Chronology of a Rumor

Chronology of a Rumor

"I can, without hesitation, affirm that the US does not want to
a piece of our geography in the country’s schools.
All these rumors are a conscious act on the part of people
linked to right-wing sectors."
By Paulo R. de Almeida

Recently I became aware of the existence of a new wave of Internet rumors about
American maps showing a divided Brazil, maps supposedly used in schools in the United
States. On October 9, the "Discussão de História do Brasil" [Discussion of
history of Brazil] mailing list—which apparently discloses each and every piece of
news from its subscribers without questioning either the contents or the basis of the
supposed "information"—gave wider readership to what is no more than the
grossest disinformation. The mailing list, nevertheless, insisted in treating the
"news" as if it were credible.

To those who were not following the earlier wave of rumors (which circulated between
May and June of this year), I would like to say immediately that such apparently alarming
"news" has no basis.

I can, without hesitation, affirm that the United States does not want to amputate a
piece of our geography
in the country’s schools and that the supposed maps simply do
not exist
. All these rumors are merely "national," "made in
Brazil" disinformation, a conscious act on the part of persons and groups not yet
fully identified but who are linked to right-wing sectors that specialize in transmitting
news of supposed attacks against our sovereignty in a manner that is not merely paranoid,
but also irresponsible.

These groups, apparently acting out of bad faith, have found support in other sincere
or ideologically "anti-imperialist" sectors that always appreciate hearing
stories about supposed American threats against Brazil’s territorial integrity or
sovereignty over its Amazon region. Many other persons, with no political motivation,
sincerely believe that these maps exist and that they are consciously being divulged as
part of a broader, long-term strategy to internationalize the Amazon Rain Forest and
amputate a piece of Brazil.

Since the story was unintentionally circulated for the first time by the electronic
bulletin Ciência Hoje [Science Today], I reproduce below the formal denial issued
by Rubens Antonio Barbosa, the Brazilian Ambassador to the United States, which was
published in the Sociedade Brasileira para o Progresso da Ciência [Brazilian Society for
the Progress of Science] electronic bulletin Ciência Hoje on June 8 of this year.

In summary, these rumors are completely unfounded; moreover, they are not being
spread in the United States
, but in the electronic bulletins of sectors nostalgic for
the "Brazil as a Great Power" military era (the unidentified authors use the
slogan "Brasil, Ame-o ou Deixe-o" [Brazil: Love It or Leave It]), sectors
dedicated to propagating false news about Amazon maps supposedly being reproduced in
United States schoolbooks to initiate (or prepare, according to the paranoid) a future
dismemberment of the Brazilian Amazon.

These allegations have no foundation, and these maps do not exist. They are merely an
example of irresponsible rumormongering that was involuntarily disseminated by the
always-open channels of electronic mailing lists. I want to clarify the fact that the
website that divulged the false "news" about the Amazon maps no longer displays
material about the maps but continues divulging similar notes about the
"threats" that still weigh upon the region, among them that of a "Yanomani
Socialist Republic," presided over by a United States citizen.

Finally, I would like to ask the readers to reflect upon the ethical problem posed by
divulging over the Internet each and every allegation heard from unidentified sources
without at least verifying the contents or the veracity of such "information."

I would ask all those who receive "news" like this to endeavor to adopt a
less alarmist attitude: do not disseminate baseless news, endeavor to clear up the rumors,
and try to apply a little rationality to an inconsistent matter that has already mobilized
many people for a very long time for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Paulo R. de Almeida
Minister-Counselor of the Brazilian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
3006 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC – USA 20008
Ph (202) 238-2740 Fax: 238-2827
Web page: <>
E-mails: <> 

Denial of Rumor by the Ambassador of Brazil in Washington, D.C., June 8, 2000

From: Paulo Roberto de Almeida
Sent: Thursday, June 8, 2000, 17:56
To: ‘’
Subject: Ciência Hoje/Amazônia

Attention Editors of Ciência Hoje Eletrônico, José Monserrat and Tiago

Due to the unforeseen repercussions and the great commotion surrounding the matter of
the so-called "Amazon maps," I ask that the following note be published over my


Rubens Antonio Barbosa
Embassy of Brazil in Washington

Fax: (1-202) 238-2827

On May 11, 2000, the journal Ciência Hoje Eletrônico [Science Today
Electronic] published a letter to the editor from Simone de Freitas, of the Department of
Ecology of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, in which she expressed her concern
about instructional geography materials supposedly distributed in American schools that
show the Brazilian territory divided into areas under Brazilian control and an "area
of international control" (the Amazon Rain Forest).

