The latest issue of Veja, Brazil’s largest circulation weekly news, with a little over 1 million copies, gives us a taste of how politics is made south of the Equator. The conservative magazine often more inclined to preach sermons than reporting the news, tells about Lula’s growing anti-media feelings and how the Brazilian president and his team are molding in the president’s own image Lula’s pick to succeed him, Dilma Rousseff.
In an article headlined “The Minister reconstruction,” the publication says that the Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s administration and his marketing men are busy trying to invent a new Rousseff. She doesn’t have, and everybody knows, Lula’s charisma and charm. And the attributes the PR people wish to convey are that she is from Minas Gerais, that she can talk to the men on the streets, that she cares and finally that she is very interested in protecting the environment. It’s going to be a hard sell.
It took the Brazilian president three defeats in three presidential elections before his handlers changed his image from a badly dressed populist leftist radical into a more polished, well-dressed moderate. Veja notes that Rousseff, Lula’s current chief of staff, has been admitted to the same lab and now is undergoing her own transformation.
Dilma is known for her austerity and lack of political savvy besides her talent to make enemies and little ability to communicate. Says Veja: “The metamorphosis is already showing early results. Last week, during the inauguration of a TV station’s studios, Dilma made believe she was an actress while president Lula, handled a camera. Later, during a dinner with PP’s congressmen, she made a point to go to the kitchen to greet the house’s employees.
“In another event, in São Paulo, she hugged and kissed garbage pickers who were taking part in a recycling fair. Finally, the minister, who never had much affinity with environmental issues, has been showing unheard ecological concern, to the point of being appointed to head the Brazilian delegation that is going to participate in a UN Conference about the climate.”
The publication also quotes an unnamed member of the minister’s staff: “Dilma has been nicer, has been smiling more and is more aware of what has to be done in a campaign.” She has also been told to make simpler speeches filled with easily understandable metaphors like her boss, the president, does all the time.
Once a week Rousseff has been meeting a small group made up of half a dozen people like ministers, politicians and João Santana, her own PR man. In these encounters she discusses what to talk about in the following days and how to approach the themes chosen by the gang.
She reserves a day every week, a Saturday or a Sunday, for training and preparation. At these gatherings she undergoes a battery of interviews and simulated TV debates. Santana and his marketing team tells her not only what and how to say things but also teach her voice intonation, posture, how to look at the camera and even what clothes to wear. Veja quotes someone involved in the operation: “She has no electoral experience. We are starting from zero, fabricating a candidate.”
Rousseff will be presented as the Minas Gerais candidate and a chance for that important state to be able once again to elect the president. The last president from Minas was Itamar Franco who took the post after president Fernando Collor de Mello facing an impeachment was forced to resign in 1992.
Lula’s chief of staff was born in Belo Horizonte, capital of Minas Gerais, in 1947, but she made a career in Rio Grande do Sul, in the Brazilian South. It was in Minas, however, that she grew up, studied and ended up in prison for opposing the military dictatorship.
According to Veja, the PT (Workers Party), the ruling party, decided to hire Ben Self, the guy responsible for American president Barack Obama’s Internet campaign, after the net was invaded in April by a fake police report in which Rousseff was presented as being involved with armed actions against the military regime.
Self has already visited Brazil twice in the last five months. Bloggers and Internet users are now being recruited to flood social networks like FaceBook and Orkut to support the president’s candidate and attack her adversaries. They are spending up to 120,000 reais (US$ 68,000) a month in this task. The magazine quotes another unnamed expert: “Everything needs to be hush-hush. The strength of this kind of campaign comes exactly from the apparent spontaneity of the manifestations.”
The magazine comments that Brazil never had a “lab manufactured” president and forecasts a virtual guerrilla war in the next presidential campaign to start officially in July, just four months before the elections.
As for Lula’s exasperation with the press, Veja reminds that the president has sinned only once against freedom of the press, and this happened in 2005 when he tried to expel from Brazil New York Times correspondent Larry Rohter for reporting that president’s drinking had raised “national concern” that he was losing his ability to rule. The New York Times story headline read “Brazilian leader’s tippling becomes national concern.”
Veja remarks that getting 80% of popularity in the polls doesn’t give the president the right to be a reporter or an editor.
After saying that Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa and the Kirchners are trying to suppress freedom of expression in their countries, Veja adds that Brazil had been the exception in the region and comments, “Now president Lula himself has been drawing what he imagines to be the ideal press.”
The president is quoted as saying, “I don’t think the press’s role is to monitor. It is to inform.” And the magazine observes: “Last Thursday, he renewed the attack with the following speech, addressed to reporters who covered a ceremony that involved paper pickers, in São Paulo: “Today you have the opportunity of writing the best piece in your life. If you forget about your editor’s guidelines and go deep in the middle of these folks.(…) Publish only what they tell you. Do not attempt to interpret”.
And Veja ponders: “It is astounding. Lula does not read newspapers. But he wants to teach how to write newspapers. Bad news, Mr. president. Having 80% of popularity does not authorize anyone to be reporter or editor. There is no journalism in favor. There is no journalism done by the state.”
The publication then goes on to say that the ruling party believes that Brazil is a simple, ideal land, that the magazine calls PTópolis, an allusion to Walt Disney’s Duckburg, which in Brazil is known as Patópolis.
“The denizens of PTópolis are also divided into rigid classifications. There are those living on the top floor and those on lower floors; blacks and whites; rich and poor; good and bad; producers and loan sharks; friends and foes of the king.”
Veja concludes that the press is an obstacle when there is corruption – and there’s plenty of it in Brazil – and the leader and those close to him cannot be blamed for it.
“In the perfect world of PTópolis,” concludes the magazine, “there is no place for something imperfect, noisy, nosey, investigative, stubborn, free, fallible and, sometimes, even irresponsible like the press.”