Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Brazil’

The Beauty of Silence

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th August, 2014

silenceBrazil has long been one of my favourite countries in the world, but nowhere is perfect. The one thing about life here that I find really difficult is the absence of silence. Every cafe, restaurant and bar has either the television or radio blaring, and often both. And there is music everywhere — all very atmospheric during Carnival, but exhausting in its pervasiveness. I used to have a spot by the beach here in Fortaleza where I went to read, think and write, but since I last visited they have installed a radio and loudspeaker system there as well. Moreover, because of the climate — all year round, here on the Equator — people live out in the open and call out to each other. It’s rare to see anybody reading a book or even a newspaper, and that’s not only because they are so expensive compared with people’s earnings. However, all is not lost. There is a place where I go every morning while here, at the end of the wooden pier appropriately called the Ponte dos Ingleses, where I can sit in the breeze with nothing but the sound of the sea. Silence is golden, as the hackneyed saying goes. For in silence one can have deep thoughts. And also surrender to the form of inaction the Chinese Taoists favoured: a sort of not-thinking.

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Fighting Corruption

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th August, 2014

corruptionIn Brazil, where I’ve been for the past fortnight, much of the discussion in the run-up to state and presidential elections has been about corruption, which is so prevalent here, as in much of Latin America and elsewhere in the world, that it undermines the public’s confidence in democracy. The poor majority already feel marginalised from society, and the pervasiveness of corruption — whether on a massive scale by senior politicians lining their own pockets or the every day minor graft that poisons everyday transactions — is sapping the popular will. When I first started coming to Brazil, over 30 years ago, making radio programmes for the BBC, the country was a military dictatorship, with an appalling human rights record. People hoped that the peaceful transition to democracy would usher in a new age of safety and justice, but that promise has only partly been fulfilled. The rich and powerful elite still enjoy “rights” from which the poor are excluded, despite the left wing presidencies of Lula and Dilma, and until corruption is purged from the system millions of people will feel their voice does not matter and probably will not vote.

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Don’t Sanctify Ronnie Biggs

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 19th December, 2013

Jack MillsRonnie BiggsThe death after a prolonged illness of the train robber Ronnie Biggs received massive cov erage in the UK media and even the BBC showed a sickening degree of reverence for the subject. It is often said that one should not speak ill of the dead, but neither should we sanctify villains. The Great Train Robbery of 1963, as it came to be known, was an audacious plot worthy of a crime novel. But one should never forget that in the course of the assault, the train driver, Jack Mills, was beaten over the head with a metal bar. He was never able to work again and died a broken man seven years later. Biggs found extra notoriety by escaping from prison and disappearing off to Brazil, where he fathered a child, thereby managing to keep himself free from extradition. Eventually he did return home, short of funds (whatever happened to all the dosh from the mail train?) and spent time in custody again before being released on compassionate grounds. But I fear too much compassion has been shown to him (and to some other villains of the past, like the Kray twins). Thugs and criminals are precisely that and their doings should not be romanticised. In a novel, their exploits may seem exciting, but in real life, they almost always entail misery for innocent victims.

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Kate Parminter’s Food for Thought

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 9th September, 2013

Kate Parminterhealthy foodfood productionFood is essential to all citizens and they have the right to be part of the related decision-making process, according to Baroness (Kate) Parminter, who was the guest speaker at a Hackney Liberal Democrat event yesterday afternoon. She has been making the point strongly over the summer with particular reference to GM crops, following their championing by the (Conservative) Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson. He has gone beyond the letter and spirit of the Coalition Agreement with the Liberal Democrats, and Kate, for one, believes that so long as the public is still dubious about GM foods, Ministers should go softly-softly and engage with the public, rather than be cheerleaders for the industry. Her own background is in the charity sector, having notably worked for the RSPCA before becoming Chief Executive of the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE). She is a spokesperson on DEFRA matters in the House of Lords and is concerned that the notable rise in the number of food banks in Britain is a reflection of how hard the more vulnerable in society have been hit by the economic problems of the past few years and cutbacks in benefits. In the lively discussion after her presentation I raised the issue of biofuels, which were hailed as a great ecological breakthrough not all that long ago — notably regarding ethanol production inn Brazil — but now pose a problem in competition for land that could otherwise be producing food. Several people present at the event lamented the fact that modern urban dwellers have mainly become detached from food production, instead relying on supermarkets (which are also driving small businesses out of business). I remember at primary school being given seeds and growing lettuce and parsley from them — later devoured with a huge sense of pride and achievement. Some schools apparently still do that sort of thing, but perhaps it should be included in the curriculum, as part of home economics — “domestic science” in my schooldays — for boys as well as girls!

