In a country as regionally minded as Brazil would
it make sense to have a joint Northeastern
A Tasso Jereissati-Roseana Sarney ticket
would stick in the craw of a lot of people.
By Brazzil Magazine
Unlike Brazil’s top tennis star, Guga, who flopped in Paris recently against a little-known opponent, President
Fernando Henrique Cardoso was a sensational success in the French capital. He is now back in Brasília after a triumphant visit to
Europe during which he addressed the French National Assembly, spent a cozy weekend with the UK prime minister, Tony
Blair, at his country retreat along with Bill Clinton, and met the Spanish prime minister.
A trip abroad is always a welcome relief for a political leader and in the past Cardoso has been criticized for leaving
Brazil at moments of trouble. This visit though has been acclaimed as the most successful in his seven years in power and
could strengthen his position at home. What a pity he had to mar it by playing to the gallery and criticizing, who else, the
In an address to the National Assembly in Paris, Cardoso complimented his hosts and, instead of attacking the
European Union’s scandalous French-inspired agricultural policies, which are harming countries like Brazil, he made a veiled
attack on the US. Although he did not mention the US by name in his speech he did so in a press conference beforehand.
According to Cardoso, while the Americans are right to react against terrorism, they should be as equally determined to confront
the problems of conflict, instability and inequality.
"Barbarity is not only the cowardliness of terrorism but also the intolerance or the imposition of unilateral policies
on a global scale," he said. This means that the US should stop throwing its weight around and accept deals like the Kyoto
gas emissions treaty just because every other country does. Will Brazil one day agree to an international treaty to safeguard
the Amazon because the rest of the world thinks Brazil has failed to do so? If terrorists crashed planes into the statue of
Christ the Redeemer and the Rio Carnaval parade would Brazil start doing what the rest of the world thinks it should do to
safeguard the Amazon?
Cardoso was given a standing ovation by the French deputies and, caught up in the emotion, shouted,
"Vive la France!". President Jacques Chirac said he could not remember any head of state being as well received as Cardoso. Chirac also
had the effrontery to claim that France would be on Brazil’s side in forthcoming trade talks between the EU and the
Mercosul. However, as the French are pretty shrewd at getting their own way over foreigners one cannot help but feel that Chirac’s
remarks were "para brasileiro ouvir". *
Tony Blair said more or less the same thing when he was in Brazil at the end of July and Cardoso is not so naïve as
to believe that French or British support will be forthcoming. However, one wonders if, when he meets George Bush later
this month at the United Nations in New York, Cardoso will compliment the US, bleat about the EU’s protectionist policies
and shout "Long live America!". One doubts it. Blaming the Americans for the world’s problems will always win applause,
especially in France, a country which was twice rescued by the Americans in the
Back home things were different and Cardodo was feted by the Brazilian media and the man in the street. In their
eyes Brazil was finally receiving the kind of first-class treatment on the world stage which it is due but rarely gets. One must
admire Cardoso for the clever way in which he planned this visit. He made sure he took along leaders from the main parties in
his governing coalitionPSDB, PFL and PMDBall of whom basked in the French adulation. This showed strong
political unity to foreign political leaders, and more importantly to nervous businessmen, overseas and at home.
On their return the party leaders queued up to comment on the visit’s success. They were probably right to do so and
the government now intends using the unity brought about by the visit as a foundation stone for next year’s presidential
elections. At the moment the front-running potential candidates are from Cardoso’s own PSDB but the PMDB and PFL also have
strong contenders. There is still a long way to go and the anti-government wing of the PMDB will be a thorn in Cardoso’s side
for a few months more, but for the moment Cardoso’s star is rising. Although he will be unable to stand for re-election
himself he will be a good position to nominate his successor.
The main opposition party, the left-wing PT, was incensed by Cardoso’s success for two reasons: Cardoso was
lauded by the French left-wing parties and his visit overshadowed a trip to France made earlier in October by its leader, Lula.
