Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Brazil’

“It’s a Coup!” Cries Dilma

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 12th April, 2016

Dilma impeachmentBrazil’s President Dilma Rousseff today denounced what she said was an attempted coup against her — and accused the Vice-President (who is from another party) of being one of the “plotters”. Yesterday, a Congressional committee voted in favour of her impeachment and a motion to that effect could be put to the whole House as early as Sunday. A vote in the Senate would then follow. The charge is not that Dilma herself is corrupt — unlike accusations levelled against some of her political enemies — but rather that she massaged official deficit figures to make the country’s situation appear better than it is. Her hope is to stay in office until 2018 and then to be replaced by her predecessor, Luis Inacio “Lula” Da Silva, who is a political giant in the background at the moment, but in the process of being given a prominent role. Lula has recently recovered from throat cancer, and although now 70 has been out on the campaign trail. I saw him in Fortaleza the other day, where a few thousand supporters, waving red flags, chanted, “There is not going to be a coup!” Well, Dilma now says that is exactly what is happening, with the São Paulo business community and the huge Globo media empire amongst others ranged against her. The stock market has been buoyed by prospects of impeachment. But the millions of predominantly poor Brazilians who like what Lula and Dilma have done for them are going to carry on demonstrating, just as those calling for her departure will, in equal or even larger numbers.

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Brazil’s Crisis: Tragedy or Farce?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 1st April, 2016

Dilma Rousseff 1George HiltonThe resignation of Brazil’s Sports Minister, George Hilton, just four months before the Rio Olympics are due to start, has added another twist to the tortuous political crisis that the country has been suffering in recent months. The government insists his departure will not affect Brazil’s ability to deliver on the Games, but there is growing scepticism abroad about that event given the country’s slow but steady economic decline over the past few years, as well as confrontations between sports authorities, property developers and poor communities who are being evicted to make way for arenas. More seriously, George Hilton may not be the last Minister to quit the current ruling Coalition, as five others who belong to the PMDB party are under pressure to do the same. The Coalition is currently led by the PT’s Dilma Rousseff, who inherited the political capital of her hugely popular predecessor ‘Lula’ da Silva, but she has since been the focus of various corruption allegations, including supposedly massaging the country’s deficit figures to make them seem better than they are. The problem is that in Brazil almost all politicians are assumed by the general public to be corrupt, whethe it is at the municipal, state or federal level. Construction contracts, in particular, are often linked to back-handers to politicians. Similarly, petty bribery is rampant. So why, one might wonder, are so many Brazilians — not just PT members but whole groups of NGOs  and social movements — regularly going out into the streets to demonstrate in favour of Dilma?

Fortaleza demoThe reason basically is to be found in 20th century history, not just of Brazil but of the whole region. Military or other right-wing dictatorships thrived in Latin America until well into the 1980s, often with the covert support of the United States. Indeed, that support was sometimes overt, as with the overthrow of Salvador Allende’s Marxist government in Chile by General Pinochet. Socialists and other leftist groups in Brazil are terrified that the move to impeach their soul-mate Dilma and bring down the current government is just a prelude to a political coup d’état, in which the far right would take over and crack down on dissidents and the marginalised, as happened in the past. The fact that the Military Police (a most alarming section of the security forces during the periods of dictatorship) was flying low overhead in helicopters last night in Fortaleza while a pro-Dilma rally was going on down the road from where I am staying did nothing to calm the nerves of those who fear that the country could suddenly succumb to a right-wing take-over.