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Diplomat Awards 2013

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th April, 2013

Ambassador BoomgardenHE Carlos dos SantosThe Langham Hotel, just opposite BBC Broadcasting House, claims with justification to be one of the oldest top-end hotels in Europe. Crown Prince Edward presided over the opening of its grand function room in 1865; this evening, almost a century and a half later, it welcomed the massed ranks of London’s diplomatic corps, at what has become a key date in the capital’s annual social calendar: Diplomat Magazine’s Awards for diplomats of special note, nominated by their peers. It’s true that in the interim the hotel went through some barren years, especially after the Germans dropped a bomb through the roof and the BBC then occupied it for offices. But now it is back to its former glory (despite recently hosting Justin Bieber, on the less than glorious London led of his concert tour). The Awards were presented tonight by Sir Christopher Meyer, former UK Ambassador to to Washington and head of the ill-fated Press Complaints Commission; he is now sucked into the corporate sector and performed with immense slickness and occasional wit. The laureates included the Christian Lady Ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain (Middle East), the German Ambassador (who sent a deliciously subversive pro-European Unity message in his absence), the Ambassador of Brazil (South America), the Ambassador of Indonesia (Asia)  and the High Commissioners of Mozambique (Africa) and Trinidad & Tobago (The Americas). The hotel and various sponsors certainly did us all proud and it is a credit to the Diplomat’s owners/editors Hugo and Venetia de Blocq van Kuffeler that they manage to keep the whole enterprise going in these difficult economic times. With over 160 diplomatic missions London as a posting remains one of the highlights of any diplomat’s career and indeed for some being accredited to the Court of St James’s is the crowning of a professional lifetime, even if on occasions (as Sir Christopher wickedly reminded us, in the words of Henry Wotton) they are being sent abroad as honest men (and women these days) to lie for their country.

[photos show HE Georg Boomgaarden, Ambassador of Germany, and HE Carlos dos Santos, High Commissioner of Mozambique]

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Why the EU Needs to Integrate More

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 3rd January, 2013

José Manuel BarrosoIt’s 40 years since Britain joined the EU and siren voices among UKIP and the Tory right are arguing that it’s time to turn the clock back and pull out. They couldn’t be more wrong. On the contrary, this is the time for the EU to integrate more — as the eurozone now seems destined to do — and Britain should be an enthusiastic participant. In the 1950s it was clear to the Founding Fathers (sorry, ladies, they were all men) of what developed into the EU that a degree of economic integration, notably between France and Germany, was necessary to make wars between western European states impossible. That goal was so smoothly achieved that European peace is taken for granted, especially by the young. A second huge victory since 1989 has been the absorption of formerly Communist states of central and eastern Europe ino the EU. This year, Croatia will be the next. But there is an urgent reason why EU integration should move ahead, namely the way that the global economy is developing, with the rise of new heavyweights including Brazil, Russia, India and China — the BRICs. As EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso has rightly pointed out, by 2050 not a single individual European country will be among the world’s top 10 economies* — not even Germany. So in order to compete — indeed, to survive as an economic force — Europe must unite further and start operating more as not just a single market but also a single economic force. It would be madness for Britain to stay out of that, condemning itself to a form of offshore irrelevance. It is not the Europhiles in Britain who are unpatriotic, as some of our critics allege, but rather UKIP and the Europhobic Tory right who want to consign us to the role of an historical theme park. 

*A new entry at number 10, however, could well be Turkey, which makes it all the more important that Turkey be embraced into the European family.

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Michael Palin on Brazil

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th October, 2012

Those of us who are members or supporters of the Heath Library in Hampstead were treated to a preview of Michael Palin’s new BBC TV travel series (and associated book) on Brazil when he came to give a talk at the library this evening. Most of Michaell’s previous travelogues have involved crossing many, often difficult borders; his series on New Europe took him to no fewer than 22 countries, albeit briefly in some cases. But for his latest venture he stayed just in Brazil, never having been to that part of Latin America before. He chose four different regions: the North East, the Amazon, Rio and nearby mining areas, and the far south, thus getting four very different flavours of landscape, people and food. When asked by a young audience member which he would like to return to if he could Michael opted for the Amazon, as it was the least noisy and he had especially valued his time with indigenous communities in inaccessible parts of the rainforest, with their harmonious lifestyle that depends on their knowledge of and respect for their environment. Brazil — which I have been visiting quite regularly for over 30 years now — has gone through extraordinary transformations, from military dictatorship to a functioning democracy, from hyper-inflation to a steady, strong currency, and from a sense of resigned hopelessness about the future to the vibrancy of a get-up-and-go society that is proudly asserting its membership of the BRICs groups of emerging economies as well as its place as an increasingly influential global political player. Being Michael Palin, of course, he had various Palinesque, even Pythoesque, adventures, including being immersed in a rubber tutu in the middle of a river in the Amazon basin while pink river dolphins playfully headbutted him.

