Year after year it is the same thing, the annual summer routine of
floods, a phenomenon well-known to Brazilians. But this year as in the past, along with
the certainty that it will rain, the other certainties are that floods will follow, and
there will be excuses.
By Brazzil Magazine
Weekly newsmagazine Isto É, the Brazilian equivalent of Newsweek, dedicated
its cover to the subject, so did Manchete, another popular weekly. The news
garnered headlines with large colorful pictures in all major newspapers, made the
prime-time news on TV, and got four pages and large revealing pictures in Veja, the
Brazilian Time. The momentous subject? Topless in Rio. Época, another
weekly, proclaimed over close-up female breasts on its cover: "FREEDOM".
Most people outside Brazil would think the country and certainly Rio is the uncensored
paradise for those wishing to expose their bodies. Not so. It was a controversial action
by the police that set in motion a chain reaction culminating with Rio’s governor, Anthony
Garotinho, an evangelical Christian, to allow topless bathing in beaches all over the
Rio’s mayor Luiz Paulo Conde followed suit announcing the creation of a nude beach in
the city. "It’s going to be the summer of the topless bather," declared Conde.
As expected, the Catholic Church is fuming and more than one person on moral grounds has
already threatened with court injunctions to prevent topless bathing to become legal on
It all started on January 9, a Sunday, when the police detained Rosemeri Moura Costa,
34, and her boyfriend Antônio Saraiva de Almeida, 63, at Reserva Beach, in Recreio dos
Bandeirantes on Rio’s west side, because the woman was sunbathing without her top. The
practice of going topless on Rio’s beaches has been tolerated for years and foreign
tourists from Europe have being doing it without being bothered.
Rosemeri has unwillingly become the heroine of the movement. She is the mother of a
16-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy and was used to baring her breasts at Recreio dos
Bandeirantes, a place where nobody seemed to pay attention to this kind of behavior
anymore. But some 20 men from the military police came armed with batons, rifles and even
machine guns, in response to a complaint, they say. When Almeida tried to defend his
girlfriend, who refused to cover her breasts as ordered, he was slapped and the woman
ended up going to jail accused of obscenity.
The violence of it all stunned Brazilians and the world. CNN carried the news
throughout the planet. Less than 48 hours after the incident women across the state had
won the right to walk bare breasted on all public beaches. The discussion to allow women
to expose their bosoms on Rio’s sands or not, split high ranking police officials. Josias
Quintal, the secretary for Public Security, for example, was in favor of continuing the
repression of the practice, but ended up ordering the police to adopt the new,
"look-the-other way" policy.
Rio’s Environmental Secretary Maurício Lobo came out in defense of the
"naturalists", the name nudists prefer to be called in Brazil. In 1994 the
secretary had reserved Abricó beach for those who like to sunbathe in the buff, but a
court injunction prevented this from happening. In the end, Public Security Secretary,
Josias Quintal, determined that police should leave topless enthusiasts alone even though
he is personally against women showing their boobies in public.
Quintal tried to argue, "There are families who are more conservative and that are
offended by this behavior." But he did not convince the majority. Moreover he
couldn’t explain why the police were in force on the beach to prevent naked breasts but
incapable of explaining the origin of body parts that showed up on several beaches, that
same week, apparently the result of gang feuds over drug territory.
José Carlos Dias, the Minister of Justice himself, entered the discussion in
statement to Isto É: "Since when is nudity an obscene act? The police
response was an obscenity. It was pornographic! It was really appalling. I saw a beautiful
scene on a Grecian beach. There were women in swimsuits, others in string bikini, others
going topless, and still others naked. It became funny because everybody would go the way
they wanted. I, of course, kept my swimsuit on all the time."
The state of Bahia, which has been more liberal in this front, used the occasion to
publish an ad in national newspapers with a topless girl on the beach and the caption:
"In Bahia you can since 1500." 1500 is the date the Portuguese arrived in
Brazil. Pero Vaz de Caminha, the reporter on board, wrote to Portugal’s King about the
women Indians showing their "shameful parts without any shame".
