Monthly Archives: February 2014

How to detect a Brazilian political idiot

Politics isn’t yet a serious business in Brazil. I say that as a reporter who has covered two presidential campaign trails, two City Hall elections, a few scandals, cabinet reshuffles and all branches of power in Brasilia. What I’ve seen since 2004 is politicians infantilizing their voters, demonizing the opposition and stimulating low levels of engagement for the vast majority of people. It isn’t a rare scenario in the world today, but it is grave for a country with so much to fix and to aim for in the next few years.

That is no different for activists who sympathize (too much) with these politicians. I call them political idiots because their goal isn’t to raise the level of the debate and bring more people to their cause. They just want to hold their position in the minority of the Brazilian people. Many feel as if they were leading a gigantic quest — as part of the protesters do since June. In fact, they are much less important than those who actually drive the debate, and those are the pragmatic social conservatives.

Of course this post is not talking about those who are willing to establish a dialogue with the other side. I am deliberately focusing on the idiots, because they have become too noisy despite their lack of support in Brazilian society. In many conversations with foreigners, I found some of those points of view being parroted, as if they were a given.

That’s how childish political idiots are.

Although the ruling Workers Party (PT) and their rivals in the Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB) aren’t as different as their members like to believe, they play it as if they were worlds apart. But they aren’t. Here is what Richard Lapper, former editor of the Financial Times in Brazil, told me about these two: “If they were in Britain, they’d be two different wings of Labour.” PT and PSDB old time members are close friends. And in 1993 they actually thought of being in the same presidential ticket.

Foreigners that don’t know much about Brazilian politics are led to believe they have hated each other since ever. That is because their passionate followers like to say there is either a coup from the conservatives or one from the communists looming large. These Brazilian voices are the most engaged ones. And they are very often the voices of Brazilians who have lost touch with main street so they can keep their admiration for politicians. 

Surely enough recent protests have made political debates less unlikely in Brazil, but the vast majority of Brazilians (and that includes politicians) are just too self-absorbed to care. Most people were never on streets demonstrations — they were at home minding their own business. Politicians that know how to strike a balance know that for a fact. They allow the extremists to fight so they can later on appeal to the social conservatives who decide the elections. 

After all, both politicians and voters swing their support in Brazil.

It all depends on the occasion.

The dictatorship ended 30 years ago. But not to these guys.

That introduction is necessary to explain why Brazilian political idiots are one of a kind. In a country where most people just don’t care, they devote 100% of their energy not to making people understand their points of view and raising their profiles. They prefer to feed a system in which they don’t have to convince anyone. They’d much rather gather with friends of similar mindset and pass on a message that they know will be taken on board.

If Brazil were as educated as the US, where extremist politicians are popular, I’d accept the move. But the base for extremists here is very, very tiny. That is why the political idiots have a very debatable success. The buzz they get is basically for clinging to peripheral politicians and pundits that spread their opinions. This is a large chunk of Brazilian political social media today. To make it worse, political tweeps believe they will decide the fate of the elections.

When before a Brazilian political idiot you will hear a few buzz expressions spoken in a very harsh tone. It is part of the drama. It doesn’t matter whether they are right or left-wing. Some of them are “mensalão”, coup, privatization, media fabrication and too many ministries. If that happens to you, be sure that person wants you to go along and feel bad for them. Truth is Brazilian politics isn’t very amusing because the heads of the main parties are basically in different wings on the center-left. Being a right-winger is associated with the dictators.

The top myths spread by Brazilian political idiots in recent years are linked to the so-called “mensalão trials.” That was a bribes for political support scandal which was outed in 2005, under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The issue involved key leaders of the ruling coalition and is the first one to hit such figures in the country’s Supreme Court — a former chief of staff and a PT chairman are in jail for what they did.

If you listen to a Brazilian saying that scandal is a media fabrication, be sure you are talking to a political idiot. There are loads of evidence and an admission of guilt by many of the involved. If you hear someone say that was the biggest corruption case in Brazil’s history, be also sure you are talking to a political idiot. We’ve had an impeached president declared innocent in the Supreme Court because the case against him was bizarrely stated by prosecutors.

Of course political idiots aren’t a Brazilian exclusive.

