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Brazil: Times Affair Fractures Lula Administration

Brazil: Times Affair Fractures 
  Lula Administration

Brazilian President
Lula’s decision to expel the New York Times
correspondent has cracked the government unity. Lula took the
decision against the advice of his closest aide, Chief of Staff, José

Dirceu. Finance Minister, Antonio Palocci, is in favor of a retreat
and Justice Minister, Márcio Thomas Bastos, threatened to resign.

by: Francesco
Neves

Larry Rohter

Brazzil
Picture

The Brazilian Congress seemed intent Wednesday night in finding a face saving
way out for the affair New York Times versus President Lula that would revoke
the government’s decision of expelling correspondent Larry Rohter from Brazil
and deflect the barrage of international criticism the country has been bombarded
with.

Even some of those who
were protesting the Times article when the piece appeared Sunday are having
a change of mind and an opposition politician called the Brazilian President
a "dictator of a third-rate republic."

After repeating throughout
the day that he wouldn’t go back on his decision, Lula, agreed to meet Thursday
morning with a Congress commission headed by former President and president
of the Senate, José Sarney. Sarney and allied and opposition Senate
and House leaders plan to ask Lula to review his decision to expel Rohter
and instead take the journalist to court.

Congressmen from the PT
(Partido dos Trabalhadores—Workers’ Party), the President’s own party,
as well as from several other parties want to convince

Lula that the government’s
action is costing dearly in terms of good will and credibility around the
world.

Wednesday afternoon, Aloizio
Mercadante, the government’s leader in the Senate, telephoned President Lula
telling him that the visa cancellation was not the best response for the administration
although he understood the President’s indignation and could relate to how
incensed Lula felt for being accused of drinking too much. It took some insistence
until the Brazilian president finally conceded and agreed on a meeting with
the legislators. "OK, come here tomorrow then," was his reaction.

At night, however, it
didn’t seem Lula had any intention of changing his mind. After the President’s
announcement that he would meet the congressional group, André Singer,
Lula’s spokesman reaffirmed to reporters the President’s decision:

"The Brazilian government
is not going to retreat on this issue. The government has solid, founded and
well-thought reasons. It’s our responsibility to defend Brazil, the institutions
and the figure of the President. There is no reason to retreat."

Singer also affirmed that
the Brazilian government has a "cast-iron commitment" to freedom
of press. "There is no instance of restricting freedom of press in Brazil.
This episode doesn’t concern freedom of press, but the necessary responsibility
in divulging the facts. The New York Times article included offenses
to the President without the use of reliable sources, it was made up with
falsehood and bad faith."

Exemplary Measure

That was the same message
Lula had transmitted earlier, during a breakfast with the PT leadership. At
that time, he said that he would oppose any challenge to his order: "This
journalist will not stay in the country. He will be legally forbidden to enter,"
he stated, adding: "This should serve as an example. If I didn’t take
this measure, any other journalist, from any other country, could do the same,
without any worry of punishment"

"I never took even
a guaraná (Brazilian soft drink) with this journalist,"
the President continued. according to those present at the meeting. "He
did not write a piece about the preferences of the President, but a report
telling that drinking is interfering with the government, in a callous attitude
against the institution of the Presidency of the Republic."

The President also revealed
that he wouldn’t have any qualms in taking the same decision if faced again
with the same problem. "I’ve always counted from one to ten before taking
a decision. In any other country, the chief of State would have the same attitude
against such prejudiced and callous offenses."

Broken Unity

The expulsion resolution
seems to have fractured the government unity. According to sources close to
the government, Lula decided to kick out the journalist against the advice
of his closest aide, chief of staff, José Dirceu. It’s also known also
that Finance Minister, Antonio Palocci, is in favor of a retreat while Justice
Minister, Márcio Thomas Bastos, who wasn’t even consulted about the
action, is thinking about leaving his post.

The suggestion of expelling
Rohter came from the Communication Secretary, Luiz Gushiken, after Lula made
it clear that he wanted some "tough action." Two journalists present
at the meeting—presidential spokesman André Singer and Bernardo
Kucinski—joined in. Opposing the measure were Dirceu and Álvaro
Ribeiro da Costa, who is the Attorney General.

Press Secretary, Ricardo
Kotscho, was also against the decision and seemed ill at ease during the Observatório
da Imprensa show, a TV program where he went to make the case of the government:
"As a member of the government I do not discuss a decision by the government.
I can discuss it before a decision is taken, but after it is adopted I have
to defend it."

Undoing Lula

Some senators and House
Representative members are trying different approaches to prevent the expulsion
of the Times reporter. Senator Sérgio Cabral from the allied PMBD,
for example, filed an habeas corpus petition before the Brazilian Supreme
Court in favor of Larry Rohter.

House Representative,
Eduardo Paes, from the opposition party PSDB, on the other hand, intends to
introduce a bill this Thursday voiding the government decision that suspended
the American journalist’s temporary visa. This procedure known as legislative
decree is used to annul measures taken by the executive.

Said Paes, "We feel
solidary with Lula due to the aggression he suffered, but the government has
shown that it cannot resist a dose of democracy. Whoever took this decision,
in my opinion, had to be drunk."

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