The controversy and the new measures, brought scores of snoopers to Ipanema and
Copacabana beaches and also several women new to the practice of topless bathing, ready
for any sacrifice and eager to show their mammary glands to the media cameras that showed
up in the area. People like Cristina Ferraz, 21, explained her naked breasts with:
"Everybody is taking it off and I’m doing the same."
In the days following the police violence, there were several protests on the beach. In
one of them, in legendary Posto 9 in Ipanema, the police observed from afar, a group of
students who took off the tops of their bikinis and covered their bare breasts with
placards proclaiming their freedom to expose themselves as they wished. Some of the
phrases on the cards: "Down with hypocrisy", "It’s my body and I decide
what to do with it". Some men in the area adhered to the protest donning themselves
the discarded bikini tops.
Wrote Veja magazine: "To forbid the topless bathing is a contradictory
stance in Brazil, country that exports images of almost naked dancers during the Carnaval
parades and where the TV helps to create sexual symbols as Tiazinha, Feiticeira and the
dancers from the group É o Tchan. The Globeleza mulata, the symbol of Globo
network during Carnaval, is shown without anything over her skin, besides body paint in
strategic places, and it never occurred to the MPs to enter the studios of Globo to detain
executives of the TV station for indecency."
Mayor Luiz Paulo Conde reminded that Rio has always been the place in Brazil where
behavioral changes and trends start. "Beachgoers have shown that they live at ease
with topless bathing," Conde remarked. Rio never lost its position as a trendsetter
even after losing the capital to Brasília and much of its glamour to cosmopolitan São
Paulo. It was in Rio that the bikini was introduced in the ’60s and then the tanga
(string bikini) in the late ’70s. The fio dental (dental floss) and the asa
delta (hang glider) minuscule bottoms appeared during the ’80s. Many believe that
topless bathing came too late: exactly 29 years after it was introduced in France and from
there spread throughout Europe.
The Lack and the Excess
Jorge Mário da Silva does not forget the times when as a newcomer to Rio and a
would-be musician he had no other place to sleep but on the beach and the streets. Times
changed a lot since then and he just started a solo career after leading the Farofa
Carioca band since 1993, in which he sang and composed. Farofa Carioca is the most
critically acclaimed musical group in Rio today.
Da Silva is much better known nowadays as Seu Jorge and is involved in a myriad of
projects and activities, including a stay in the jungle with an Indian tribe, the
recording of a solo CD and the starring role in Finnish director Mika Kaurismaki’s
fictional documentary Moro no Brasil (I Live in Brazil).
It’s for this film, financed by German TV, that Seu Jorge wrote in partnership with
Gabriel Moura, from Farofa, "A Nova Música". The lyrics talk about the two
faces of a Brazil that is at once wealthy and poor, classy and campy, First and Third
World, formal and informal.
A Nova Música
Tem um Brasil que é próspero
The New Song
There is a Brazil that’s prosperous
Like Our Parents
Brazilian parents and their teenager children are much more alike than you would
assume. They wear the same clothes, cut their hair the same way, have the same fundamental
beliefs, use the same slang and even enjoy the same music. Caetano Veloso in his fifties
is the teen music idol he was for their parents. Some other musicians like Rita Lee and
Gilberto Gil also draw the youth as they did 30 years ago. Director Alfred Hitchcock is
another common favorite.
To believe new polls conducted among others by MTV, the conflict of generations has
ended in Brazil and the gap between kids and their progenitors has disappeared. A study
conducted by MTV Brazil with 2,425 youngsters revealed that children are staying longer
with their parents, in many cases leaving only when they marry. A mere 18 percent of these
youths say they are eager to leave the parental roof.