Another favorite for the political idiots is the debate on social programs. Most of it is centered on Bolsa Família — a benefit of about US$ 100 paid to poor families so they keep their children at school. Some will say it is the government buying votes of poor people, which is totally groundless. Others will say only PT administrations care about the underprivileged. Neither are true: ruling coalition members lose elections and PSDB leaders have also spent money on helping the most needed.

Whoever says the ruling party did a better job because Lula and Dilma Rousseff never privatized Brazilian assets is wrong. The reason they didn’t do it more is their predecessor’s goal in privatizing even more. Whoever says there wasn’t as much corruption when PSDB’s Fernando Henrique Cardoso was in the presidency is just as biased: Brazilian media reported the amends he made to the Constitution to run again were a result of a Congressional buyout.

Opposition followers will say the Workers Party has raised the burden on the taxpayers to pay for almost 40 ministries Brazil has, although many of them have basically no budget and are there for symbolic reasons. Ruling PT supporters will say they inherited a broken country in 2002, but part of the financial chaos was only there because Lula’s election made financial markets and investors hold their breath for months.

For Brazilian politics to be taken seriously, those party-goers should hold their leadership more accountable for their misdeeds. But for now they know no shame, in either side. Normally the best moment to do that would be during the presidential campaign trail, between August and October. The first signs, though, point to the direction of more idiots than bright lights on the way.


Red top tabloids’ Brazil ignorance

By Shaun Alexander Cumming

I’ve worked for a tabloid in the past, and what they are all about is sensationalism and pulling in readers in any way they can. Telling the truth doesn’t really come into this journalism. That’s why they are in all kinds of trouble with the British law at the moment. The problem I have with the reports about Brazil is that they show that the authors know nothing about the country.

Since the New Year, global newspapers have renewed their attacks on Brazil, doing their best to make even the most tenuous of links to the World Cup. Three words have dominated these headlines and have been used together dozens of times over the last few weeks, mainly in the red top British tabloids. These are ‘fear’, and ‘World Cup’. They are used in combinations in subheadings.

These papers are trying to turn their readers away from Brazil. The Daily Mail, for example, pointed out to its readers that they’ll encounter deadly snakes and spiders when going to the match in Brazil. Last weekend when people were protesting in São Paulo, The Sun went crazy, saying that Brazilian ‘thugs vow to stop footie’. That is just irresponsible.

The World Cup hosts have many problems to sort out. People are right to protest – even those who don’t want the World Cup because of the overspend on stadiums, underspend on everything else. Rather than pass them off as hooligans, the red top tabloid could actually address the grievances. But they just won’t.

It is right that reporters cover the problems in the lead up in a fair and transparent way. But where’s the balance?

Yes, Brazil is late with the stadiums to a FIFA deadline. Despite the delays, though, we have passed the point of no return. FIFA no longer has an option but to host the World Cup in Brazil. International media appears to now accept this and has refocused its attentions.  The very worst that can happen is that a city or two is denied the right to host matches – but even that’s unlikely.

Not many bright people take red top seriously, Brazil should know.

But British red top papers are attacking constantly and relentlessly. Every report they have written on Brazil has focused on a negative. The protests, the cars-on-fire, the robberies, the deaths. It is as if there were nothing else.

They have a right to cover whatever they like before the World Cup. But the wonderful, amazing things Brazil has to offer are also a part of the World Cup.

What about all of Brazil’s successes, and amazing people doing amazing things? What about tourist documentaries showing people about where they should go in Brazil, how they should navigate the country and cities they will visit at the World Cup? Nada.

The strange thing about this saga is there are some tremendous reporters in the ground in Brazil, like BBC’s Wyre Davies. Still, somewhere down the line, for all media, there is an editor in London refusing to accept positive interesting stories. An editor that very likely knows much less than their reporters.

In red top tabloids, this could be the only Brazilian voice allowed.

As a former tabloid writer, I understand what some correspondents in Brazil are doing: looking for a paycheck. Maybe if I were them I’d write whatever the commissioning editors wanted. If that was a ‘Brazil Fears World Cup’ story, I’d find one of them – there are plenty of opportunities.

But media bosses should stop this nonsense now. At very least, we need some balance. Besides, you can bet most of their stories will be forgotten just before the first kick-off whistle is blown.

Shaun is a Scottish journalist who blogs on Brazil at The Brazil Blog.