Only in US, Brazil’s Lula Is a Drunkard

     Only in US, Brazil's Lula 
Is a Drunkard

    The New York Times
    piece on Brazilian President Lula’s drinking
    habits did not justify its claim that Lula’s drinking had become
    a "national concern" or that his many gaffes were due to
    excess alcohol. Lula may be a loudmouth and ramble on at times,
    but he is no Boris Yeltsin who was a drunken disgrace to Russia.
    by: John
    Fitzpatrick

    Brazzil
Picture

    The New York Times article suggesting that President Luiz Inácio
    Lula da Silva was a lush told you as much about Americans’ absurd approach
    to drinking as it did about Brazilian hypersensitivity to criticism.

    The last time I was in
    New York I found there was no mini-bar in my hotel room since city law prohibited
    it and, in order to have a beer, I had to call room service. You are also
    not allowed to drink beer in the streets in the US as you can here or anywhere
    else.

    You have to put the can
    in a brown paper bag, which makes you feel like a criminal or a down and out.
    Perhaps, measured by this puritanical approach, Lula is a heavy drinker in
    the eyes of the New York Times, but by normal Brazilian and European
    standards he is just a guy who enjoys a pinga or two.

    The article certainly
    did not justify its claim that Lula’s drinking had become a "national
    concern" or that his many gaffes were due to excess alcohol. Lula may
    be a loudmouth and ramble on at times but he is no Boris Yeltsin who was a
    drunken disgrace to Russia.

    However, the response
    of many Brazilian politicians was typically small-minded and fatuous. It seemed
    as though everybody in Brasília had an opinion and was ready to rally
    round Lula. Many of the comments were ridiculous, especially those suggesting
    that the article was part of a plan by the Bush administration to destabilize
    Brazil.

    One Senator managed to
    bring in references to "coke-sniffing" American soldiers and said
    the reporter should have been writing about abuses against Iraqi prisoners
    although he did not explain what that had to do with covering Brazil.

    What a pity this sense
    of solidarity by our political representatives cannot be shown when it comes
    to important matters like reforming the economy and ending the endemic crime
    and corruption.

    As for the New York
    Times reporter, he should have known what to expect. Brazilians are extremely
    thin-skinned when it comes to taking criticism. They expect people to love
    them, not complain about their behavior, as I know this from personal experience.

    Most recently a columnist
    for a leading Brazilian newspaper threatened to sue me and Brazzil
    magazine because I had criticized the cult of Ayrton Senna and the antics
    of Catholic priest Father Marcelo Rossi. If a fellow journalist does not know
    the difference between fair comment and libel then what can you expect from
    other people?

    Relief in Sight for
    São Paulo?

    The people of São
    Paulo have something to look forward to next October when they have the chance
    to get rid of the current incompetent mayor, Marta Suplicy. It is beginning
    to look as though José Serra, who lost the presidential race to Lula,
    may stand for the post.

    If he does, he has an
    excellent chance of beating Marta and, at the same time, giving Lula’s government
    a bloody nose. During her three years as mayor, Marta has managed to annoy
    almost everyone, from the favela slum dwellers to the overtaxed middle
    class. Her chances of being re-elected are slim.

    She is a member of the
    Workers’ Party (PT) but dresses and behaves like a socialite. She comes from
    a moneyed background as does her ex-husband, Senator Eduardo Suplicy, but
    whereas Senator Suplicy enjoys almost universal respect, Marta is widely unpopular.

    She has a habit of disappearing
    to European capitals when crises hit the city. She was recently in Paris and
    was elected chairman of a new international body set up to represent large
    cities. She claimed her election was a tribute to women and developing countries
    like Brazil, but no-one was interested or impressed.

    To cover up for her absence,
    she had some political propaganda commercials shown on television. These displayed
    an almost breath-taking arrogance. In a reference to two major construction
    projections, which are causing traffic chaos, she blithely told us that "you
    can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs."

    Serra to the Rescue?

    By contrast, Serra is
    a political heavyweight who is the national president of the PSDB, party of
    former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Serra has stood for the post before
    and lost but the chances this time are much better.

    Apart from Marta, his
    only potential high-profile rival is the veteran Paulo Maluf (PP) who is in
    the midst of yet another financial scandal. During a spell as mayor, Maluf
    is alleged to have diverted hundreds of millions of reais into his
    own pockets.

    As ever, Maluf denies
    the charges and to this day has never been convicted of any crime. There are
    signs though that even his party is getting a bit fed up with these corruption
    allegations and he may not even be a candidate. Incredible as it may seem,
    there are many people around who would still vote for him despite the allegations.

    Films Again

    In my last article I mentioned
    the Brazilian Culture Ministry’s plan to find 100 Brazilian films to be shown
    abroad. I irritated a few readers by saying I could not think of a single
    Brazilian film worth showing abroad.

    Several people have mentioned
    films they value highly and one reader sent the following list: O que É
    Isso, Companheiro? (1997), Bufo & Spallanzani (2001), Copacabana
    (2001), Houve uma Vez Dois Verões (2002), Carandiru (2002),
    Janela da Alma (2002), Amarelo Manga (2003), Ônibus
    174 (2002), Madame Satã (2002), O Caminho das Nuvens
    (2003), O Homem que Copiava (2002), Cidade de Deus (2002).

    I also see that a correspondence
    has started on the Brazzil forum. While I respect these readers’ opinions,
    I still think it will be very difficult to get a list which comes near 100.

    The Mighty Dollar

    Finally, a piece of advice
    to those of you abroad who are wondering whether to pay a visit to Brazil—come!
    The economic crisis is a worry and a mess to those of us who live here, but
    it is a great opportunity for those of you with dollars.

    The real has started
    losing ground again and is now trading at around R$ 3.10/US$ 1.00. There are
    many reasons for this, one of which is the feeling that American interest
    rates will rise soon, thereby reducing the amount of funds foreign investors
    have been placing in Brazil to benefit from high local interest rates. With
    nothing on the horizon to cheer up the Brazilian economy, the dollar is likely
    to remain around this level for some time. Good news for the tourist.


    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 – www.celt.com.br
    – which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian
    and foreign clients. You can reach him at jf@celt.com.br.

    © John Fitzpatrick
    2004

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