Compared with the eloquence and grandeur of the Cardoso visit, Lula’s trip was a disaster highlighted by comments which implied
that Lula supported the agricultural protectionism practiced by France and the European Union. While Cardoso was still
basking in the acclaim Lula was trying to forge a local alliance with a former PMDB state governor of São Paulo who has been
accused of corruption. So, no statesmanlike comment from Lula. What did we get instead? One of the PT’s deputies complained
that Cardoso had spoken to the French National Assembly in French instead of Portuguese. "He has surrendered his
citizenship because he doesn’t like Brazil", was the inane comment made by this deputy who once attempted to introduce a law
banning foreign words.
The feeble response of the PT is really worrying for the future of Brazil. Lula is still in a good position in the
opinion polls for next year’s elections and he can point to many failures of the Cardoso years but the PT is offering no positive
alternatives. By trying to team up with discredited PMDB politicians Lula may be weaving a web of support for a possible second
round of voting in the election. He cannot, therefore, be criticized for doing what virtually every politician is doing. However,
he is the leader of the only big nationally organized party, which has a real ideological difference with the coalition parties
and he should be more effective in getting his message over.
He should be trying to put himself on the same level as Cardoso but this is not happening and does not look as if it
will happen. One swallow does not make a summer and Cardoso’s French triumph may soon be forgotten by other
international events such as the Afghanistan war or the situation in Argentina, but for the moment he is enjoying
la vie en rose or, if our PT readers prefer,
um mar de rosas.
* A variation on the Brazilian phrase
"para inglês ver", literally "for the English to see," which means pretending to go
along with the rules of the game while conning your opponent into trusting you. The explanation goes back to the
19th century when the British navy used to stop ships to check there were no slaves aboard. Brazil still imported slaves and slavers used to
make cosmetic changes to the ships to fool the British inspectors into thinking the unfortunate blacks were not slaves.
This material was originally published in the E-zine
Infobrazil – www.infobrazil.com
John Fitzpatrick, the author, is a Scottish journalist who has been based in São Paulo since 1995. His career in
journalism that started in 1974 includes stints as a reporter in Scotland and England, deputy editor of an English-language daily
newspaper in Cyprus, news editor of a radio station in Switzerland, financial correspondent in Zurich and São Paulo, and
editor of a magazine published by one of Switzerland’s largest banks. He currently runs Celtic Comunicações, a São Paulo
company which specializes in editorial and translation services. You can reach him at
He Was Right
Roberto Campos was referred to as apostle for the free market and was an militant anticommunist. For his liberal
ideas and opposition to statism he was derisively called Bob Fields (a free translation of his name into English) in the ’50s, an
epithet that he carried with bonhomie throughout his life. Former ambassador, former minister, former House representative,
economist, writer and member of the Academia Brasileira de Letras (Brazilian Academy of Letters) Roberto de Oliveira
Campos died October 9 in his house in Rio. With a sharp tongue and witty tirades this ex-seminarian had the gift for collecting
enemies. He was the last of a generation of brilliant Brazilian economists, which also included Eugênio Gudin, a man Campos
considered his master and "great inspiration", Octavio Gouvêa de Bulhões and Mario Henrique Simonsen.
Born on April 17, 1917, in Cuiabá, Roberto Campos almost became a priest, having studied 11 years in a seminary.
Soon after leaving the seminary he became a high school teacher of Astronomy, History, Grammar and Latin in Batatais, in
the interior of São Paulo. His teacher stint didn’t last one year and in 1939 he left for Rio, then the capital of Brazil. Since
his studies weren’t officially recognized and he couldn’t type, Campos was prevented from applying for some jobs he was
interested in and ended up starting a diplomatic career.
Still in 1939 he was approved by the Itamarati (the Brazilian Foreign Service) and began as a third class consul. His
first foreign mission came in 1942 when he went to work in the commercial section of the Brazilian embassy in Washington.
