Portuguese-born Julio Trindade is one of the best-known nightlife figures in Fortaleza, in the northeastern Brazilian state of Ceará, since he established his Pirata Bar in the Praia de Iracema district over two decades ago.
A daring entrepreneur in his own right, he introduced the tradition of Monday night Forró in his venue, a tradition that attracted the attention even of the New York Times, who declared that Fortaleza had the "wildest Monday night in the planet," which has been a selling point for the venue ever since.
Trindade, however, is not simply a businessman who pockets the profits of his nightclub, but is someone who has the good sense of giving back to the community by creating a not-for-profit foundation that works on helping impoverished children in the community get an education and better opportunities.
All the work that he has done is now being threatened by a project led by Fortaleza's City HallÂ that has the objective of revitalizing the Praia de Iracema nightlife district, which fell into disrepair and abandon in the last few years. Once a lively place for personal enjoyment, the area became sleazier as the more traditional restaurants abandoned the area asÂ strip joints and so-called "cabarets" opened there.
Part of the plan devised by the city includes the dispossession of several buildings in the districts, which includes a successful restaurant (Sobre o Mar de Iracema), a bed-and-breakfast that has been in operation for decades and Pirata itself, all of which were declared
"of public utility" by a decree from mayor Luizianne Lins, who did not return our requests for interviews on this matter.
We interviewed Julio Trindade over the phone when he talked about his plight, giving his opinion on the project, which has caused much controversy in Fortaleza and all around Brazil. He is currently fighting the dispossession decree in the courts, and hopes to win thanks to the popular and political support he's been receiving since the controversy began.
How did this dispossession story begin?
For many years the sidewalk of Praia de Iracema had been in disrepair, and officials wouldn't allow anyone to fix it – Luizianne Lins herselfÂ was against the reconstruction. Once she took office, several projects began to be presented. (I believe) that fixing the sidewalk is a good thing, but officials added something else to the project, which would allow them to dispossess certain sections of the district.
The problem is that these dispossessions do not correspond with the reality of Praia de Iracema – it is being made randomly. For instance, the streets where the strip clubs area were excluded from the project – the administrationÂ is doing nothing against the places where there are drugs and prostitution, but they are going after places like Pirata, Sobre o Mar restaurant and a bed-and-breakfast that has been in operation for twenty years.
Their mentality is to "nationalize" the Pirata Bar (laughs). In the beginning, they proposed that they would give me a concession to use the place, butÂ the land belongs to me. In the case of the mayor, she knows Pirata well, because she held her first rallies for City Council here back in '95.
I met with Lins when this controversy began and presented our defense, along with our social statements on the importance of the venue – for instance, we are the only entertainment venue in Brazil that carries the seal of the Abrinq Foundation (note: a non-profit organization created in 1990Â in response to the concerns of a group of businessmen connected with the Brazilian Association of Toy Manufacturers with regard to the situation of childhood in Brazil).
At Pirata, minors are not served alcohol, and are only admitted into the club if accompanied by a parent or guardian – we are a venue that follows the letter of the law, and we promote the culture of the state of Ceará.
When we have a concert at Pirata, it is not something simply created to attract tourists. We have been here for 22 years, employing 450 people, and for the last sixteen we have maintained a foundation that supports the education of forty impoverished children who live in Praia de Iracema, and we have also created areas dedicated to the preservation of the environment. Pirata has, over the years, become one of the few establishments in town to have reached iconic status in Fortaleza.
Why do you think that the administration is targeting you specifically?
The left-wing politicians in Fortaleza are a bourgeoisie Left – they had this youthful, romantic view of what being a leftie meant. In other parts of the country, the Left represents the steel workers or those who toil in agriculture. The thing is, that here there is neither a steel or agricultural industry, so labor never really got into the unions representing the service and hotel workers due to their lack of vision, and have always worked against tourism.
These people seem not to have the conscience that the industry brings the biggest amount of social change here, benefiting an array of people, going from the coconut water salesman to the local artisan.Â Since Pirata is one of the symbols of tourism in Fortaleza, it is evident that they have issues against us.
Tourism is one of the most important industries for Fortaleza, is that correct? Being that the case, why would City Hall go against the industry?
The members of the tourism associations around Fortaleza are all worried because we are losing ground to other cities in the Northeast, such as Recife, Natal and Maceió – tourism in Ceará has stalled because the more left-leaning members of the local branch of the Labor Party sees tourism as a tool of capitalism, as I said before, and our governors, for some reason, did not react to that.
In 2003, there was a federal decision that barred new construction over the dunes – as most of the coast of Fortaleza is formed of such dunes, the law stopped every single project that was under way. In Rio Grande do Norte, they found ways to go around the law, but in Fortaleza we couldn't do a thing, so we became a dormitory city – tourists simply sleep in town and book a van to visit the far-away beaches in Canoa Quebrada, Lagoinha or Cumbuco.
These days, in Fortaleza, there are no resorts or beachfront hotels that are worthy of the international tourist. Visitors who come here prefer to travel to other beach areas because our own shores are too polluted.
At Praia de Iracema, I believe that they allowed things to deteriorate so badly so the price would go down and consequently speculators could buy the land on the cheap. The only venue that resisted that was Pirata.
I was impressed at a recent visit to Fortaleza, when I saw how bad things were at Praia de Iracema – few seemed to have survived there…
Yes, we were the grain of sand that did not allow speculators to do what they wanted… If Pirata goes away, it will definitely be the death knelt of the district. They could even have changed the laws to allow the construction of hi-rises here that no one would complain if that had happened.Â This grain of sand also showed to the radical left that tourism is not simply this "savage capitalism" that invades our shores in search of perverted pleasures, which in my opinion is extremely xenophobic.
The dispossession laws in Brazil leave very little space for question, and should be used carefully. Since this whole thing began, the debate has spread all over the country. I was in Recife last Friday, and noticed that the press there has also been following this story. There has been considerable support from other cities, which have invited me to relocate there, but I always say that they will have to send the army down here if they really want to make us go away – our defense is in the courts, and we have great popular support as well.
I believe that the "Piratas" of Fortaleza, who legitimately represent the culture of the northeast of Brazil have worked ethically have been disrespected. You cannot forget two decades of services to the community.Â We also feel discriminated, because they want to dispossess us but have not made any moves against the strip joint
This is also an injustice, because City Hall is making use of an almost dictatorial power to get rid of one of the only iconic references in Fortaleza today.
Appeared originally in The Brasilians.
Ernest Barteldes is a freelance writer based on Staten Island, New York. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.