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Misha Glenny on Cyber Crime

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 5th October, 2012

The writer and broadcaster Misha Glenny was the guest at the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) lunch at Europe House yesterday; many of us had worked with him at the BBC and elsewhere, mainly during the period when he was a leading authority on the Balkans. But as he explained at the lunch, by 2000 editors around the world had had their fill of the Balkans. Nobody was interested in the area anymore. 9/11 and its aftermath further sealed his fate as he then had to find a new area of expertise, which is why he has spent much of the past decade in the company of gangsters. Some of these were involved in traditional crimes, such as gun-running, people trafficking and prostitution (more details of which you can find in his books). But more recently he has tended to focus on cyber crime — hacking and the like. People engaged in this type of activity usually don’t need to resort to the violence employed by other sectors of the international criminal fraternity, and many of them are young. One of his star interviewees in recent research was a teenager in Sao Paulo, Brazil, who made millions in a short period of time. States, intelligence services and commercial companies also increasingly engage in cyber crime, be it cyber warfare — of the type that forced Estonia to shut itself off from the Internet for a while — or the deliberate infection of Iran’s nuclear facilities by US and Israeli cyber-operatives, and indeed the blitz on Western countries — including Britain — by China and Russia in particular. Most people tend to think of cyber crime in terms of phishing scams which result in one’s credit or debit card being hacked. But such offenses are piffling compared with the high level stuff being carried out by the real professionals, including extortion of banks and commercial companies by people who have the ability to bring down their whole IT system or steal all their contact lists, emails and future product specifications. Having brouht out his book on the subject, Misha Glenny can now turn to a much less dangerous project: the rise of Brazil as an emergent world power.

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Reaching Out to Latin America

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 26th June, 2012

Latin America has been the Cinderella of British diplomacty in recent decades, though that situation has mercifully been changing since the Coalition Government came into office twp year ago and Liberal Democrat Jeremy Browne took over responsibility as junior Minister for the region (along with East Asia, Australasia and most recently India). Several new British Embassies have been opened in Central and South America — some resuscitating posts the previous Labour government closed down — and staff beefed up at others. There has been a series of new consulates too, one of the latest being in Recife in North East Brazil, which Jeremy recently opened. This evening he came to talk to the International Relations Committee of the Liberal Democrats to explain the thinking in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. There is recognition that as well as the BRIC, Brazil, there are other countries in the region that have been developing economically to a notable degree. Interestingly, he divided the states of Latin America up into three groups, from his point of view: those with liberal economies (the new Pacific Alliance of Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile), the Left-leaning fraternity (Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and to an extent Bolivia) and the rest. Most have undergone profound and in general positive political change over the past three decades, but British companies have by and large not capitalised on new opportunities there. Despite the ongoing difference of views regarding the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands — in which Argentina’s claim to ‘Las Malvinas’ gets widespread support across the region — in general Latin Americans have a fairly positive view of Britain and we are a country that still punches well above our weight. Although Jeremy did not say so, another reason we are liked in Latin America is because Britain is not the United States, though often the British government — of whatever political colour — finds itself in close partnership with Washington.

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Jeremy Browne the Golf Club

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st March, 2012

Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne has increased his empire recently, adding India to East Asia and Latin America. But as he told a meeting of London Liberal Youth and others which I chaired at SOAS this evening, there is logic to this, in that he is now broadly responsible for emerging economies (outside the former Soviet Union). These are now ranked, reasonably, in FCO terms in three bands: the top one including China, India and Brazil; the second, countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Colombia et al; the third, the Philippines and others. He used some inventive analogies in his talk and during the subsequent Q&A, saying that at Foreign Affairs question times in the House he often feels like that oddly-shaped golf club which a player almost never uses, but you are jolly glad to have with you when the need arises. Almost all questions tend to be about Europe, the Middle East (including Afghanistan) and North Africa, with the United States being a recurring point of reference. But he is on to a good thing (my editorialising) by concentrating on countries that are on their way up. Europe, including Britain, is shrinking both in its share of global population and in its share of the global economy. But the EU is still the world’s largest economic bloc, and Britain still maintains considerable influence over ideas (through the Financial Times, the Economist, the BBC, etc). So providing Jeremy remains a reasonably long time in his job, he’ll be performing at question time in the House not so much as a chipper but as a wood.

 

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