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Brazil’s Lula from Victim to Villain

 Brazil's Lula from Victim to Villain

Brazilian President
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had hinted what was
in store for the New York Times reporter who wrote about his
drinking habits. Before the expulsion announcement Lula had
said: “It’s not for a president to respond to such a piece of
stupidity. It doesn’t deserve a response, it deserves action.”
by: Elma-Lia
Nascimento

Opposition and allies rallied behind
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva after the
Sunday New York Times report about Lula’s habit of drinking
a little too much. This unanimity, however, had evaporated Tuesday
night after the Brazilian government, through its Justice Ministry,
announced that it was canceling the visa and expelling from
Brazil Larry Rohter, the Times correspondent who wrote
the critical piece.

Workers’ Party (PT, President
Lula’s party) Representative Arlindo Chinaglia commented that there was no
violation of the freedom of press since the Times can simply send another
correspondent to Brazil. Chinaglia criticized the New York paper for standing
by its reporter “even after the government and party leaders had reacted
against this dishonest piece of writing.”

“The government has
the PT’s total solidarity,” declared the party’s president, José
Genoíno. “These are diplomatic procedures that any country might
take.”

Following the same line
of thought another Representative from the Workers’ Party, Paulo Delgado,
called Larry Rohter a “typical persona non grata” and added: “The
Presidency of the Republic belongs to all Brazilians and cannot be the object
of unbecoming consideration by a foreigner who works in our country.”

Delgado, who is a professor
and sociologist from the state of Minas Gerais, stressed that in this case
official notes of displeasure were not enough. He cited France’s example to
justify Brazil’s behavior: “Last year, France, ended up forbidding the
circulation of a British newspaper because it considered it an offense to
the French people.”

Dissention

Not every ally though
was in tune with this message. Some fear that the retaliatory action by Brasília
can convert the Times reporter from an unscrupulous and irresponsible reporter
into a victim.

“I don’t think this
was a smart move,” said Renato Casagrande, the leader of the PSB (Brazilian
Socialist Party) in the House. “The decision will not be seen favorably
by the international press. Whoever advised President Lula to cancel the reporter’s
visa gave him bad advice.

“The government exaggerated
the dose. This is going to provoke a bad reaction and the measure was preposterous,”
added Júlio Delgado, leader from another allied party, the PPS (Popular
Socialist Party).

For the ACE (Associação
dos Correspondentes Estrangeiros—Foreign Correspondents Association),
the expulsion of the Times’ reporter is censorship and political persecution.

The president of that
association, Verónica Goyzueta, condemned Lula’s administration’s action:
“This decision by the Brazilian government is very sad and serious. We
should expect a very negative reaction among correspondents and overseas.”

The journalist promised
that her association intends to stage protests in São Paulo and Rio.
According to Goyzueta, there are more than 250 foreign correspondents working
in Brazil today. The largest contingent of them, 150, is in Rio. Another 110
are based in São Paulo while only 15 are established in the capital
Brasília.

Rohter, who is married
to a Brazilian, was not in Brazil, but, according to his secretary, traveling
throughout South America when the decision of his expulsion was announced.
It wasn’t clear if he would be allowed to reenter the country before packing
his belongings.

“Our work situation
becomes more complicated now,” said the ACE’s president. “This is
a threat to the freedom of press, because if you write something that upsets
the government you run the risk to be persecuted and retaliated with the loss
of your visa.”

For her it’s regrettable
that this decision was taken by a government which counts with several members
and politicians who were persecuted and exiled during the military dictatorship
who lasted from 1964 to 1985 in Brazil.

Writing at the Brazzil
Forum, Brazilian Rene Hass, lamented the decision of his government: “I
have to say that as a Brazilian I feel deeply ashamed of Brazil’s decision
to expel Mr. Rohter only because he wrote something which is untrue about
our president Lula.

“Where has the freedom
of speech in Brazil gone? Where has the freedom of the press in Brazil gone?
Ironically, Lula’s government’s decision to expel Larry Rohter was based on
a law that was passed during the dictatorship regime.

“Lula and many of
the members of his government fought so much against the military regime and
one of the things they always defended back in the early 80s was the freedom
of speech which now they condemn.

And Hass concluded, “I
feel sorry for such decision of expelling the journalist. Too
bad for the government’s image. Too bad for our country’s image
abroad.”

Hint from Lula

According to the note
from Brazil’s Justice Ministry, the article by the Times correspondent
“offended the honor of the President” and was “lightweight,
lying and offensive to the honor of the President.”

Lula himself had hinted
what was in store for the American reporter before the expulsion announcement.
“It’s not for a president to respond to such a piece of stupidity. Certainly
its author, who doesn’t know me and who I don’t know, must be more worried
than I am. It doesn’t deserve a response, it deserves action,” Lula had
told reporters earlier in the day.

The New York Times had
said earlier that it stood by Rohter’s story. Late Tuesday the newspaper posted
this note on its website without calling any attention for it on the homepage:

“Brazil said on Tuesday
that it would expel a New York Times correspondent who wrote on Sunday
of publicly expressed concerns about the drinking habits of President Luiz
Inácio Lula da Silva.

“Mr. Lula said the
correspondent, Larry Rohter, chief of the Times’s bureau in Rio de
Janeiro, deserved to lose his visa, Reuters reported. The presidential palace
has denied that Mr. Lula has a drinking problem.

The justice ministry announced
that it would cancel Mr. Rohter’s visa and said the article was “offensive
to the honor of the president.”

Bill Keller, executive
editor of The New York Times, said that if Brazil “intends to
expel a journalist for writing an article that offended the president, that
would raise serious questions about Brazil’s professed commitment to freedom
of expression and a free press.”

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