Presidential Offense


"People who retire before they are 50 are lazy bums who
enrich from a country of poor and miserable," said Presidend Fernando Henrique
Cardoso in a speech. Had he known what was coming he would keep silent.

By calling those who retire before the age of 50 as "lazy bums" President
Fernando Henrique Cardoso seems to have offended almost everyone in Brazil, a land in
which many people for sheer necessity start working as early as 14 or even sooner.
According to the law, these workers can retire after 30 years of contribution to the
social security service. Cardoso was addressing the National Forum in Rio on May 11 when
he said to an assembly of businessmen, economists, and college professors: "People
who retire before they are 50 are lazy bums who enrich from a country of poor and

The two-days-later explanation that his target was a few privileged public officials
didn’t convince and the newspapers were swift to point out that the President himself had
retired from his job as a professor at Universidade de São Paulo at age 37. For that he
receives a monthly pension of close to $5,000. Cardoso was 48 when the political amnesty
made it possible for him to reclaim his teaching post, but he preferred to become a
professional politician.

Wrote Rio’s daily O Globo: "Overworked, he (Cardoso) ended up showing a
side unknown to a good many allies. The joker, good-humored and conciliatory, has given
way to the president who says what he thinks."

The newspapers were inundated by protest letters like this one send to Rio’s Jornal
do Brasil by retired elementary teacher Lília Levy: "I am one of the many lazy
bums who retired before age 50 after having dedicated 18,000 hours of my life to the
children of such neighborhoods as Paquetá, Cidade de Deus, Copacabana, and Rocinha. But
my effort was rewarded and for the good services rendered I receive the exorbitant pension
of R$530 ($460). I’d like to apologize for my lack of patriotism."

Also in Rio, composer and guitarist João de Aquino got together with other music aces
like Nélson Sargento, Nadinho da Ilha, and Marquinhos de Oswaldo Cruz, to protest against
the slur. In a party atmosphere they sang "Um Milhão de Vagabundos" (One
Million Lazy Bums), a musical response to what was taken as a presidential provocation.

Um Milhão de Vagabundos

João de Aquino and Dalva Lazaroni

Quando eu me aposentar
com o baita de um salário mínimo
ai! Vão querer me taxar
de marajá
de tremendo vagabundo!
Pro mundo do submundo
pra lá de 300 vagabundos
de carteirinha assinada
só oito anos…e mais nada!
Minha gente! Minha gente!
Brasileiros! Brasileiras!
Que é isso, presidente?
Aposentado? Tem é gente!
Quando fala!
Deve pensar!
Se não pensar… lá vem
lá vai blá…blá…blá!
Que é isso, presidente
Vagabundo? Não é bem a gente!
Deixa de drama… segura sua banda!
Vagabundo a ninguém se chama!

One Million Lazy Bums


When I retire
with a huge minimum wage
alas! People will label me
a maharajah,
a super lazy bum!
For the underworld world
with more than 300 lazy bums
with official documents
eight years are enough…nothing more (1)
My folks! My folks!
Brazilian men and women!
What’s that, President?
Retired? These are people!
When you talk
You must think
If you don’t think…you get
senseless yak yak
there goes blah-blah-blah!
What’s that, President?
Lazy bum? This is not really us!
Don’t do a drama…hold your band!
You can’t call anyone lazy bum!

(1) An allusion to congressmen who can retire with full benefits after
eight years in office.

The Cardoso administration seems to have opened a poetic vein among its
critics. Normally-restrained Josias de Souza, a renowned columnist for daily Folha de
São Paulo, lambasted a recent cabinet rearrangement in a rhymed poem.

