All in a Brazilian Week

All in a Brazilian Week

    In Brazil, barely a day goes by without a new corruption scandal
    being reported in the press. Lula
    goes to the Middle East but skips
    Israel while back in Brazil a rabbi asks for the death penalty. The

    soap opera continues with a stage director being taken to the
    courts and condemned for mooning
    his audience.

    John Fitzpatrick


    I recently wrote an article for
    Infobrazil* on the pervasiveness of corruption in Brazil. At times, it looks as though
    the country is rotten to the core. Corruption ranges from a policeman or official taking a few reais to turn a blind eye or
    issue a false document, to large-scale conspiracies involving politicians, judges and senior policemen. Barely a day goes
    by without the press reporting a new scandal.

    The latest example shows that, in terms of size and scope, corruption operates like companies. It concerns a
    former governor of the Amazon state of Roraima, Neudo Campos of the PP (Partido Progressista—Progressive Party), who
    was arrested along with more than 40 others on accusations of massive fraud. They are accused of inventing an
    estimated 5,000 "phantom" workers who were put on the state payroll between 1998 2002. The salaries were allegedly diverted
    to the ex-governor and his cronies who pocketed around R$ 70 million (US$ 23 million) a year of taxpayers’ money.

    The current governor, Flamarion Portela of the Workers Party (PT) of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who
    was Campos’s deputy, says he knew nothing about the scheme. The PT national president, Jose Genoíno, said the party
    trusted Portela. It is hard to believe that such a long-lasting, wide-ranging scam could have taken place without all kinds
    of organizations, companies, banks and individuals knowing about it, even though they may not have benefited. It
    also shows how deeply rooted corruption is in this country.

    Lula Leaves Lovebeads Behind

    Remember Lula’s "peace and love" mantra during last year’s election campaign? Well, it looks as though he has put
    his lovebeads and hippy headband aside as he prepares to visit one of the world’s main trouble spots, the Middle East.
    The trip will take him to six countries, including two instigators of terrorism, Libya and Syria, but, unfortunately, not
    Israel. The purpose of the visit is to boost Brazilian trade with the region.

    By putting guns and butter first and staying away from Israel, Lula has missed a golden opportunity to try and bring
    about peace. Brazil’s Arab community will be happy with the visit but the Jewish population must now be wondering when
    he will visit their spiritual homeland. Since Brazil’s Jews and Arabs get on well together maybe Brazil could teach Israel
    and the Palestines something but obviously not yet.

    An Eye for an Eye

    Brazil’s Jews have another talking point at the moment in the shape of their leading rabbi, Henry Sobel. Sobel is a
    floppy-haired rather odd-looking character who likes the limelight and can be found on the social pages as well as the
    news pages. He recently showed that peace and love are not for him either by calling for a referendum on the death
    penalty after the horrible double murder of two São Paulo teenagers.

    It may seem strange for a man of God to make a public call for the return of the death penalty, in any case, but to do
    so because one of the victims was Jewish was particularly unfortunate. Anti-Semites do not need any excuses for
    their prejudice but Sobel did not himself or Brazil’s Jewish community any favors by making his Biblical "an eye for an
    eye and a tooth for tooth" call.

    Estado _ the Newspaper that Loves Itself

    Oh no, the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper is blowing its own trumpet again and telling us how wonderful it is. The
    reason this time was a survey which showed that it was the "most admired" publication in Brazil. In fact, it gained 68 points
    out of a possible 100, which would give it a "C" in any kind of academic examination, and was only two points ahead of
    its rival, the Folha de S. Paulo.

    Despite my many criticisms of the Estado, it provides top-rate political and business coverage and is streaks ahead of
    the Folha. So, to find itself so close to its rival is nothing to brag about. However, it has bragged and bragged and will
    brag forever.

    Since the first article appeared, we have been bombarded with letters and messages from all kinds of politicians,
    businessmen and sheer sycophants. One particularly nauseating missive ended: "congratulations, congratulations,
    congratulations." Just think how many trees have lost their lives to enable drivel like this to be published.

    More Self-Praise

    The paper has been inflicting another bout of self-praise on its suffering readers this year over a book it published
    called The War. This four-volume work contains almost 200 articles on the First World War written by Júlio Mesquita
    (1891-1927) a member of the family which still owns and runs the paper.

    The value of these articles quite escapes me since Mesquita spent the war in Brazil and wrote his pieces based on
    news agency reports from Europe. Why anyone would publish such a book almost a century after the event is another mystery.

    However, an Estado bigwig called Ruy Mesquita, who happens to be the great grandson of the author, is touring
    the country at the moment launching this work and the
    Estado is dutifully chronicling his trip. Look out, he may be
    coming your way.

    Wagnerian Soap Opera

    Artistic types are notoriously touchy about criticism and we saw a splendid example of this recently when a
    Brazilian theater director called Gerald Thomas greeted the boos which met his production of Tristan and Isolde by lowering
    his trousers and flashing his buttocks at the audience.

    If Thomas’s hindquarters are as unattractive as his John Lennon-like face (beaky nose, granny glasses, long greasy
    hair) then the audience is to be pitied. However, those spectators who were offended can be thankful that the long arm of
    the law entered and no sooner was Thomas’s scrawny ass back inside its
    cuecas than he was charged with indecent behavior.

    It is good to know that although murderers, rapists, drug traffickers, bank robbers and kidnappers roam the streets at
    will, Brazil’s bottom exposers will not get off so lightly. In what must be one of the strangest sentences ever, a judge
    ordered him to pay five minimum salaries, equivalent to about US$ 400, to a charitable institution.

    In the defiant style we expect from great artists, Thomas refused and stood on his dignity. However, another judge
    has turned down his appeal to throw the verdict out and it still stands. We await with bated breath the next act of this
    Wagnerian soap opera.

    * "Brazil Under Lula: Still Crime and (No)


    John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987 and has lived in São Paulo
    since 1995. He writes on politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic
    Comunicações—,  which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian and
    foreign clients. You can reach him at

    © John Fitzpatrick 2003

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