Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Brazil’

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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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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