Brazil and the NYT

When the US decided it was going to add a little extra humiliation for foreigners to the process of traveling through that country (which multinational transportation networks, especially in the Americas, have made difficult to avoid) by fingerprinting and scanning them, Brazil decided to do the same to US visitors of Brazil. This was greeted with gasps all over the world. The temerity! Galeano wrote about it, eloquently as usual:

“Many condemned this normal act as an expression of perilous insanity. Perhaps, if the world were not so misconditioned, things would be seen in another light. At bottom, what was abnormal was not what the Brazilian president Lula did but the fact that he was the only one to do so. What was abnormal was that everyone else simply accepted the conditions that Bush imposed on the rest of the world with the exception of a privileged few that were held beyond suspicion of terrorism and evil-doing.”

Well, President Lula has done it again. This time, Larry Rohter, the NYT bureau chief, accused Lula of being a drunk. His visa was cancelled.

Unlike the fingerprinting at airports, there are legitimate reasons why Lula ought not to have done this. But the private media, especially the US media, in Latin America, especially in Venezuela but also in Brazil, are instruments of destabilization. Perhaps the media and governments should consider a negotiated solution: the media will stop lying and participating in foreign attempts to overthrow democratic regimes; those regimes will stop doing things like these.

The truth is, this is the only incident of its kind I’ve heard about — for the most part, governments are fulfilling their end of the bargain. Reuters story below.

By Axel Bugge
BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) – Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has run into fierce criticism at home and abroad over his decision to expel a New York Times correspondent who wrote about his heavy drinking, with one critic calling him a “dictator of a third-rate republic.”

It will be the first time a foreign journalist has been thrown out of Brazil since the end of a 1964-1985 military dictatorship. The nation’s military rulers even jailed Lula, a former militant unionist who made his name standing up for the oppressed.

The government defended its move to cancel the visa of Larry Rohter, New York Times bureau chief in Rio de Janeiro. It said the article, which ran on Sunday, offended his honour.

The government said there was no chance it would reverse the expulsion.

“The Brazilian government is not going to retreat on this issue,” Lula’s spokesman told reporters on Wednesday. “It’s our responsibility to defend Brazil.”

Many Brazilians thought the story itself unfair. But the government’s reaction was slammed by Brazil’s opposition, human rights groups and media watchdogs, who called it an attack on press freedom.

“This was absurd, an immature decision by a dictator of a third-rate republic who does not understand the role of government,” said Sen. Tasso Jereissati of the centre-right Brazilian Social Democratic Party opposition.

The furore follows other spats between Brazil and the United States over trade policy and fingerprinting at airports.

It is also another distraction for the Lula government, which has just emerged from a corruption scandal and is struggling to get Brazil’s economy back on track and make good on its electoral promises of broad social reforms.

Two former presidents backed the expulsion. But Lula’s predecessor Fernando Henrique Cardoso did not, saying there were misinformed articles all the time but “I never thought of taking reprisals against a journalist.”

“APPROPRIATE ACTION TO DEFEND HIS RIGHTS”

Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said the issue was not about press freedom. The article “was intended to diminish the figure and dimension of the president.”

The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said that the expulsion could “do irreparable damage to freedom of expression in the country.” And U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the decision was “not in keeping with Brazil’s strong commitment to freedom of the press.”

New York Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said there was no basis for Rohter’s expulsion and the paper “would take appropriate action to defend his rights.”

The government’s move gives Rohter, a veteran Latin American correspondent, eight days to leave Brazil once police inform him he has lost his visa. He is now travelling outside Brazil.

The reaction prompted some to question if Lula overreacted.

“What was wrong with the story was that it said Lula’s drinking was a national worry, which is wrong, but the government’s response has become a national question,” said analyst Carlos Lopes.

Lula, who took office in January 2003, is known to enjoy a drink or two and Brazil has a generally relaxed attitude toward alcohol.

Lula’s personal doctor of ten years told Reuters the president did not have a drinking problem.

“I never noticed alcohol abuse,” cardiologist Roberto Kalil said in a phone interview. “He’s a normal, healthy person.”

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.