It was there in 1946 that he met British economist John Maynard Keynes. Keynes would become a life-long inspiration.
Studying at night he graduated in economy from George Washington University and did post graduation from Columbia
In the United States he still represented Brazil at the UN until 1949. After a period in Brazil he was sent to the Los
Angeles consulate in 1953, but he spent less than two years there. In March 1955 he was back in Brazil to head the BNDES
(Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e SocialNational Bank for Economic and Social Development), a federal
financial institution that had been created in 1952 as BNDE.
In recognition for his backing during the presidential campaign, President
Jânio Quadros invited Campos to be the Brazilian ambassador of the then Federal Republic of Germany. He
declined saying that he didn’t agree with the President’s "independent foreign policy." Campos once again voiced his
disapproval when the Quadros administration recognized the government of Cuba’s Fidel Castro.
He was recruited during João Goulart’s presidency to improve communications between Washington and Rio, but in
January 1964 he resigned from that post arguing he didn’t want to be "a herald without voice" and "an interpreter without a
doctrine." Having backed the military who took over the country in 1964, Campos was appointed Planning Minister of President
Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco. It was under his guidance that several institutions were created, including the Central Bank,
the FGTS (workers’ pension fund), the BNH (Banco Nacional da HabitaçãoNational Housing Bank), indexing and the
National Monetary Council.
Campos would be back to the diplomatic track in 1975, at the invitation of President General Ernesto Geisel. He was
sent to England as ambassador staying there for six years. Another General, President João Batista Figueiredo thought about
inviting him to join the Foreign Ministry in 1979, but was dissuaded by his aides who argued that the diplomat was not in tune
with the nation’s official line. Invited to be a "bionic" senator (chosen by the military regime to run intervention) for Mato
Grosso he declined, alleging "technical reasons." It was time for him to try an elected post.
He became senator for Mato Grosso in 1982. At the end of his mandate, in 1990 he was elected
deputado federal (House representative) to represent the state of Rio. He won re-election in 1994, the same year he published his 1400-page book
of memoirs A Lanterna na Popa (Stern Lantern). Campos tried a third term as congressman, but was defeated in 1998. In
September 1999 he was chosen by the Academia Brasileira de Letras to the seat left vacant by the death of playwright Dias Gomes,
a leftist author. A movement to prevent the economist from being electeddid not sway the 39 other members of that
Playwright and journalist Nelson Rodrigues used to tease him. "Nothing is more insignificant than an ex-minister,"
the conservative author said once referring to Campos. In this demolishing criticism, the diplomat didn’t spare people,
institutions or the nation. "In Brazil there’s a certain allergy to neo-liberalism. In reality, what we have are monopolies all
over: the petrosaur, the telesaur, the electosaur. To say that liberalism is a threat is to have a grotesque reading of history.
Brazil holds the 94th place concerning freedom and free market among 102 countries evaluated.
In his last speech to his colleagues from the House he said, "My melancholy doesn’t come from an anticipated
longing for Brasília, city that I consider a bazaar of illusions and a deficit factory The melancholy comes also from the finding
of our insufferable sameness. When I came to Congress, in 1983, elected senator for Mato Grosso the burning themes at
that time were moratorium and recession. Sixteen years later, when I say farewell to two mandates of Representative for Rio
de Janeiro, the disturbing themes are again recession and currency crisis. This demonstrates that Brazil, while capable of
development leaps, has not learned the technology of a sustained development. It’s a jumper of short jumps and not a long
Campos was already 80 years old when he was invited to the inaugural class of Ibmec’s Faculdade de Economia
e Administração in Rio. It was a moment of personal triumph. Two hundred or so students were enthralled by his speech
and burst into laughs when he said, "The homage they just paid me is transforming this gathering into my obituary.