They have plenty of reasons to stay and no generational conflict is strong enough to
dim the appeal of free housing, food and washed clothes. Besides, a large percentage of
these boys and girls are allowed or even encouraged by parents to use their rooms to bring
their sweethearts to spend the night and enjoy sex as they please. How is their
relationship with their parents? Excellent and good, answered 90 percent of the wealthier
Violence is the number one worry for these youngsters. The paternal house works as a
shelter. Sixty four percent of them believe that walking in the streets is an open
invitation to be assaulted and 74 percent don’t trust the police and are even afraid of
them. The today’s youth wants distance from politics and are more conservative than their
parents in areas like drugs, religion and marriage. A mere 15 percent are in favor of
legalizing marijuana, while 69 percent believe in God and 70 percent want to get married.
Another study, this one by Rio’s Centro Educacional da Lagoa, among 15 to 19 year-old
students and their parents, revealed that both generations have rock as their first
musical choice, that Machado de Assis’s Dom Casmurro and Antoine de Saint
Exupéry’s The Little Prince are among their favorite books, and that Leonardo da
Vinci and Picasso are two names that unite parents and kids in the arts. Albert Einstein
is the scientist they admire the most, followed by Sigmund Freud. In politics Kennedy is
the common choice, even though nobody got more votes among the younger crowd than "no
Among the differences between kids and parents is the fact that children are working
much less than their father and mother did. While 34.2 percent of the parents worked when
they were their kids’ age, only 5.9 of the students are working today.
More Than Shoe Shiners
While the majority of Brazilian newcomers to the US are still illegal immigrants who
overstay their visa or enter the country through the Mexican border, a new breed of
incomersmuch better prepared and more affluentis being noticed. Data from the
INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) show that 70 percent of Brazilians obtaining
their green cards nowadays are getting it for professional reasons.
A new study conducted by the New York City administration also shows this same trend.
According to the report, 2,761 Brazilians obtained a green card in New York between 1995
and 1996. From these, 27 percent, the biggest concentration, were living in the Upper East
Side, a upper scale area of Manhattan where monthly rentals for housing average $5,000.
The number of Brazilians getting the right to live permanently and work in the States
is still very small, since according to the Brazilian Consulate in New York estimates,
there are 300,000 people from Brazil living in the states of New York, New Jersey,
Connecticut, Delaware and Pennsylvania, the areas covered by that department. Others
estimate that for every Brazilian who makes it big on Yankee shores, 400 others live from
day to day just getting enough to survive and maybe save a little at the end of the month.
According to a recent article in Veja (Brazil’s main weekly news magazine),
Brazilians in New York are losing to the competition even in areas they were prevalent
until recently, like shoe shining in which they have a small monopoly. One case cited is
that of Serbs and Croats, war refugees, who arrive eager to work and to learn English and
who are taking Brazilian jobs as waiters. Russians are taking over construction jobs, and
Filipino and Russian women are entering the baby-sitting feuds with a vengeance.
As an example of the new upscale Brazilians arriving in town, Veja cites
composer and pianist Marcelo Zarvos, 30, who came to New York five years ago and keeps
busy composing for the movies and appearing in concerts. "What unites the cultural
cauldron of the city is the language," Zarvos says. "He who arrives here without
speaking English will be condemned to live in a Brazilian ghetto. In this case, it’s
better to stay in Brazil."
Aparecido Bueno Camargo, the president of Abrafarma (Associação Brasileira de Redes
de Farmácias e DrogariasBrazilian Association of Pharmacy and Drugstore Chains) was
candidly talking to the members of a CPI (Comissão Parlamentar de
InquéritoParliamentary Enquiry Committee when he dropped the bomb: "The
medicine market is full of trash BO." BO? What does it mean, a committee member
wanted to know. "Bom para otário" (Good for suckers), Camargo explained.
And continued, a little puzzled by the commotion he caused: "This is a traditional
classification. BOs have existed since pharmacies have." He wouldn’t name names, but
promised to prepare a list of these products for dupes.
