Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the tag “United States”

Lost Samba, Chapter 10/01 – Super-8 and puberty in Rio de Janeiro

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Aterro do Flamengo, Photo by Pedro Kirilos

Avi’s dad, Daniel, was not as lucky as mine with the stock market crash. Their family had lost a lot and perhaps because of this they lived in a small, stuffy, apartment in Copacabana. Avi’s dad was in his mid-forties and behind his rather harsh-looking features, thick moustache and cold blue eyes hid a very likeable personality. Although I was as skinny as a stick insect, he considered me a healthy influence for his chubby son. Daniel thought my pastimes were the right ones, namely that I enjoyed playing football and body surfing instead of spending the day watching television and eating sweets. Therefore my friendship with Avi was supposed to be a sporty one, and on weekends, either he would come with me to the club or we would do outdoorsy activities with his dad. The choices were walks in the Tijuca forest and picnics on faraway beaches. In the afternoons, as a compensation for the exertions of earlier in the day, we would end up in one of the several funfairs that were constantly opening up or closing down all across the Zona Sul.

After we discovered skateboards, our favourite place became the Aterro do Flamengo, a park designed by Roberto Burle Marx, Brazil’s leading landscape architect. The authorities had constructed the park on land reclaimed from the sea alongside the Guanabara Bay as a gesture to compensate Rio for losing its status of national capital. However, despite the gigantic cost, what Rio ended up with was a monumentally boring place. The “attractions” included a museum of modern art that never seemed to have any significant work on display, an area to fly model airplanes, a pond for model boats, a memorial for the Brazilian servicemen killed in World War II, playgrounds for toddlers, an old airplane for people who had never been in one before and a promenade alongside the bay. Despite this, the Aterro was a good place for beginner skateboarders like ourselves: the pathways were made of smooth cement and there were several easy ramps.

Neither Avi nor I, ever came close in terms of skateboarding skills to those of the gang who hung out on my street, let alone those of the Californians who performed impressive moves in empty swimming pools and whose photos we saw in Skateboarder magazine. In fact, we sucked. Like geeks trying to look the part, both of us had the same board, the Brazilian-made Torlay, a rigid piece of wood with two very un-cool pairs of black rubber wheels stuck under it. They broke all the time and looked embarrassing next to the imported ones with colourful semi-transparent polyurethane wheels and flexible, fiberglass boards that the cool kids used.

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The uncool Torlay skateboard

One morning, Avi’s dad took out a Super 8 camera to film our awkward performances. I had never seen such a camera before and, noticing my curiosity, Daniel asked if I wanted to try it out. He handed over the small, futuristic, box and explained how it worked. I gave it a go and managed to capture Avi going down the slope. When I played back the footage in the visor, I had something close to a revelation. That device for capturing time, full of control buttons and with intricate futuristic leds blimping on its lens was simply too awesome for words and for weeks I could think of nothing else. For me, this was state of the art technology, almost the same as the cameras used to make 007 films, John Wayne westerns and other movies that I loved so much.

I was so mesmerized that I asked for a Super 8 camera and a projector as my Bar Mitzvah present, a heavenly wish Jewish parents simply could not refuse, as long as it was within reason. After I got the equipment, the obsession continued; I filmed just about anything on every opportunity. After getting the films developed in the shop, I rounded up my friends and family to show the results in the darkness of my room. The débuts were big occasions and before them, I carefully edited the shots with a slicer, stuck the bits together with special glue and reviewed the cuts in a precarious retro-projector. My room smelled of chemical glue and there were filmstrips hanging everywhere but, as they say in Brazil, I was as happy as a chick in a garbage can.

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The Canon Super-8 camera

This interest took a new dimension during a family trip to Bariloche, a resort high in the Argentine Andes with a European atmosphere that gave Brazilian visitors – as well as Nazis in hiding – the illusion of being in the Old Continent.

One day, we went on a boat excursion to an island in the middle of the huge Nahuel Huapi Lake, a beautiful place that had inspired Walt Disney’s artists for the backgrounds in the movie “Bambi”. The journey soon became boring. Being unable to stand the forced jokes and talks about my future, I went outside to throw bread to the seagulls that raced alongside the boat. About a half an hour later, Dad came out seemingly to interrupt the fun, but instead of bothering me again, Dad told me that he wanted to introduce me to a man he had just met who happened to be a documentary director. Bill was British and was in Latin America to make a film for the BBC about an explorer who in the nineteenth century had travelled on horseback all the way from Argentina to the United States. For me, this was the coolest thing someone could ever do – travelling to shoot a film, not the horse ride – and I decided there and then this was what I wanted to do when I grew up.