Normally, only the sins are pointed out for those still alive"
Some of Campos’ books:
Economia, Planejamento e Nacionalismo, 1963
Ensaio de História Econômica e
A Moeda, o Governo e o Tempo, 1964
Política Econômica e Mitos
Temas e Sistemas, 1968
Ensaios contra a Maré (1969)
A Nova Economia Brasileira (1974)
A Técnica e o Riso, 1976
A Lanterna na Popa, 1994
Also Spracht Campos:
Virtue and Sin
"Maybe I was entitled to the lapses I had because I spent my whole youth in absolute celibacy, in a seminary. This
way I accumulated a large credit for sinning. If I only used the right to sin moderately it was for lack of cooperation."
"I pray less for spiritual reasons than for testing my memory. I recite the Hail Mary in Greek, Latin and Hebrew."
"I prefer blondes. I believe one can be unfaithful to a woman, not to a type of woman."
"For me God is the terrible God, the one from the Old Testament."
"Those who believe that we should blame the stars and not ourselves for our ills get lost when the sky becomes clouded."
"Envy is the soul’s bad breath."
"All advice is good as long as we don’t have to follow it."
"Contradiction is a privilege of beautiful women, intelligent men and realistic governments."
"If I had to write a love chapter it would have only one phrase: "I was not a fag." And a footnote: "Nor a sexual athlete."
"The cell phone does harm to masculinity: it’s getting smaller all the time, it’s always folded, gets disconnected
several times and doesn’t work when it gets into the tunnel."
Imbecile is someone who doesn’t change. I changed and learned. Many of my critics have neither changed nor learned."
"There are three ways for a man to self destruct. The fastest one is by gambling. The most delicious is by
womanizing. The most secure is investing in agriculture."
"Welsh poet Dylan Thomas spoke once on old age: "Do not go gently into that good night." He wanted to say that
old people should get angry when the light starts to dim. But I will penetrate gently the solitude of night."
"Ridicule does not kill because if it did we wouldn’t need contraceptives and today we would a have a soundly
"In Brazil, stupidity has a glorious past and a promising future."
"There are only three ways out for the country: Galeão (Rio’s international airport), Cumbica (São Paulo’s
international airport) and liberalism."
"Economy is the art of reaching misery with the help of statistics."
"This business called partnership is something for homosexuals. Client, for that matter, is something for prostitutes.
And outsourcing has everything to do with cuckolds."
"If multinationals were spoliators, as it’s already been said, São Paulo would be the poorest state of Brazil and the
state of Piauí, the richest one."
"The sweet exercise of cursing Americans in the name of nationalism free us from researching the causes of our
underdevelopment and allows any moron to draw applause at stump speeches."
"Opera is a cocktail that worsened the whole. It’s poetry of second, theater of third and music of fifth category."
"It was the revenge of a communist architect against the bourgeois society."
"I committed the only sin that politics does not forgive: to tell the truth before it’s time."
"By the way, as the target of injurious personal attacks, I’ve won all championships in this beloved fatherland."
"We are too far from an attainable wealth and too close to a correctable poverty. My generation didn’t make the grade."
"In the Brazilian state, assistants are better off than the assisted."
"Nationalists spend so much time hating other countries that they don’t have time to love their own country."
"There is only one thing wrong with the word revolution. It’s the letter R."
"I was a good prophet, better than Marx anyway. He predicted the collapse of capitalism while I predicted the
opposite: the failure of socialism."
"Communism is good to get us out of misery, but incompetent to take us to wealth."
"I never deluded myself with the totalitarianism from the left thanks to a simple reasoning. God is not socialist. He
created man profoundly unequal. All we can do is to humanly manage this inequality, trying to match opportunities, without
"Socialists, who are always talking about masses, didn’t create either mass consumption or mass culture. These
equalizing "massifications" were produced by the individualistic American culture."
"(President) Fernando Henrique said that leftists are stupid. This is no secret for a long time. And he was kind: he
didn’t say they are totalitarian."
"The state is an abstract entity that in fact does not exist. What do exist are flesh and blood public servants, with
sometimes petty interests and sometimes tyrannical appetites."