The BO medicines, which are placebo products, are shelved together with the real stuff
and are not illegal or clandestine. They are even licensed by the Health Ministry. In the
days following Camargo’s revelation, some pharmacists disputed the meaning of BO, saying
that it stood for bonus medicine, that is, drugs that bring a special commission to the
pharmacist every time it is sold. What brings still another problem of the drug industry,
the so-called empurroterapia (pushtherapy). Pharmacists and clerks are in the habit
of trying to convince clients to buy those products that give them a bigger profit.
Medicine in Brazil is a $12-billion-a-year business. Multinationals represent 95
percent of this market, which has grown by 14 percent during the 1990s. Congress is
investigating why drugs are so expensive in Brazil. After two weeks of hearings, the
committee did not seem closer to a conclusion about high prices, but had to add new
problems to be investigated. Pharmaceutical laboratories have been accused of intensely
campaigning for and boycotting the introduction of generic drugs in Brazil.
Earlier in the CPI, doctors’ representatives talked about a promiscuous relationship
between physicians and pharmaceutical laboratories. For Edson Oliveira Andrade, president
of CFM (Conselho Federal de MedicinaFederal Council of Medicine), there is
"without a doubt, a significant interference of the pharmaceutical industry in the
professional practice of doctors." To promote some drugs, doctors get from small
souvenirs like pens to cars and trips overseas.
Among the ideas being aired to prevent abuses are the prohibition of free sample
distribution, the exclusive use of generic drugs on prescriptions and the ban of medicine
ads outside medical publications.
The president of the Doctors National Federation, Héder Murari Borba, thinks that is
high time to curb the interference of labs. During his deposition he cited several
instances in which this interference was very clear. He also brought stickers, which were
distributed by a lab, for doctors to place on the prescriptions. They said: "I do not
authorize the substitution of this drug." Representative Fernando Zuppo showed a
communication by Pfizer urging doctors to participate in a competition whose top prize was
Worse than Brazil only India and Russia. According to a study made by Universidade
Estadual de Campinas’s Cesit (Centro de Estudos Sindicais e de Economia do
TrabalhoCenter of Union and Job Economy Studies), Brazil, in absolute numbers, has
today the third largest contingent of unemployed people among 141 countries. They are a
mass of 7.7 million. There are almost 40 million jobless in India and 9.1 million in
The situation has been deteriorating since 1990 when Brazil was eighth in this ranking.
By 1995 the country had already fallen to fifth place. While in 1986 Brazil had 1.7
percent of all the jobless in the world, this number has risen to 5.6 percent today.
Márcio Pochmann, the economist who coordinated the Cesit’s study, sees all these
figures as added proof that Brazilian economic policies have failed to generate jobs.
Pochmann noticed that unemployment in First World countries has been decreasing since the
1970s. In 1990, the US was number two on the list.
When the same study was conducted in 1975 with the same 141 countries there were 37.8
million jobless. Today this number increased to 138 million.
Third World countries were disproportionately affected by the problem. While 59 percent
of the jobless were from underdeveloped countries in 1975, this share has grown to 79.4
To measure unemployment in Brazil were used data from the PNAD (Pesquisa Nacional por
Amostra de DomicíliosNational Study Through Home Sampling), a research conducted
yearly by IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e EstatísticaBrazilian Institute
for Geography and Statistics). The Cesit’s study considered unemployed only those people
listed under a heading called open unemployment, that is, people who are looking for a job
and are not making any money from any paying activity
All the Sounds
How rich is Brazilian music? You will get an idea when a new dictionary with 5,000
terms is completed by year’s end. It’s the Dicionário Albim de MPB. MPB means
Música Popular Brasileira (Brazilian Popular Music), but the expression has been
stretched to the limit, to include from Padre Anchieta (1534-1597), a Jesuit who arrived
in Brazil in 1552 and dedicated his life to converting the Indians, to Padre Marcelo
Rossi, a priest who has been drawing hundreds of thousands to his show-masses. Add to this
Dom Pedro I (1798-1834)Brazil’s emperor, the man who declared the country’s
independence and a Don Juan who wrote several love modinhas to his mistress
Marquise of Santosplus dozens of names nobody ever heard about and you understand
that one thing you will not find in the new lexicon: prejudice.
