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Brazil, Land of Carnaval and Scandal

 Brazil, Land of Carnaval and 
  Scandal

Brazilian politics
is so rife with scandals that teams of journalists
could spend the next 20 years uncovering them. Brazil’s most
recent political scandal has shown that President Lula’s Workers
Party is as capable of dirty deeds and looking after its own as the
other parties it used to decry during its years in opposition.
by: John
Fitzpatrick


Dirceu and Diniz Deserve Each Other

We are in the middle of
a big political scandal involving an adviser to President Luiz Inácio
Lula da Silva’s right-hand man, José Dirceu. This adviser, Waldomiro
Diniz, was filmed allegedly demanding bribes from a shady character involved
in the equally shady area of gambling. The bribes are supposed to have made
their way into the coffers of Lula’s Workers Party (PT) for electoral purposes
and Diniz’s own pockets.

Diniz was summarily sacked
and, of course, Dirceu said he knew nothing about any illegal activities.
The media is getting excited as each magazine and newspaper tries to get a
scoop and show that Dirceu did know about the adviser’s dodgy activities.

Predictably the term "Waldogate"
has arisen as the country’s hacks try to emulate Bernstein and Woodward whose
Washington Post articles ultimately led to the resignation of President
Richard Nixon over the Watergate affair.

Dirceu is reported to
have offered to resign, but Lula refused to let him go. Instead Lula issued
a decree banning bingos, which are widely suspected of being used for laundering
money from criminal activities.

There are already signs
that the story is flagging and whether anything dramatic, i.e. Dirceu’s resignation,
will come of it is doubtful. Brazilian politics is so rife with scandals that
teams of journalists could spend the next 20 years uncovering them.

All this has shown is
that the PT is as capable of dirty deeds and looking after its own as any
of the other parties it used to decry during its years in opposition when
it claimed the moral high ground.

Political Reform Ahead?

It would be good if this
latest scandal were to give some impetus to much-needed political reform,
but the opposite may occur. Congressional leaders are due to discuss reform
proposals shortly but if the fuss over Diniz continues and, above all, if
a congressional inquiry is opened then these reforms will be put aside.

The reforms focus on two
main points: the introduction of public funding for electoral campaigns, which
would, in theory, end the undercover search for funds by the parties; preventing
candidates from jumping from one party to another for political or personal
expediency within two years of elections.

Carnaval—Time
to Exploit the Tourists

Some months ago, I wrote

an article on Brazil’s failings as a tourist destination for foreigners. I
mentioned the poor infrastructure, lack of security and scarcity of English
speakers, amongst other points. During the Carnaval, I spent a few days in
Poços de Caldas, a popular tourist resort in the state of Minas Gerais
and, once again, was struck by the complacency of those involved in the tourist
trade.

This town is famous for
its thermal springs and has been an important spa resort for about a century.
Tourism is of vital importance to the local economy. However, you would not
think so if you were to go there. The main tourist information office was
located inside a municipal building. The entrance contained a notice board
with a few pictures of the town and a map.

A few pamphlets, mainly
adverts for companies and shops, were scattered on a table. To get to the
tourist information office you had to go down a dark corridor, past a couple
of lounging local government employees to a poky, dingy room which stank of
stale cigarette smoke. There was a torn plastic sofa to sit on next to an
overflowing ashtray and a coffee table with a few leaflets.

To my surprise one of
these was in English, but on reading it I saw that it had been translated
by someone with only basic knowledge of the language and much of it was unintelligible.
The staff was helpful enough on a personal level but the place was depressing
and gave a poor impression of the town.

A visit to the thermal
station, which is one of the town’s main attractions, was also a waste of
time as it was closed. My hotel even tried to close the restaurant on Sunday
evening in order to give the employees time off, but apparently there was
such a hostile reaction that it changed its mind.

Another attraction of
Poços de Caldas is a Cristo Redentor statue situated on a mountain
overlooking the town, but to get there by a ski-lift system costs R$ 10 (US$
3) per person, not much for an American, but a lot of money for a Brazilian
family. The local taxis were offering trips to landmarks but charging per
person rather than for the ride as a whole.

The positive side was
that there were plenty of Carnaval events and everyone (including me) had
a good time. However, once again, you see that Brazil has a long way to go
before it can match the levels of professionalism of other places which exploit
their tourist appeal.

Carnaval Tarnishes
Brazil’s Image Abroad

After all the recent fuss
about fingerprinting and photographing American visitors, the Carnaval offered
Brazil the chance to show a more welcoming face to foreigners. However, unfortunately,
a fair number will be going home with unhappy memories of this country, especially
Israelis. More than 100 foreign tourists are reported to have been robbed
and/or assaulted in Rio de Janeiro.

These included the member
of an Israeli airline crew who was robbed of US$ 5,000 by—guess who?—a
couple of policemen. A group of Israelis were also harassed by a gang of gunmen
during the Banda de Ipanema samba parade. The worst case occurred in Recife
where two young Israelis were hit by stray bullets. One of the victims was
hit in the heart and, at the time of writing, was on a life support machine.

Who could believe that
Brazil at holiday time would be more dangerous than Israel, a country in an
undeclared state of war with its Palestinian community and most neighboring
countries? Brazil’s image there must be pretty low.

No Kahn Do

What a pleasure it was
to watch footballer Roberto Carlos repeat Brazil’s 2002 World Cup victory
over Germany in this week’s European championship match between Real Madrid
and Bayern Munich. The Bayern goalkeeper, Oliver Kahn, was the captain of
the German national team in the final and was humiliated by Ronaldo who put
two goals past him to clinch the trophy for Brazil for the fifth time.

This time it was Roberto
Carlos’s turn to embarrass Kahn, whose craggy, brutal features make him look
uncannily like Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Brazilian took a free kick and in
his usual style aimed straight for goal. Kahn dived and caught the ball easily
but, instead of clutching it to his chest, somehow or other managed to slide
it underneath his body into the net.

It was the kind of blunder
you would not even expect at a schoolboy game. Ronaldo, who also plays for
Real Madrid, must have secretly gloated since, for some bizarre reason, the
journalists covering the World Cup voted Kahn and not him as the best player
of the tournament.

Partying with Preta

According to the Vejinha
magazine you can invite a celebrity to your party or social event providing
you pay out enough cash. The magazine reported that at a recent pre-Carnaval
bash in São Paulo two of these celebrities, Adriane Galisteu and Luana
Piovani, earned R$ 25,000 (about US$ 8,000) for a night out.

However, bargain chasers
should go for Preta Gil, who charges only R$ 4,000 (US$ 1,300). Why? Well,
Preta may not be able to dance or sing very well (neither can Adriane Galisteu
and Luana Piovani), but she happens to be the daughter of Gilberto Gil, famous
singer/composer and Culture Minister to boot. Perhaps she might persuade her
Dad to come along to your party. If so, she would be worth every centavo.


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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