Sérgio Motta and Luís Eduardo Magalhães die in action leaving
Fernando Henrique Cardoso orphan.
The deaths only two days apart of two of the most prominent leaders and allies of the
Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration has cast across the nation a shadow of mourning
and doubts that the government will be able to go ahead full-steam with its privatization
program and the constitutional reform to streamline the state bureaucracy.
Sérgio Roberto Vieira da Motta, 57, the loquacious and controversial President’s close
friend and officious spokesman, and chief political coordinator, was in charge of the
Communications Ministry and had started the privatization of the state telecommunications
monopoly. Luís Eduardo Maron de Magalhães , 43, Cardoso’s point man in the lower house
of congress, was famous for his easy transit and fairness among allies and opposition.
After some soul searching, Cardoso cut short a four-day state visit to Spain and flew
back directly to Salvador, capital of Bahia state, to be on Magalhães’s wake. The
president also used the double loss for a political appeal to lawmakers so that they would
approve a bill limiting pensions, which is stalled in Congress for three years. In a move
criticized by some as crass opportunism and disrespect for the deceased, Cardoso said:
"The greatest tribute to their memory is to vote for the measures they worked so hard
on. There is no reason to postpone this."
The incertitude about the future brought out by the deaths shook also the stock market,
which accumulated losses. São Paulo stock exchange, the nation’s largest, declined 2.7
percent the day following Magalhães death and fell another 1.1 percent the next day.
Magalhães demisehis youthful looks made him seem a very healthy personhas
provoked a dramatic increase of calls to doctors and medical check ups by those executives
who like the promising politician don’t pay attention to their health. The politician, who
died of a heart attack, was a two-pack-a-day smoker, a heavy drinker, and a workaholic
with a high cholesterol count.
Ironically he felt the first pains of the attack that would kill him a few hours later
while in a seven-mile walk in Brasília, Brazil’s capital, under a scorching sun. As soon
as he came back home, he called the father: "I am feeling very bad." He was
taken to the Santa Lúcia hospital and the doctors were getting ready to install a
preventive pacemaker when at 6:00 PM his heart stopped. For the next two hours they tried
in vain to resuscitate him. Luís Eduardo was conscious till the end talking with the
doctors and being reassured that everything would end up OK.
Son of Antônio Carlos Magalhães, president of the Senate, the younger Magalhães was
the shiniest political star of his generation and a likely candidate for the presidency in
the 2002 elections. The pride of the old Magalhães"He inherited all of my
virtues and none of my shortcomings," the senator used to tell peoplehis most
praised asset was his ability to negotiate all across the political spectrum.
Luís Eduardo was groomed for power by his father, a powerful political boss in the
state of Bahia who allied himself to Cardoso to guarantee the President’s election. Father
and son continued backing the President through their party, the center-right PFL (Partido
da Frente Liberal-Liberal Front Party).
The young Magalhães became a state legislator at age 23. In 1986 he was elected to the
Chamber of Deputies, Brazil’s Lower House, being reelected in 1990 and again in 1994. As
president of that body he earned a reputation as fair-minded politician, who could listen
to and negotiate with the opposition. It was very fitting then that many touching tributes
to Magalhães came from his opponents. The young politician was a candidate for governor
in his native Bahia in the October national elections and he was considered a shoe-in for
The old Magalhães’s despair gave a touch of Greek tragedy to the unexpected death. He
cried openly and inconsolably, and also brought tears to everybody else, including
Cardoso, who approached him at his son’s coffin side. More than once he was heard saying:
"I lost my life. Why him and not me?", while caressing with both hands his dead
son’s face. Cardoso was also witness of Luís Eduardo’s younger son despair. The boy, who
has the same name of the father, but is known as Doquinha, also touched the dead father’s
head and repeated crying, "Please, please," looking heavenwards as in hope for
divine intervention. Close by, Michelle, the widow, hugged the couple’s two other
children, Ana Carolina and Paula.
The old senator stayed close to the coffin inside Salvador’s Centro Administrativo São
Sebastião until an unruly crowd forced him into a VIP room. Close to 20,000 Baianos
came to pay their last tribute to the young Magalhães, but most of them were there in
respect for the family’s patriarch, who is venerated as a saint by many in Bahia. There
were flowers in abundance. Men, women and children weren’t ashamed of crying out loud,
several people fainted due to the emotion and the heat, chairs were broken, and for some
time the 400 policemen in charge of maintaining the order were not able to reign in the
crowd. For a moment it was total chaos, with people screaming and pushing each other.
Communications Minister Sérgio Motta died on April 19 of a pulmonary infection
following several ailments. He was one of the founders of the PSDB (Partido da Social
Democracia BrasileiraBrazilian Social Democracy Party), the President’s party. This Paulistano
(from São Paulo city) with a degree in industrial engineering was a workaholic incapable
of relaxing even after a heart attack at the end of 1995.
The Minister was obesehence being also known as Serjão or Big Sérgio,
diabetic, hypertensive, and had three coronary bypasses. In spite of all of this he kept
his daily routine of drinking several doses of whiskey and eating high-cholesterol food.
He loved a Big Mac and told friends that he could abuse a little with what he ate since he
used to administer himself a higher dose of insulin than he was supposed to get.
Motta, nicknamed trator or bulldozer, for hisbulldozer for its lack of
subtleties seemed like an official bully. Often his foot ended up in his mouth and he
antagonized friends and foes alike. He neither spared his colleagues in the Cabinet nor
the First Lady Ruth Cardoso. Talking about Comunidade Solidária (Solidarity Community),
the social program she presides, Motta commented: "This, excuse-me the word,
sociologic masturbation irritates me because it doesn’t get any result."
One of his most outrageous comments, which would ostracize him in some countries, was
directed against former mayor of São Paulo, Luíza Erundina: "Erundina was the worst
as mayor and now she is incredibly overbearing. It must be the age, the menopause."
Inspiration for his tirades could come from the most unsuspected sources. Watching a cow
peacefully grazing in Europe in June 1997 he commented: "It was in large tits like
those that the old Brazilian elite used to suck in the past."
For all of this and since the President maintained him in his post despite all the
crises he provoked, Serjão was believed to be the government’s loose cannon id telling
what the President and his aides thought but had no guts to say.
It was to defend Luís Eduardo that Cardoso had a rare public gesture of reproach
against his all-powerful minister. After Motta criticized the Lower House whip for not
having enough control of the situation in Congress, the young Magalhães demanded an
apology and threatened to resign his post. The President complied, going personally on TV
Even when carrying around his oxygen tank with two hoses sticking out from his
nosea device Motta got at the end of March after a trip to the National Jewish
Hospital in Denverthe President’s friend acted like an immortal. "I have
nothing of the things people say I have," he declared in January. "I have no
tumor, no high pressure, I haven’t been to an ICU, and there are no problems with my legs.
I have absolutely nothing."
When Motta entered for the fifth time the hospital in the last three and a half years,
Luís Eduardo Magalhães commented: "Motta’s withdrawal would be the worst loss that
government could suffer." He didn’t know a thing.