"Statism in Brazil is like man’s nipples: it’s neither useful nor ornamental."
"Diplomacy is like a pornographic movie: it’s better to be in it than simply watch it."
"Our constitution is a potpourri of dictionary of utopias and minute regulation of the ephemeral."
How’s Brazil’s self-esteem? Low, very low, according to a new poll by American ad agency Young & Rubicam.
After interviewing more than 20,000 Brazilians and Americans they found out that sometimes people from the US have Brazil
in better regard than Brazilian themselves.
The study asked the same question to all interviewees: "If Brazil were a brand name which are the qualities and
defects that would be associated to it?" Asked if the brand Brazil was associated with the word prestigious, 35 percent of
Brazilian said yes, while 85 percent of American gave an affirmative answer.
Is the brand Brazil associated to the idea of a useful country? A mere 15 percent of Brazilians classified their nation
as useful while 55 percent of American answered yes to the same question. Fifty percent of Americans classified Brazil as
sensual, but only 25 percent of Brazilians agreed with this statement.
Is the brand Brazil related to dynamic? Sixty percent of those from Brazil said yes, less than the 75 percent who said
the same in the US. Is it innovator? Thirty five percent of Brazilians said yes, five percent less than the number of
Americans who see Brazil as a trendsetter. As for the brand Brazil being arrogant, 80 percent of Brazilians agree with this
statement while 50 percent of Americans think the same thing.
Another study by Young and Rubicam among 100,000 people from 35 countries, at the end of last year, showed that
the Brazil as a brand sold well, bringing $31 billion in investments in 1999. The problem was the government. Japanese and
German saw the country as one of the leaders. French, British, Italian and American saw it as promising with a great potential in
the future. Foreigners stressed authenticity, cordiality, fun, dynamism and progress as Brazilian traits. The country won low
marks, however, for quality, innovation and trustworthiness.
Now Things Are About to Get Out of Hand
Either the Itamaraty (Brazil’s Foreign Relations Office)
honors its existence and deals with
relations issues, or it is better to sell it off
as a multilingual-staff catering service.
Things are really getting ugly now. The spokesman for the US Embassy in Brasília has recently informed that the
Brazilian and the United States governments are negotiating the installation of a CIA office in São Paulo, the country’s
financial capital. According to the information, the future office will accommodate in its quarters two agents and one
Such an announcement is an impertinence associated with an act of surrender from our country. The whole point of the
deal is to sub-contract the duties of information intelligence in Brazil through making a concession to a foreign nation.
The CIA had always held "unofficial" offices in São Paulo, Brasília, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and Recife. In Rio,
their offices were located at the ninth floor of the American Consulate building in the city. At one time, the agency held a
staff of 60 working in the country. There surely is a copy of a two-paged, unsigned document in their Washington files
entitled "Suggestions for Oral Understanding", which stated the grounds for an effective relationship between the two
nations’ intelligence communities.
A former Brazil-based Agency director published his memoirs, and another one stated his dismay with the deactivation
of Brazil’s Intelligence Bureau, the infamous SNI (National Intelligence Service, which was closed in the early 90s). One
has to recognize that the American Agency’s reports on the situation inside the country were always superior to those
drafted by their national counterparts.
Once the US Embassy announced their current negotiations with the Brazilian government as to open an official office
in São Paulo, one has to notice that this situation is clearly impertinent. I don’t believe that the United States would admit
the installation of a Brazilian Army Intelligence Center in Washington. The CIA can operate worldwide, hiding under the
veil of diplomacy. It is that simple.
It was under that cover that one agent gave misleading information in regard to the practice of torture that the
Brazilian government inflicted on political prisoners. Any American citizen can check the information by requesting copies of
a certain cable sent by the US Consulate in São Paulo on August 24, 1970.
