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"Lula drinks too much", New York Times says

Added May 16th: this affair is on the front page of all the major Brazilian magazines. Consensus is that the reporter didnīt do good journalism (it was helped by the editors of the NYT, who were responsible for the headline of the report), and the anger of Lula was justified (and supported by almost everyone); however, itīs also a consensus that Lulaīs response was an authoritarian attempt of personal retaliation using the prerrogatives of the Presidency, and by doing so Lula lost support and gained antipathy from almost everyone.

Added May 15th: the journalist Larry Rohter, author of the polemic report, sent a letter to the President, stating that he never had the intention to offend him; he regrets the inconveniences caused by the report, and asks for reconsideration about the visa revokation.
The government (particularly the Justice Minister, Marcio Thomas Bastos) understood the letter as an apology, and decided to stop the process to expel the reporter.
Brazilian analysts say that the journalist didnīt apologize (he denied intentions to offend, but didnīt withdraw any of his original statements). Besides, the New York Times released a note clearly stating that there was no apology or retraction from their part.
The act of the Brazilian government (to pretend that there was an apology and close the case) was seen as a means to stop the affair from growing further and bring even more embarassment to the President and his government.
Read article by O Globo (quick registration required).

Info in English about the matter Added May 13th: translation of the article by a respected Brazilian journalist. See bottom of this page.

Added on May 12th: by order of President Lula, who made use of prerrogatives granted by the
Estatute of Foreigners, the visa of the journalist Larry Rohter, undersigner of the polemic article, was revoked.
Very few people approved the measure. Politicians who had taken side with Lula when he denied the NYT report, now consider the visa revokation an "imature decision, typical of a dictator of a Banana Republic", an act against freedom of press ("would the USA expell all reporters who criticize George Bush?"), the use of the State to resolve a personal matter. Read this article of
O Globo about the matter.

May 10th 2004
On May 9th, The New York Times published a report with title
Brazilian Leader's Tippling Becomes National Concern.
The government officially denied the fact that the President would be drinking too much;
this report summarizes the arguments of Brazilian officials.

  • Lula never tried to hide his drinking habits, particularly his fondness for Brazilian cachaca (btw, the photo at the NYT article shows Lula participating of the Brazilian version of Oktoberfest, and so it was no suprise that he was holding a glass of beer); the Brazilian winter nights may get cold in Sao Paulo, and Lula spent many such nights awake, as an Union leader
  • the sources mentioned by the report are, indeed, far from unbiased. Leonel Brizola is an ex-ally who, after the clear change in Lulaīs political and economical views after taking office, became one of the most severe government criticizer. Claudio Humberto is ex-spokesman of ex-President Fernando Collor; he now publishes a column in some newspapers, usually with critics to the government, often based on anonymous sources; click here to read his latest article. Diogo Mainardi publishes a weekly column at Veja Magazine , usually criticizing the Brazilian government.
  • none of the important politicians of opposition supported the claims of the NYT reporter, and neither any of the important journalists. Even politicians, editors and journalists who often criticize the government came out to say that itīs not the alcohol whichīs impairing Lulaīs perceptions (or lack of)
  • the number of people who support the government shrinks by the day

    May 13th. Very few people, none of which outside the small circle which surrounds the President, aproved the measure to revoke the visa of the NYTimes reporter. Many important civil organizations released official statements in defense of the freedom of opinion.
    The article below was written by Dora Kramer, a respected Brazilian journalist (her column is published in
    O Estado de Sao Paulo and republished in a few other newspapers); I believe she summarizes the ideas of most Brazilians. Comments in blue were added by the webmaster.

    The Serpentīs Egg

    The expelling of journalist Larry Rohter was not the first - and if there isnīt a firm reaction wonīt be the last - gesture of appreciation, by the government of Luiz Inacio da Silva, of authoritarism as a primordial component in exercizing Power.
    At first, the fondness of discricionary acts appeared against the dissidents of Workerīs Party
    (Senators and Deputies who disagreed with the Lulaīs way of governing were expulsed from the party); many people saw it as fair and natural.
    Next, we saw the attempt to control the cultural producers, imposing to them the standards of the nomenklatura
    (the State companies, like Petrobras and Banco do Brasil, are important sponsors of Brazilian culture; government officials manifested the idea that those companies should priorize sponsorship towards projects which didnīt criticize the government of the country); the government tried to spread the idea that it was the case of a group (of producers) struggling for more official money.
    Next, the heavy hand attacked the Public Prosecutors; barely anybody complained, most accepted the transformation of the investigator in conspirator
    (this was a mention to the Waldomiroīs affair; a prosecutor was caught talking to one of the suspects of corruption in unusual conditions - late hours and without superior knowledge - and using inadequate expressions - "we can f**k with the Minister"; the government used to fact as argument to stop the Probing Comission which was being created).
    Now, the press is under attack, and some people avent the idea that the reaction (to the attack) is just a corporativist manifestation.
    One must put clear whatīs at stake here: moderation, tolerance and the ability to live with difference of ideas are not concepts which can be violated according to circunstances or people.
    When those principles are not respected fully and indistinctly, there is a threat to the citizens. All of them.
    Heloisa Helena (a Senator) was punished, and Representatives of the Workerīs Party knew that their freedom had limits. Roberto Santoro (the Public Prosecutor) was attacked, and the Public Prosecution was told that their investigations had limits. Larry Rohter had his visa revoked, and journalists were warned that there is a line which defines the borders of "approved" news.
    Now, we wait for tomorrow to know who will be the next target of the paranoia which sees conspirations everywhere, and, so, disguises the real reason of preocupation: the constant growth of internal critics to the government performance, and the lack of alternatives capable to renew the popular support to Lula.
    The national honour is not offended, as the President thinks, by whatever is written about any people; the honour is offended when Brazil is exposed to the world as a country which retaliates whoever has a different opinion.
    In essence, there is no difference between the meeting last Tuesday which decided to revoke Rohterīs visa, and that other one, in 1968, which decided to impose the Institutional Act 5 and supressed, among other rights, the freedom of expression. On both occasions, a restrict group granted to themselves the rights to impose to Society their own ideas of right and wrong. Lula decided that Brazilian people was offended just the same way as the military in 1968 decided to prohibit debates in the name of country. Maybe because he doesnīt know the History of Brazil before the unions movements reappeared in Sao Bernardo in the 1970s, the President doesnīt have references which are essentials to discerning between what a President can do and what he must do.
    He doesnīt have sufficient comprehension to discern between being in office and practicing power. In the case at hand, when feeling personally attacked, Lula confused himself with the nation and didnīt hesitate to use prerrogatives of the Presidency to get a personal vendeta.
    There was not, until last Tuesday, any attack to the national dignity. There was only the case of a bad moment in the professional career of the correspondent of NYTimes in Brazil.
    Thereafter, the honour of the Nation was offended when the country was leveled with dictatorships where the will of the Chief overrides the roles of Institutions.
    It causes even more surprise to notice that these actions come from people who got space in the political scenery and eventually gained Power making use, among other instruments, of the right of freedom to express the heaviest - and not rarely only difamatory - attacks to the adversaries.
    Without a free press, Lula wonīt be President today. Without unconditional freedom for international correspondents, the world wouldnīt see the denounces of violence of Brazilian dictatorship against dissidents.
    Besides protesting, all we can hope now is that the Superior Court of Justice grant habeas-corpus against the presidential act and help reconduct Brazil to the free world
    (as I type this, the Court granted the habeas-corpus in favor of the reporter; the petition was filed by Senator Sergio Cabral Filho, whose father was a reporter arrested by the dictatorship).

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