"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
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.
|(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.
(1) Toucan is the epithet for politicians belonging to the PSDB (Partido da Social
Democracia BrasileiraBrazilian Social Democracy Party), the President’s party
(2) PFL (Partido da Frente LiberalParty 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 BrasileiroBrazilian 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 InstitucionaisSpecial
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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