Frankly, the Brazilian government is openly admitting a concession on it sovereignty. There is no way that these
gentlemen will install themselves in Brazil in order to help in enforcing the law and maintaining the order. For example, in a
recent past, a representative of the US government influenced the release of two smugglers from the Federal Police in order
to comply with the interests of a certain member of the US Senate.
The US-led war on terrorism deserves the total collaboration of all nations as long as that does not jeopardize the
national sovereignty. Instead of negotiate the opening of a CIA office in Brazil (which is almost effective) President
Fernando Henrique Cardoso should create a national organ that would be in charge of negotiating issues of international
security issues. Either the Itamaraty (Brazil’s Foreign Relations Office) honors its existence and deals with foreign relations
issues, or it is better to sell it off as a multilingual-staff catering service.
As the rules go, to date any US law enforcement agent (for example, the DEADrug Enforcement Administration)
deals with the Brazilian Federal Police. In one occasion, a US Treasury officer met with gas, water and electricity suppliers
in order to negotiate the utility charges invoiced against the consulate in São Paulo. If the CIA installs an official office in
town, the Brazilian government might find it hard to impose its authority, and that’s where things just might get out or hand.
According to the US Embassy, the CIA office will share with the Federal Police and Brazil’s Central Bank any
information regarding terrorism and money laundering. One can logically assume that the CIA is much more rigorous than the
above mentioned organs. Anyway, that is a matter of sovereignty.
The US agents might just want to denounce the Brazilian authorities’ red tape. They know exactly what they are
talking about. However, when it comes to their own interests, such as the Sivam case (the rain-forest satellite-monitoring
system that was once considered), they just might as well act under the table, as they have done before.
One cannot do much about the ways of bureaucracy. Just to refresh the Americans’ memory, one recalls that a
former president, the late Richard Nixon, tried to use the CIA to perform a bogus money-laundering operation in Mexico in
order to cover for his wrongdoing in Washington. The mission failed, and the agency owed that to their vice-director,
General Vernon Wallets, who by the way is that US representative who intervened in the case of the smugglers.
There is only one argument in favor of this novelty: Whenever a Brazilian citizen uncovers a politician sending money
to secret accounts in tax shelters, he or she can make the following threat to the guys in power: "The CIA will know about this!"
Translated by Ernest Barteldes
Elio Gaspari is a columnist with O Globo (www.oglobo.com.br) where this text was
Torture and Impunity
They treat us like animalsa complaint which has become familiar to Amnesty International delegates on their
regular visits to prisons and police stations across Brazilis the title of the human rights organization’s new report, presented
October in São Paulo.
Published at a time when the Brazilian government is launching a campaign to combat torture, the report documents
its widespread and systematic use against criminal suspects and detainees at all levels of the Brazilian criminal justice
system, from the point of arrest, through detention in police stations, to incarceration in prisons and juvenile detention centers.
"The extraction of confessions under torture is apparently a routine practiceso much so that it has become a de
facto replacement for modern policing and investigative techniques in the context of strong pressures on the authorities and
the judiciary to fight the soaring crime rates," Amnesty International said.
Amnesty International’s report also highlights the plight of the thousands of men, women and children detained in
the country’s terminally overcrowded penitentiary system, which was exposed to the world’s attention in the past 12 months
as a result of a series of prison riots nationwide.
"Torture and ill-treatment are regularly meted out as the only means to control inmates in a prison system on the
brink of collapse," the organization added.
Only a few weeks ago, detainees in the Santo André’s pre-trial detention center in São Paulo told Amnesty
International delegates about two separate incidents in different facilities in which an estimated 62 detainees were violently beaten by
guards. In one of these incidents, in the Belém 2 pre-trial detention center, detainees were removed from punishment cells at
night, taken to a small room, hooded and beaten for over half an hour. This was repeated over three nights.