Back at home, I started using my Super-8 camera to make silent movies with my friends and took a course in which I ended up directing a short film. The workshop’s organizers liked the end result and took it to several Latin American youth festivals. The film’s name was “Cheque Matte” and the script blended two stories: one of a man playing chess with someone the viewer never saw, and the other a romance of this same character with a female mannequin that he had stolen from a shop. At the end of the film, it turns out that the protagonist was playing against the plastic dummy and he throws the board into the air saying in a low melancholic voice “My life was a game of chess.” As any other trendy film director of time, I will never know the true meaning of my film. Years later, I was flattered to learn that an Ingmar Bergman film, The Seventh Seal, had a similar plot.

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The seventh Seal, playing chess with Death.

My teachers considered themselves as part of the Cinema Novo movement, Bossa Nova’s cinematographic – and more politicized – sibling.  The people involved in it wished to move the Brazilian cinema away from the commercial studio system and discover the country from a different perspective. Following the neo-realist trends in Europe, these filmmakers focused on poor people, who until then had been portrayed in stereotypical and peripheral ways but now they were the central characters. The movement gained importance after their main exponents, Glauber Rocha and Nelson Pereira dos Santos, won international recognition at the Cannes festival in 1964.

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Poster from Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol, the Cinema Novo’s master piece

As I entered into a more hormonal teen phase of life, my friends and I started to use the projector for a much less demanding style of film.  Anyone with any knowledge of the subject will agree that the 1970s were the golden age of porn: the action was authentic and the quasi-amateur debauchery made kids like us go wild. With hundreds of clandestine Swedish Super 8 movies passing from newsstands to the back of our wardrobes, my projector became a rare and coveted piece of gear I happily traded for a few days with borrowed films. This secret activity was to be the beginning of the end of my never-fulfilled dream of becoming a film director. With no one to share my passion, the lack of any decent film courses and the absence of parental encouragement, my interest, although ever present in the back of my mind, slowly dissipated into the tropical psychosis.

back to chapter 01                                                           next chapter

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Porn in the 70’s

 

The pro-The Economist’s BS

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We find it strange that in a time when the western economies are going down the drain, some commentators still retain their colonialist ways of thinking that they know what is best for ex-emerging countries. The fact is that while the neo-liberals are try desperately to cling on to their failed theories, China and Russia are showing themselves more powerful than the west not only in economics but also in geo-politics. Strangely enough we don’t read articles in renowned magazines telling them what to do, after all they do not follow the neo-liberal hornbook, they are not democratic and at least Russia is as or more corrupt than Brazil.  We also note that the “bastions” of laissez-fair and of incorruptibility applauded their government’s when they deplete their population’s wealth to save banks involved in a sort of corruption that overshadows what happens in Brazil by miles.

Despite all the boo-ha Brazil is still growing more that the west, and if there are no missteps they will continue to keep away from the Economist’s recipes for disaster and will follow, who knows?, the Chinese example. Actually it is good to note that China has now long surpassed the US as Brazil’s main commercial partner and that, by the way, Germany, who is leading the European recovery is by no means a neo-liberal place. There the government plays a big role harmonizing its country’s issues rather than attending to the issues of companies that “cannot fail”.

Anyway bellow goes an excellent article exposing who the Economist represents, and, in our view, who is sinking the West:

http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/09/23/the-financial-core-of-the-transnational-capitalist-class/

Meet and Greet the Power Elite

The Financial Core of the Transnational Capitalist Class

by PETER PHILLIPS and BRADY OSBORNE

The institutional arrangements within the money management systems of global capital relentlessly seek ways to achieve maximum return on investment, and the structural conditions for manipulations—legal or not—are always open (Libor scandal). These institutions have become “too big to fail,” their scope and interconnections pressure government regulators to shy away from criminal investigations, much less prosecutions. The result is a semi-protected class of people with increasingly vast amounts of money, seeking unlimited growth and returns, with little concern for consequences of their economic pursuits on other people, societies, cultures, and environments.

One hundred thirty-six of the 161 core members (84 percent) are male. Eighty-eight percent are whites of European descent (just nineteen are people of color). Fifty-two percent hold graduate degrees—including thirty-seven MBAs, fourteen JDs, twenty-one PhDs, and twelve MA/MS degrees. Almost all have attended private colleges, with close to half attending the same ten universities: Harvard University (25), Oxford University (11), Stanford University (8), Cambridge University (8), University of Chicago (8), University of Cologne (6), Columbia University (5), Cornell University (4), the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (3), and University of California–Berkeley (3). Forty-nine are or were CEOs, eight are or were CFOs; six had prior experience at Morgan Stanley, six at Goldman Sachs, four at Lehman Brothers, four at Swiss Re, seven at Barclays, four at Salomon Brothers, and four at Merrill Lynch.