There were inconsistencies in the supposed information, and this was indicated in a
letter sent to the CHE editor on the same day by Minister Paulo Roberto de Almeida, my
assistant in this Embassy. Such "news" caused a predictably great commotion in
the community concerned, inspiring an enormous amount of correspondence and much
additional disinformation, a process that continues to this day.

Asked about the source of her information, Ms. Freitas offered, on May 16, a letter of
apology, published by the CHE on that day, which acknowledged that it had been an error to
divulge information about which she had no confirmation or corroboration and concluded
"that, most probably, this information is not true. I make a formal apology for
divulging this information without concrete proof and without certainty of its

At the same time it was revealed that the information was being disseminated with its
origin misleadingly attributed to the Brazil Center of the University of Texas,
implicating Michelle Zweede as the person supposedly responsible. Ms. Zweede then
furnished a "disclaimer" to justifiably exonerate the Brazil Center from any
responsibility in divulging such false information. This disclaimer, however, did not stop
those alarmed about the supposed "news" from continuing to disseminate it by
means of the Internet. Some journalists compounded the error by divulging uninformed
articles on the matter.

What can the Embassy do to clear up the matter from now on?

The initial source of the supposed news was a website

associated with the slogan "Brasil, Ame-o ou Deixe-o" [Brazil: love it or leave
it], but with no identification of those responsible for the website.

The site actually contained the "news," the wording of which corresponded
exactly to Ms. Freitas’s first "letter" to CHE.

The "news" was in the meantime (between the 16th and the 18th of May) removed
from the website, and in its place a "Retraction" was published justifying the
lack of identification of the "news" sources by alleging that the hard drive had
been lost. The "retraction" is found at <>.

No evidence has yet appeared that such maps exist or that they are being used in
American schools. Everything appears to have originated, not from a supposed
"American conspiracy" to dismember the Amazon Rain Forest, but from
disinformation "made in Brazil" by sectors still unidentified.

Rubens Antonio Barbosa
Ambassador of Brazil in Washington, D.C.

Fax: (1-202) 238-2827

(translated by Linda Jerome,

Chronology of a Rumor

March/April 2000—The following note appears on the <>
website: "A surprising fact was recently brought up by Brazilians observing the
United States primary and middle-school education system: the world map used in the
geography classes in some important American schools shows a divided Brazil. On the map in
question, Brazil is the territory below the Pantanal and the Amazon region; the remainder
of the country is labeled "Area of International Control." In other schools, the
teachers ask for student support of an intervention and, if necessary, a war to tear the
Amazon region away from the "destroyers of nature (Brazilians)." This is yet
another proof that the foreigners’ idea of intervening in the Amazon has now evolved into
the operative phase."

The note spreads throughout the Internet. Soon maps of a divided Brazil accompany the
messages, maps that are also found on the <> website and are
apparently the creation of the website’s authors.

May 11, 2000—After receiving the message, Professor Simone de Freitas, of the
Department of Ecology of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, writes to the Sociedade
Brasileira para o Progresso da Ciência [Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science]
journal Ciência Hoje Eletrônico [Science Today Electronic] (CHE). Without
verifying the origin of the information, CHE publishes the letter online, thereby giving
it credibility and causing it to circulate even more. On the same day Minister-Counselor
Paulo Roberto de Almeida, of the Brazilian Embassy in Washington DC, writes to CHE, asking
the journal to obtain clarification from the reader Simone de Freitas and indicating that
once it possesses precise information, the Embassy can investigate the matter.

Also at the beginning of May, Senator Marina Silva (Workers Party, Acre) telephones the
researcher Michelle Zweede, of the Brazil Center at the University of Texas, Austin,
asking the researcher’s help in investigating the messages. Zweede then sends an E-mail to
the address indicated on the website, asking, "Which American schools were using the
maps? Who are the "Brazilians observing" the phenomenon? Zweede receives no
response from the site, but three days after sending her own message, she receives a
message from the University of Florida asking her the very same questions. To her
surprise, the message from Florida reproduces the note from <> but,
in addition, her signature, Michelle Zweede, now appears at the bottom, along the
affiliation of the University of Texas, thus adding supposed credibility to the invented

May 16, 2000—CHE publishes a letter from Simone de Freitas apologizing for
spreading information that is possibly incorrect.