The situation in the São Paulo FEBEM (State Foundation for the Well-Being of Minors) juvenile detention system is
also particularly worrying, says Amnesty, with continuous reports of detainees being beaten and subjected to cruel and
"In the past 12 months, at least 1,000 cases of beatings by prison guards have been reported in FEBEM facilities, yet
not one of the guards responsible for these abuses is known to have been charged under the Torture Law," Amnesty
International said, adding that the same pattern of torture and impunity is repeated all over the country.
"Impunitythe failure to bring those responsible to justiceis one of the main factors contributing to the
prevalence of torture in Brazil," the organization continued, noting that while the country has had a law against torture in place for
four years, its implementation is virtually non-existent, due to ignorance of its provisions or reluctance to put it in practice.
Amnesty International acknowledges that the Brazilian government has been frank and forthright in addressing the
issue of torture in international forumsmost recently before the United Nations Committee Against Tortureand welcomes
the announcement of measures to combat this scourge.
"However, it is essential that the government does not limit itself to purely cosmetic measures, and undertakes a
fundamental reform of the criminal justice system, targeting all the elements and stages within it which facilitate incidents of
torture and ill-treatment and contribute to the impunity of those responsible," the organization said.
The report puts forward a series of detailed recommendations on concrete steps to be taken to eradicate torture.
ensuring that laws such as the Torture Law and the Statute for Children and Adolescents (ECA) are fully
implemented, to protect detainees against torture and ill-treatment;
enhancing the professionalism of police forces by giving them the training and resources needed to enable them to
do their job effectively without resorting to human rights violations;
setting up effective complaints procedures, ensuring that complainants are examined by a doctor in the presence of
an independent witness and guaranteeing the adequate protection of complainants and witnesses, including the provision
of effective legal aid to all those who may need it;
strengthening mechanisms for the investigation of torture complaints;
reforming the prison system to ensure that inmates are treated humanely and in conformity with Brazilian law and
international standards. This includes separating different categories of prisoners, providing adequate funding and training to
prison staff and setting up a dedicated, effective and independent monitoring body.
"The Brazilian federal government must accept its responsibility and ensure
that all of the country’s 26 states and the Federal District duly and
effectively implement all the necessary reforms," Amnesty International said.
You can read the report "They Treat Us Like Animals": Torture and ill-treatment
in Brazil at
The Art and the Art
This writer has been in New York for a year, and it’s always a pleasure to have an opportunity to revisit something
that is related to the land where I spent the greater part of my years.
Brazil: Body and Soul is the name of the exhibit that opened at the Guggenheim Museum last Oct. 19. The first
contact we have with Brazilian art is an impressive 17th century altar that was brought in from the state of Pernambuco, Brazil
As I saw the structure, I recalled when I saw that same altar where it originally stoodinside the São Bento
monastery in the historical city of Olinda (not far from Recife, Pernambuco’s state capital), in the northeastern area of Brazil.
It is quite impressive how they took apart the enormous structure, which reaches the museum’s third floor, to bring it
over to New York. Seeing the sacred structure inside the museum gave me mixed emotions, which I will get back to later in
On we went up the Guggenheim’s Rotundas to admire, remember and learn more about the history of Brazilian art.
The first part begins with visions of Brazil by foreign artists. For example, there are paintings by Frans Post and Albert
Eckhout who made paintings from life during the short-lived Dutch colonization of the Northeastern part of the country (mainly Recife).
The works basically depict life in the colony, with its natives, Africans and colonizers. The exhibit then moves on to
the Baroque period. A lot of three-dimensional wooden and stone sculptures of deep religious influence, such as those made
by Antônio Francisco de Lisboa, who was better known as
O Aleijadinho (The Little Cripple), who was the most prominent
artist of that era.
The 19th century is represented by the Afro art, rich with symbols of the Candomblé, which is the African religion
that was taken to Brazil by the enslaved blacks, who mostly resisted the Christian education that the Portuguese attempted to
impose on them.
Today, Candomblé (despite the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church) is present in every place in Brazil,
although its influence is mostly felt in the northeastern state of Bahia and in Rio de Janeiro, where the concentration of
African-Brazilians is higher than in other states.