People from twenty-two nations make up the central financial core of the Transnational Corporate Class. Seventy-three (45 percent) are from the US; twenty-seven (16 percent) Britain; fourteen France; twelve Germany; eleven Switzerland; four Singapore; three each from Austria, Belgium, and India; two each from Australia and South Africa; and one each from Brazil, Vietnam, Hong Kong/China, Qatar, the Netherlands, Zambia, Taiwan, Kuwait, Mexico, and Colombia. They mostly live in or near a number of the world’s great cities: New York, Chicago, London, Paris, and Munich.

Members of the financial core take active parts in global policy groups and government. Five of the thirteen corporations have directors as advisors or former employees of the International Monetary Fund. Six of the thirteen firms have directors who have worked at or served as advisors to the World Bank. Five of the thirteen firms hold corporate membership in the Council on Foreign Relations in the US. Seven of the firms sent nineteen directors to attend the World Economic Forum in February 2013. Seven of the directors have served or currently serve on a Federal Reserve board, both regionally and nationally in the US. Six of the financial core serve on the Business Roundtable in the US. Several directors have had direct experience with the financial ministries of European Union countries and the G20. Almost all of the 161 individuals serve in some advisory capacity for various regulatory organizations, finance ministries, universities, and national or international policy-planning bodies.

Estimates are that the total world’s wealth is close to $200 trillion, with the US and European elites holding approximately 63 percent of that total; meanwhile, the poorest half of the global population together possesses less than 2 percent of global wealth. The World Bank reports that, 1.29 billion people were living in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25 a day, and 1.2 billion more were living on less than $2.00 a day. Thirty-five thousand people, mostly young children, die every day from malnutrition.  While millions suffer, a transnational financial elite seeks returns on trillions of dollars that speculate on the rising costs of food, commodities, land, and other life sustaining items for the primary purpose of financial gain.  They do this in cooperation with each other in a global system of transnational corporate power and control and as such constitute the financial core of an international corporate capitalist class.

Western governments and international policy bodies serve the interests of this financial core of the Transnational Corporate Class. Wars are initiated to protect their interests. International treaties, and policy agreements are arranged to promote their success.  Power elites serve to promote the free flow of global capital for investment anywhere that returns are possible.

Identifying the people with such power and influence is an important part of democratic movements seeking to protect our commons so that all humans might share and prosper.

The full, detailed list is online and in Censored 2014 from Seven Stories Press

Peter Phillips is professor of sociology at Sonoma State University and president of Media Freedom Foundation/Project Censored.

Brady Osborne is a senior level research associate at Sonoma State University.

The Economist’s B.S.

Bulshit

The change in mood reflected from an article written two or three years ago and in the Economist’s recent cover shown above as well as in the article that follows inside is a clear portrait of this magazine’s right-wing monetarist bias, bu in this case it borders dishonesty.

The criticism is launched from a perspective that is becoming more and more obsolete and that has proven to be disastrous both in Europe and in the United States; the ne0-liberal one. The focus of the article is Brazil’s “outdated” state intervention based economy which, in the opinion of the editors, is what is scaring foreign investments away.

This is comical. For one, throughout the world banks aren’t willing to invest, not in Brazil nor anywhere else, so it is a fallacy to state that it is Brazil’s economic model that is putting investors off. The fact is that the big banks are currently sitting on their trillions, mostly obtained from the western governments salvage packages that detonated serious recessions.  They are waiting for the “outside” world to be on its knees, and in this situation the money owners will be able to force the theories that the Economist represent down their populations throats.

But looking more specifically at the mood change in the Economist’s covers, the practices that they criticized in their latest publication were as true when the first picture of “promising” Brazil was issued, as they are now. So we have to ask what has changed? It surely hasn’t been the Brazilian ruling party, not has it been their economic policies. Indeed what has changed is the balance of world power where so-called peripheral countries, namely China and Russia, have been showing themselves stronger than the west in terms of economic power and in throwing their weight on geopolitical decisions, namely Iran and Syria.

