematic character in the novel
Being There (O Vidiota, in the Brazilian translation).
Chance is the gardener in a mansion whose only contact with the world is his television set. While I’m not familiar with our
President’s daily habits, it seems that I hit the nail right on the head. In the last edition of
Veja, Lauro Jardim writes: "Here is an
important aspect of the way in which Lula governs: he is addicted to television newscasts. Many of his decisions about whether or
not to speak on this or that topic are made primarily by what he watches on TV".

But movies are prodigal in archetypes. Our readers must have seen Kubrick’s film
Dr. Strangelove (Dr.
Fantástico, in translation). If you did, you surely never forgot the gesticulation of the Nazi scientist living in asylum in the U.S. Dr.
Strangelove is constantly using his left hand to constrain his right arm, which insists in rising for the salutation to the Führer. A
similar conditioned reflex assails our petista
leader in Brazil. The instant he gets excited, something from his innermost self
rises again—his Bolshevik hatred for vile bourgeois institutions like Congress or the Judiciary.

Going back to Fernando Henrique, he is credited with the now folkloric "please forget what I wrote". His successor
may or not have said "please forget what I said", but he definitely acts as if this were his plea. It’s not enough to forget what
he once said, though; it’s actually forbidden to repeat it. While on campaign, in a naïve demonstration of the level of his
intellect, Lula called veados (queers) the inhabitants of Pelotas (city in the state of Rio Grande do Sul). On the next day, the PT
(Workers’ Party) filed a lawsuit to forbid the press from publishing this brilliant find. Recently, a
petista congressman reprinted the recording of a speech in which, among other courtesies, Lula called his now ally, Sarney, a thief. For having quoted the country’s
leader, the congressman is on the brink of expulsion from the Party. "He committed the most serious offense in the PT, which is
that of hurting the personal honor of a member and attacking the party"—said one Planalto Palace courtier.

But all João Fontes did was to quote the source, which means that he simply transcribed what the boss had said. I
always stated that there is a Stalinist DNA in the PT. Let them coexist with power a little longer and the PT will start
eliminating from photographs any inconvenient characters posing beside the Maximum Leader, in the best style of Joseph
Vissarionovitch Djugatchivili, the Peoples’ Daddy. It’s not by chance that the Eminent Reproducer has been proclaiming himself as the
father of the nation. Any similarity is not a mere coincidence.

Two days later, he retracted: "In no moment has it crossed the mind of the President to offend in any way the
National Congress or the Judiciary Branch." Lula, who has for a long time now acquired the majestic habit of referring to himself
in the third person, seems to have forgotten the reference he once made about the legislative chambers as the "three
hundred swindlers in Congress". We now understand the slick resort to the third person. Nothing at all crossed the mind of the
President. Something, yes, crossed the mind of the presidential candidate.

Before we are faced with prohibition to publish what Lula said about his peers, let me reproduce a piece of his
thinking when he was in the process of framing the PT while president of the Union of Metallurgy Workers in the São Paulo
ABC (part of the greater São Paulo area). In July 1979, Lula gave an interview to
Playboy magazine in which he mentioned
Hitler and Khomeini as two political figures for whom he harbored deep admiration. Praising Hitler’s disposition, strength
and dedication, he stated: "Hitler, although wrong, had that thing I admire in a man, the fire to commit to do something and
to go ahead and try it". About Khomeini: "I don’t know much about Iran, but the strength that Khomeini showed, his
determination to end that regimen of the Shah, was serious business".

Past pronouncements put aside, never in the whole history of the Republic has a President uttered so much nonsense
in just six months. Even if by miracle Lula does not leave the country worse than he found it, the damage is already done.
The average level of our national culture, which has never been high, took a plunge with his ascension into power. What we
have now is a President who is proud to display his lack of culture. A President who flaunts, as a prize, his monoglotism.
While aspiring to be the leader of Latin America, the man is proud not to speak any Spanish. In a country in which families
face scarcity to be able to afford a course in English for their children—because families know that without English nobody
can go very far—our atrocious monoglot brags about not needing to speak any English in order to be respected abroad.

Some palace courtier obviously stuck into his brain that he is respected abroad. In Europe he was treated with the
deference owed to any foreign dignitary, whether he is the President of Ougadouga or Burkina Fasso. In his insipience, the
man confuses protocol with respect. From the "Eagle of the Hague" (*) we are down to "the Parrot of Evian", to quote from
a clever note by one of Brazilian philosopher Olavo de Carvalho’s students. And we still have three and a half years of
folly ahead of us.

We Brazilians tend to look at Africa with a certain compassion. But even Idi Amin Dada, the grotesque dictator of
Uganda, spoke English. That a Brazilian factory worker can’t speak English is understandable. Many cultured people—even
among the wealthy—do not speak English in Brazil. What is inadmissible for a President is to take pride in not being able to
speak any other language. Bush is also a monoglot, but he manipulates a language of universal transit. And, still, Bush would
never dare to boast about not speaking any other language. Not to mention that nobody would bet a dime on the cultural level
of the current American President.

My apologies to patriotolics, but you can’t go far with Portuguese. To know a language besides your own vernacular
is to open a window to other cultures, to expand your own knowledge, to exercise your intellectual curiosity and to speak
with the world. But none of that moves our President. With his ego inflated by his numbers in the elections and by the media
constantly incensing him, Lula transforms his deficiencies into virtues. Head over wheels in love with himself and his past, he
misses no opportunity to extol his want of culture.

If Lula’s opinions about Hitler and Khomeini were left unnoticed, his current statements about Congress and the
Judiciary Branch confirm those old flames. The arm of
our tupiniquim version of Dr.
Strangelove is starting to jump up, and ever
more frequently.

Translator’s Note: (*) Referece to Rui Barbosa
(1849-1923), lawyer, writer and liberal politician nicknamed
A Águia de Haia


Janer Cristaldo—he holds a PhD from University of
Paris, Sorbonne—is an author, translator, lawyer, philosopher and journalist and
suffers São Paulo. His e-mail address is

Tereza Braga is a freelance Portuguese translator
and interpreter based in Dallas. She is an accredited member of the American
Translators Association. Contact:


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