The second decade of the 20th Century is represented by the Picasso-influenced modern wave that began during the
Modern Art Week of 1922 in São Paulo. Paintings by Di Cavalcanti, Tarsila do Amaral and others are well represented, such as
the historical Antropofagia (Anthropophagy, 1929) by Tarsila, as she is known in Brazil.
Tarsila do Amaral spent several years in Paris and she took home the influences she received from Cubism, Purism
and other emerging European art tendencies. Later in life, she turned to social realism, responding to her admiration for
Soviet art and culture.
The 1930s are represented by the art that was developed under the dictatorship of President Getúlio Vargas
(1930-1945 and elected back into office in 1950, where he remained until his infamous suicide in August 1954). Landscapes mark
that era, and the best known artist of those times was Cândido Portinari.
Other eras are also well represented, but a description of them would make this article too long. Between phases
there are several video showcases that are screened on the walls between floors. One of the screenings is
O Pagador de Promessas aka The Given
Word, the 1961 movie that depicts the sad story of Zé do Burro, who promised St. Barbaraon a
Candomblé ritualto take a cross to a church in Salvador, Bahia. The priest denies his entrance as he approaches the church, and
his presence, day after day, in front of the church, raises a media havoc that ends in tragedy.
Another one is It’s All True, the unfinished Orson Welles movie that tells the true story of three fishermen from
Fortaleza, Brazil who sail 2,000 miles to Rio de Janeiro (then the nation’s capital) in protest againt the harsh condition that their
profession, the jangadeiros, faced every day, and to ask the nation’s president for help.
Welles was impressed with the story, and traveled to Brazil in order to document how the story happened by doing it
all over again, but this time on film. The shoot ended in tragedy with the death of one of the fishermen, and Welles
abandoned the project, which was only posthumously released almost 50 years lateredited by two Brazilian filmmakers.
One of the last video screenings is
Carnavalbasically a video of the parade performed by the Samba Schools in
Rio every year during Mardi Gras, which is one of the lowest points of
Brazil Body and Soul. Sadly, the video depicts only
the exhibition of flesh that is common during those paradesmodels and wannabes who display their enhanced bodies in
order to either get their "fifteen minutes" or a contract with
Playboy. Carnaval is not that.
The celebration, which used to mark the four days of free partying before the period of Holy Lent is one of the
trademarks of Brazilian culture, and it is a nationwide holiday where people dance, have fun and perform certain "excesses". The
displays of nudity are part of the parades in São Paulo and Rio, but that is not true in the rest of the country, although that is the
image that most foreignersespecially Americansget.
Another low point to this writer is one of the most stunning parts of the showthe already mentioned altar from the
São Bento Monastery in Olinda. It is hard to understand how the Brazilian authorities (not to mention the Roman Catholic
Church in Brazil itself) allowed a historical altar, which stood for more than 200 years inside a church of historical importance
to the country, to be taken apart and included in a commercial exhibit in foreign lands.
Such a desecration would be comparable to taking an American symbol apart (say, the Washington Memorial) and
taking it somewhere around the world to be put into display for cash. Of course, some might argue, Brazil is a Third-World
impoverished country, but some things should not be allowed to be done. Taking apart a two-and-a-half century-old altar is
definitely one of them.
Brazil Body and Soul is, despite its low points, a worthwhile experience for anyone interested in art from a country
that has given a significant contribution to it on a very global basis.
Brazil Body and Soul
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Avenue (at 89th Street)
New York, NY
Ernest Barteldes is an ESL and Portuguese teacher. In addition to that, he is a freelance writer whose work has been
published by The Greenwich Village Gazette, The Staten Island Advance, The Staten Island Register, The SI Muse, Brazzil
magazine, The Villager, GLSSite, Entertainment Today
and other publications. He lives in Staten Island, NY. He can be reached