A reforma em versos

Josias de Souza

Ah, governo das ilusões perdidas
Dos tucanos depenados
Das biografias falidas
Dos pefelês animados
Das armações desabridas
Serra, sujeito esquisito
Da Saúde, sonha em ser presidente
Por ora, só combate o mosquito
E irrita muita gente
Diz-se que é de Bornhausen
Afirma-se que é de Maciel
Ora, meu Deus, que bobagem
É a ACM que Waldeck é fiel
Nada é o que parecia
O verniz falsificado
O discurso enlatado
O compromisso abandonado
Caiu-se numa fria
Botafogo é Flamengo doente
Vem das Relações Exteriores
Nomeou-o o presidente
Mas é a Maluf que deve favores
Às favas com os escrúpulos
Despiram o rei
O Congresso está aos pulos
FHC virou Sarney
De Collor foi amigo ardoroso
Na defesa do confisco, estava
na liça
Agora sob o professor Cardoso
Renan foi parar na Justiça
Foram-se os ideais
Foi-se a filosofia
Os tucanos viraram pardais
Foi-se a sociologia
Nem ética há mais
Pobre Freitas Neto
Ícone da fase chinfrim
FHC arrematou o soneto
Entregando-lhe um certo Mirin
Ah, incrível mistério
Por que tanto papelão?
De onde saiu tal ministério?
Por que Ruth não disse não?
Oh, supremo prejuízo
O FHC puro sumiu
Salve-se quem tem juízo
O ACM assumiu

The Reform in Verse


Ah, government of lost illusions
Of plucked toucans (1)
Of failed biographies
Of lively PFLs (2)
Of unabashed schemes
Serra (3), weird fellow
of Health, dreams to be president
For now, he only fights the mosquito (4)
And irritates many people
They say he’s for Bornhausen (5)
They tell you he’s for Maciel (6)
Oh, my Good, how dumb
Waldeck (7) is loyal to ACM (8)
Nothing is what it seemed to be
The falsified gloss
The canned speech
The abandoned commitment
We fell into a trap
Botafogo (9) is crazy for Flamengo (10)
He comes from the Foreign Ministry
The President appointed him
But he owes favors to Maluf (11)
To hell with scruples
They disrobed the king
Congress is jumping
FHC (12) became Sarney (13) 
He was a fervent friend of Collor (14)
He was on the ring defending the confiscation
Now under professor Cardoso
Renan (15) ended in the Justice
The ideals are gone
The philosophy is gone
The toucans became sparrows
The sociology is gone
Not even ethics was left
Poor Freitas Neto (16)
Icon from the shabby phase
FHC concluded the sonnet
Bestowing him a certain Mirin (17)
Ah, incredible mystery
Why so much fiasco?
Where this cabinet came from?
Why Ruth (18) didn’t say no?
Oh, supreme loss
The pure FHC is gone
Whoever is in his mind should leave
ACM is now in charge

(1) Toucan is the epithet for politicians belonging to the PSDB (Partido da Social
Democracia Brasileira—Brazilian Social Democracy Party), the President’s party

(2) PFL (Partido da Frente Liberal—Party of the Liberal Front), a right-wing party
allied to the President

(3) José Serra, the new Health Minister, and Cardoso’s close friend

(4) A reference to a dengue epidemic in the country

(5) Jorge Bornhausen, from Santa Catarina, president of PFL

(6) Marco Maciel, the Vice-President

(7) Waldeck Ornelas, senator from Bahia, the same state of senator Antônio Carlos

(8) ACM, Senator Antônio Carlos Magalhães, the all-powerful PFL’s de-facto chief

(9) José Botafogo Gonçalves. Botafogo is also the name of a popular soccer team in

(10) Flamengo is Rio’s most popular soccer team

(11) Paulo Salim Maluf, former mayor of São Paulo and president of the PPB (Partido
Progressista Brasileiro—Brazilian Progressive Party)

(11) FHC, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the President

(12) José Sarney, former President, criticized for being to chummy with the military

(14) Fernando Collor de Mello, former president who was impeached for corruption

(15) Senator Renan Calheiros from Alagoas was Collor’s leader in the House, but he
broke with the President when it was revealed that there was corruption in the

(16) Antônio Freitas Neto, PFL’s senator from Piauí

(17) Mirin (Ministério Extraordinário das Reformas Institucionais—Special
Ministry for Institutional Reforms) was the name given facetiously to a new ministry,
apparently created just to accommodate another one of the government’s allies. Mirin
reminds people of mirim, small.

(18) Ruth Cardoso, the First Lady, an anthropologist

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