It is crucial to note that these two countries have been achieving better economic results without using the recipes that the Economist suggests for Brazil. Actually it is fair to say that the Brazilian economic model is closer to the Chinese and to the Russian ones than to the western neo-liberalized ones. So why doesn’t the Economist launch a similar attack on them? It would be pathetic wouldn’t it? But yes, the Brazilian State has an enormous stake in the economy and this has been so since the 1930’s when it was put in place by Brazil’s dictator/caudillo Getulio Vargas who ruled Brazil for a great chunk of the twentieth century and who, by the way, was by no means a communist.

Putting things straight, the US and its European followers have consistently backed Brazil while using such an economic model as an anti-communist bastion in the “dangerous” continent of Latin America during this entire period. They strengthened Brazil when Fidel Castro became too popular, and more recently they did it again when Hugo Chavez gained too much appeal for their taste.

What the Economist’s sponsors would not like to see is an independent Brazil, and for that matter an independent Latin America. This may explain the phone tappings on its president and may very well also explain the “spontaneous” protests that erupted throughout the country during F.I.F.A.’s Confederations Cup with a level of organization and a spread that only professionals can achieve. It seems to us that it is no coincidence that such an article would appear right after the Brazilian government denounced the illegal actions of the American one in the United Nations, also announcing that it will be moving towards an independent route on the internet. It also seems no coincidence that this kind of bad press should appear when the ramp up for the next elections is coming up and the pro-American candidate lags in third place, far behind two left-wing candidates.

For one thing, all of this shows that Brazilians do not buy the neo-liberal vision that God has blessed America with the right answers and the moral upper hand. It also leaves the question that if the West has failed miserably in the Middle East could it be turning its eyes on Latin America?

Brazil and the future

ImageA country’s mission goes way beyond constructing stadiums and hosting mega international sporting events that move a lot of money but that have dubious benefits. A country’s mission is its statement, the way it can contribute to the progress of mankind. This sounds outdated in a world that honors dead leaders who said that “there is no such thing as society”, but is it really?

Out of all the big emerging countries, or B.R.I.C.S. members, Brazil stands out as a question mark, what is that country about? Is it just jumping in and out of the big stage, or is it there to stay? What will happen after the Olympics and the World Cup? Will the global recession hit it or not? Will the traditional corruption prevail or will the new way of thinking brought about by almost a decade of left-wing government guide its development?

With the possible exception of South Africa, differently from the other B.R.I.C.S. Brazil has no solid past to stand on. In many ways it is like a teenager among adults, which can be seen as a weakness but can also be seen as a big promise and a great strength. There is a fascinating civilizationary process going on there; a country is writing its history in front of our very eyes. Of course history is happening everywhere at every moment, but very few nations have such a wide range of choices as the Brazilians do.

Here we must separate current state from potential, there is a huge difference between what something is and what it can become, between. As any other nation under the influence of the western financial power, Brazil suffers from the mess. This has been the case since its foundation as a westernized country but politicians and thinkers in the highest echelons of the Brazilian establishment are aware of this and wish to walk away from this bad influence, like teenagers from dysfunctional homes who are aware that their “parents” are drunkards or drug addicts.

This is not a consensus, and is the source of the recent protests that swept the country. There are many who would happily go the easy way and allow the country to perpetuate a model that has been a source of easy profits for the richer and more powerful countries. This is what the B.R.I.C.S. boils down to; China, who has never fully digested western dominance, is leading the train but Brazil is an active member with the backing of several other Latin American countries.

Returning to the main subject, as we stated above, Brazil stands apart from its geopolitical allies not only in the physical map but also in the metal/cultural/spiritual one, and there where its potential statement and mission come in. Brazil’s melting pot is much more comprehensive and more effective than the one of its brother up north. There the mixture of African, European and indigenous didn’t and doesn’t happen. It may have happened on paper, they may have a black president, but in Brazil it has been happening for centuries in bedrooms and in maternity wards, more than eighty percent of its population does not belong to any specific race. There is no such thing as a Hispanic-Brazilian, a African-Brazilian, a Native-Brazilian or a Teutonic-Brazilian there are only human beings belonging to a population that is proud of residing in a beautiful country and of being part of a young and promising nation.

When we talk about promise we revert to two Brazilian thinkers that shone in the 20th Century: the world famous anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro and the tropicalist Jorge Mautner. Both point to the same direction: their country’s potential to accept all differences and to amalgamate them into something new and profoundly human. A place where happiness and peace are more important than wealth; the world’s promised land. Out of all the countries in the world Brazil has the potential of doing this and of setting an example.

With the big capitals of the west becoming more and more multi-racial and communication shortening the gaps between cultures and people we see mankind “Brazilifying” itself. We can only hope that Brazil finds its way to that special place and that it opens the gates to a brighter future for the entire mankind.