May 17 or 18, 2000—The <> website publishes a retraction.
"The source of the news is no longer [sic] in our possession due to computer
problems," it alleges. "We lost the hard drive containing it." The authors
of the site admit that "after much research, it was not possible to locate the
origin" of the news, "nor can we find it on the World Wide Web" or among
the site’s collaborators. "In spite of reaching a certain consensus among our team
members as to the author of the assertion [the source] and since we do not have the proof
in our hands, we judge it inconsiderate to keep the denouncement on our website and we are
withdrawing it," concludes the note, adding, "We hope this withdrawal is only
temporary since we will continue our efforts to solve the problem."

May 23, 2000—After receiving the E-mail with Zweede’s forged signature, the Estado
de São Paulo newspaper social columnist César Giobbi publishes a note that, once
again, reproduces the original message. A copy of Giobbi’s note is distributed over the
Internet citing the newspaper—but not mentioning the society column—as the

June 8, 2000—Due to the publication of his letter by CHE, Minister-Counselor Paulo
Roberto de Almeida is inundated by messages from angry Brazilians demanding action. On the
same day Ambassador Rubens Barbosa sends a new letter to CHE, explaining that there is no
evidence that such maps exist in the United States.

June 9, 2000—The University of Texas initiates an investigation of the
unauthorized use of its name.

June 11, 2000—At a ceremony in Brasília, Admiral Sérgio Chagasteles, the Navy
commander, gives a speech that is interpreted as a warning of the imminent
internationalization of the Amazon.

June 15, 2000—Anthony Harrington, the new U.S. Ambassador to Brazil, concludes his
first official speech in Brazil by saying, "There are those in Brazil who believe
that the United States is out to dominate the world. They see Uncle Sam as the big bully
with the big stick. Typical of that way of thinking is the belief that the United States
has secret plans to invade the Amazon in the name of saving the rain forest. That idea is
so ludicrous that I feel a little silly talking about it. But in the name of moving on, of
allowing Americans and Brazilians to get to the serious issues that we face together, let
me make this clear: The Amazon belongs to Brazil. It always will. And the myth that the
United States would invade is simply ridiculous. Period."

October 11, 2000—In discussing Third World debt during the second presidential
candidates’ debate, George W. Bush says, "Or do you trade debt for valuable rain
forest lands? Makes some sense."

Partially adapted from Linda Beck, "Internet cria rumor sobre
internacionalização da Amazônica" [Internet creates rumor about
internationalization of the Amazon], Estado de S. Paulo, June 12, 2000, by Linda

comments to

You May Also Like

World’s Biggest Clinical Stem Cell Research in Brazil Jeopardized by Legal Appeal

{mosimage}A row has broken out between Brazil’s most senior law official and its health ...

Brazil’s Lula Leaves Today for G8 Summit

According to professor Eiti Sato, of the University of BrasÀ­lia Department of International Relations, ...


Judith Kay is fascinated with Brazil and its music. After falling in love with ...

International AIDS Center Opens with US$ 1 Million Grant from Brazil

The world’s first International HIV/AIDS Technical Cooperation Center (Centro Internacional de Cooperação Técnica em ...

Brazil Has No Fears, Says Lula. But Foreign Investors Are Fleeing

Brazilian President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, reaffirmed today how solid is the Brazilian ...

Brazil’s Lula Called On to Soften Bush’s Heart on World Poverty

The United Nations seems to be failing to deliver on its  first Millennium Development ...

Brazil Raises Basic Interest Rate to 10.25% While Country Grows Unheard of 9%

Brazil’s Monetary Policy Committee (Copom) from the Brazilian Central Bank (BC) boosted this Wednesday ...

Today Is Brazil Day in New York

The Brazilian Minister of Development, Industry, and Foreign Trade, Luiz Fernando Furlan, opens Brazil ...

For Greenpeace Brazil’s Transgenic Soybeans Have No Scientific Basis

Despite the forecast of a harvest including 25 million tons of transgenic soybeans, the ...

Brazil Group in Charge of Cleaning the Police Indicted for Murder and Torture

Brazil’s Special Group for Fighting Organized Crime (Gaeco) of the state of Paraná has ...