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Brazil: Check Mate for Dilma?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 30th March, 2016

Dilma RousseffMichel TemerToday in Brazil the largest party in the country’s ruling Coalition, the PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Mvcement Party), pulled out, declaring that the game is up for President Dilma Rousseff. Ms Rousseff is in danger of being impeached over allegations that she manipulated government accounts to hide a yawning deficit. The Brazilian economy has been contracting each year these last few years, following an earlier spurt of growth during which Dilma’s predecessor, ‘Lula’ de Silva, proudly declared that the country had grown out of its traditional syndrome of being ‘the country of the future — and which always will be!’ Opponents of Dilma’s Workers Party (PT) have accused Lula of pulling the strings since Dilma succeeded him, and that impression was hardly lessened when the other day she attempted to make him her Chief of Staff. Opponents derided this as an attempt to put him beyond the reach of Justice, and the matter will now be examined by the Supreme Court. In the meantime, millions of Brazilians have been taking to the streets in demonstrations and counter-demonstrations for and against Dilma’s impeachment. Whichever way it goes, one thing is sure: the PMDB’s withdrawal is a cruel blow for the chances of Dilma’s survival. But whether it amounts to ‘check mate’, as the PMDB is crowing tonight, remains to be seen. One clear reason the PMDB might wish so is because if Dilma is ousted, the PMDB leader Michel Temer, currently Brazil’s Vice-President, would succeed her as Head of State.

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Brazil Rejects Israel’s Dayan

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 28th March, 2016

Dani DayanIn the face of Brazil’s firm refusal to accept former settler leader Dani Dayan as Israel’s new Ambassador to Brasilia; Israel has today admitted defeat and named him as its next Consul General in New York instead. The government of Dilma Rousseff has been one of the strongest supporters the international recognition of Palestinian statehood and considered the nomination of Mr Dayan; who was born in Argentina; emigrating to Israel as a teenager; as unacceptable b,ecause of his strong support for illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank. This situation led to a seven-month stand-off between Tel Aviv and Brasilia, but the Brazilians dug in their heels and now the Israelis have conceded defeat. It is very unusual for a country to refuse the credentials of a designated ambassador, but the Brazilians are to be congratgulated for refusing to compromise on a core matter of principle. The United States, alas, has no such qualms, but Mr Dayan’s arrival in New York is likely to spark at least some protests, not least from US Jewish groups who oppose Israel’s 49-year-old occupation of Palestine and Tel Aviv’s efforts to delegitimise the nascent Palestinian state.

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Puebla

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 8th November, 2015

Templo de Santo DomingoFor many Roman Catholics as well as journalists like myself who covered the tumultuous political and religious conflicts in Latin America in the 1980s, the name Puebla has great resonance. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Puebla in 1979 raised many issues linked to what was known as Liberation Theology, espoused by several leading clerics in Brazil and Central America. All too often, the Catholic Church had been on the side of the right-wing dictators and the moneyed élites who ruled most of Latin America in those days and not enough on the side of the poor. Of course, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then and most of the right-wing dictatorships are but a fading memory. Paradoxically, the most oppressive regimes these days tend to be on the left, including Venezuela, Nicaragua and that old chestnut Cuba. Anyway, Puebla has meanwhile grown into a city of five million souls, but I was delighted to see on a day trip there today that the centre has preserved most of its colonial architecture, complete with remarkable exterior tile work, and the city has a delightfully provincial atmosphere compared with that of Mexico City. There are, of course, churches galore, of which the most sumptuous is the Templo de Santo Domingo, whose golden chapel under a giant cupola is breath/taking, if distinctly disconcerting for someone of my Quaker tastes.

Pueblo ZocaloBut Puebla is also a city of museums, including the fascinating collection of 19th century interior decoration at the Museo Bello and a remarkable 17th century library on the first floor of the Casa de Cultura, containing thousands of rare old theological texts, not least relating to the Jewish Old Testament and its Christian interpretation. It was interesting to see that all of the churches we passed had plenty of people inside, but the real place to catch the population of Puebla, especially at the weekend, is the Zócalo, or main square, dominated by the cathedral but surounded on the other three sides by cafés and shaded galleries. This afternoon there was street theatre, several small musical bands, people in costume as everything from a clown to Tutankhamun, vendors selling helium balloons and candy as well as hordes of small children with their parents, in a joyous, celebratory mass.