"Our dictionary has no kind of aesthetic censorship. Everything that is not
unpublished and that has had some repercussion in the social field will be
mentioned," said Cravo Albim in an interview with Rio’s daily Jornal do Brasil.
All the usual suspects will still be there naturally. Names like Chiquinha Gonzaga,
Pixinguinha, Noel Rosa, João Gilberto, Tom Jobim, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso and
Gilberto Gil. But the team of 15 experts who are preparing the dictionary want to be sure
that no one that left any impression on Brazilian musical culture be left out. It does not
matter if he or she produced classical or kitsch sound.
The work has been divided into five segments: from the origin to bossa nova;
from bossa nova to today; samba, pagode, and axé; regional music;
and rock, pop, brega (schmultzy) and adjacent. Every one of these segments should
contribute with close to 1000 entries.
Coordinating the whole effort is renowned music critic Ricardo Cravo Albim, who started
to work in the project in 1966, had to stop in 1997 for monetary reasons, but is now in
the fast track as of 1999. The Ministry of Culture has adopted the undertaking and is
financing it. The information will be available over the Internet, but there are also
plans to publish a book with the information.
In charge of the popular music segment, stretching from colonial times to around 1959
when the bossa nova appears, are music critic Artur de Oliveira and musician
Márcia Taborda. Says Oliveira: "Father Anchieta was the first Brazilian composer.
Music was one of the most important elements in his catechism. He was the first one to
write works of popular music."
Now the Very Young
Brazil has already lost more than 170,000 people to the AIDS virus. Now, a new study
shows that there are also thousands of less noticed victims: the children that were left
orphan and that in many instances are rejected by relatives and friends. In the first
study dealing with kids left parentless due to AIDS, the Health Ministry concluded that
are almost 30,000 children in this situation.
This number may be considered insignificant when compared to the situation in Africa,
where according to the UN there will be 10 million orphans by the year 2002. "But
this is still a worrisome number," said Reiko Niimi, representative of Unicef in
Brazil, in an interview with Correio Braziliense, Brasília’s main daily.
The 29,929 number is just an estimate. As Pedro Chequer, the Health Ministry’s
coordinator for STD (Sexual Transmitted Diseases) and AIDS, explained: "There is no
way to make a census this size. But it is the closest to the Brazilian reality that we can
get." According to experts, the problem is worse than projected a few years ago
mainly because the disease has been attacking men and women almost equally. While in 1985
there was one woman with AIDS for every 24 men, today for every two men there is a woman
infected. As for children, there are more than 6000 Brazilian kids with AIDS.
The number of women infected by the disease should continue to climb because AIDS is
not being taken seriously by younger women. A study by Bemfam (Sociedade Civil Bem-Estar
Social do BrasilBrazil’s Social Well Being Civilian Society) among 12,648 women and
2,846 men of various ages in 13,000 residences throughout the country, showed that a mere
4 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 24 have sexual intercourse with their
partners wearing condom.
The study conducted in partnership with Unicef and the American CDC (Centers for
Disease Control) found out that AIDS is today the main cause of death among 20 to
34-year-old women and the second one for men, who at this age die mainly from violent
causes. In the whole country, AIDS is already the fourth biggest killer for men and women
in this age group.
For Maria Eugênia Lemos Fernandes, an infectologist, the media, TV in particular, has
a major responsibility for the reckless way youngsters act. According to her, they talk
about condoms and the dangers of AIDS, but there is also an excessive eroticisation of the
airwaves with couples participating in constant sexual intercourse without any mention of
the need for a prophylactic.
Dr. Fernandes believes that’s high time to have an aggressive campaign to promote
condoms and urges parents to dispense these prophylactics to girls and boys alike as if
they were soap or toothpaste. She also suggests that condoms are made more available,
being sold among other places in newsstands and school cafeterias.