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Is Brazil Going to Make It!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 26th August, 2015

imageThere’s a popular saying here in Brazil that Brazil is the country of the future — and always will be. A few years ago I gave a lecture at the Federal University of Ceara arguing that “Brazilianism” — this collective sardonic attitude to the country’s potential — had to be overcome if it was going to make the grade. Since then, Brazil has hosted the World Cup and is preparing for the Olympic Games, both symbolic indications that the country has joined the top rank of countries. Moreover, in an economic forecast circulating on twitter yesterday, Brazil’s economy is set to overtake Britain’s by 2030. Well, so it should, when you consider how big the country is, geographically and in population, as well as how rich it is in resources (including oil). Yet all is not rosy in Brazil’s garden. Corruption is still rampant at every level, which is acting as a serious brake on advancement and the gap between rich and poor continues to be huge. Indeed, the situation of the poorest has got worse, thanks to rising prices and few new employment opportunities.

imageOf course, Brazilians are famous for enjoying life, even if they have little materially, but their patience is running out. Regular demonstrations against President Dilma Rousseff have been taking place around the country, but so too have counter-demonstrations by the left-wing parties that support her. At least there seems no possibility these days of a military coup. When I first came to Brazil, over 30 years ago, the military dictatorship that had taken over in 1964 was still in power and although its excesses were not usually quite as appalling as those of its counterparts in Argentina and Chile nonetheless its human rights record was very poor. These days people are more worried by the high level of violent crime than by what the military might get up to. Despite the problems, however, I believe that Brazil is getting over Brazilianism and even it is developing at a pace that seems pathetic when compared with China or India this particular BRIC is somewhere to watch and to engage with economically and diplomatically, far more so than my home country, Britain, is doing at the moment.

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Why Brazilians Are Protesting

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th August, 2015

imageimageWhen Brazilians take to the streets in their hundreds of thousands it is usually Carnival time — an explosion of popular music and celebration. But recently the crowds have been turning out for an entirely different reason: calling for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. Yesterday, in the main commercial city São Paulo an estimated 350,000 took part, with smaller demonstrations in other centers including the capital, Brasilia. There was even a modest turnout here in the North-Eastern coastal city of Fortaleza ( where I am spending August). The main trigger for the impeachment calls has been frustration at the corruption by which Brazil is riddled, including within the giant hydrocarbons company Petrobras where Dilma (as she is always referred to) used to work. But there is a wider disenchantment with her and her government because the Brazilian economy has stalled, while unemployment and inflation are both rising. There is very little chance that Dilma will be toppled (she is only one year into her second mandate) and it is doubtful whether anyone else could turn the country round quickly. But in the meantime the demonstrations have a certain therapeutic value as people come together to voice their individual and collective frustrations.

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Sebastiao Salgado’s Genesis

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 29th May, 2015

imageimage I took a break from writing this morning to go to see the huge and imposing exhibition of back-and-white photographs by the Brazilian Sebastiao Salgado, which is running at the Galleria Municipal Torreao Nascente in Lisbon until 2 August. I had often seen Salgado’s work in the minimised format of magazine reproductions, but the sheer scale of some of the images full-size is arresting, whether it is a whale surfacing in the ocean to “blow” or a barren landscape populated with thousands of seabirds. The photographer obviously have a soft spot for penguins, but few of his shots could be called cute or even life-affirming. The overwhelming effect (not just because his photographic palate is limited to greys) is one of gloom, even doom. This is of course deliberate, as a major reason for this exhibition, which is touring the world, is to alert people to the dangers threatening the planet. Having earned quite a lot of money from his work, he has ploughed some of it back into reforestation in South America. But at times the exhibition does seem over-didactic. The photographs of people are particularly unsettling, not just because almost none of them smile but because the photographer seems distanced from them, a remote observer, which makes the viewer feel estranged too. There are some particularly fine portraits of tribesmen in Papua New Guinea, but others have treated such subjects with something that seems curiously lacking in Salgado’s technically brilliant work: human bonding, even love.

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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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