Brazil’s 80’s economic crisis vs. UK/US/Europe’s current crisis

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There is a strange sense of deja vu for ayone who felt in full the Brazilian economic crisis in the eighties and who is now being affected by the British/E.U. recession. With destiny having made me witness the same fate for two different people at two different times there is an empathy with what the young people are going through and a privileged position to compare both cultures and psychologies when reacting to bad times.

The first observation is that the Brazilian crisis was much worse. When the mixture of recession and galloping inflation hit the country, neither the population nor the government understood what was going on; the last case of hyperinflation and economic stagnation had been in Germany in the 1930’s and, apart from coming up with an ethnocentric and a bellicose dictatorship, there was no other known formula to counter that crisis. In the 1980’s, the Brazilian crisis was peripheral; the big international  financial powers were safe and for Brazilians there was no billionaire agreement to save their banks. From the big banks’ point of view they had little to lose and could afford a much more detached posture than they are having now. From the Brazil’s point of view, with no power to drag prosperous countries down the drain with them, it had no negotiation clout and in order to get any money the authorities had to bow low to the IMF’s demands which at the time was inexperienced in dealing with recessions and therefore much more draconian and insensitive.

For the people, there was also no national insurance network to help them, even if minimally, and this put many families in a distress that will be unknown for most Brits in their crisis experience. Dramas hit close to home and several friends and their families lived through suicides, economic exiles and degradation in all forms. In my case, the long absence of career opportunities after I graduated decreed an economic exile. This happened despite my being well-connected in Rio’s upper middle class, having a bachelor’s degree in one of the best economics universities in the country and being more fluent in English than any of my colleagues

The second observation is that despite being so different culturally both administrations opted for similar attitudes when faced with a crisis; namely cowardice, arrogance and following the disastrous conservative recipe of “tidying” up the house to make growth appear magically. In both cases, the beginning of the crisis was marked by the governments rushing to save the powerful hoping that they would come back with jobs for the less privileged. In Brazil it took some time to realize that this was not a pattern that big money followed, their only interest was to keep their money safe. It is anyone’s guess how long it will take the coin to drop in the UK.

The third observation is that when the crisis began in Brazil, the country was still under a dictatorship. This was perverse, in particular for its less protected citizens. The apparatus and practices that had created the inflation and the recession were never going to be the agents cure the problem. It was only when the country became a democracy and had the people backing a group of decision makers who were driven by no agenda other than solving the country’s issues that drastic and effective measures could be taken. In this the UK, Europe and the US are better equipped.

The fourth and last observation is that the indifference of the international community to the country’s plea ended up being its main strength for navigating out of dire straits. When they realized that they were in this alone the country’s financial and economic planners had sufficient autonomy to manoeuvre in unorthodox ways which, despite accidents on the way, ultimately put the country in its current favorable position. In this the “first world”, and in particular the UK, has more problems; the disproportionate power say that the financial institutions have in their economies allows for much less room for manoeuvre.

All in all it is interesting to see the countries who once left Brazil to die in the desert encountering the same problems further on down the line. The sad part is that there seems to be universal pattern where the people who did not participate in the bad decision-making end up being the ones who pay the price when things go wrong.

Adventures in the time of the Cruzado – part 01

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I left University in 1987; now the time had arrived to take life “seriously” and to begin climbing up the tree of success. I had left the fun job as a teacher and had managed to find a job as a trainee in a prestigious international bank, the Dutch ABN AMRO, on Rio Branco Avenue.

I began at their leasing agency, which I chose because it offered prospect of being transferred to the idyllic Northeast region of Brazil – the Nordeste -, which I loved and where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. However, in the middle of the program, someone dropped out of the main trainee group in the Bank itself and I was selected to join in. Everyone, including myself, saw this offer as a promotion and because of the change of status, I had to buy new suits and smarter ties to look good next to my ambitious and square colleagues from elite families.

An international Bank was an entire new world which I was not too sure about, the status of walking around in a suit and being treated as someone inherently better than the rabble around me was seductive but went against my gut instincts. Although secretaries, receptionists and other working girls looked at me with different eyes in my new uniform, I felt that I had sold out. There was also the issue that I was left wing to the core, my beliefs were anti-capitalist, my university was against neo-liberalism, I hated Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, my heroes were Fidel Castro and Che Guevara and all the Brazilian militants who had picked up arms to fight the regime only a decade and a half before. On the other hand, as far as mom and her circles were concerned, I was doing what was expected from me, which at an unconscious but deep level, gave me a sense of comfort. There were more superficial advantages; although the pay was not great our lunch vouchers gave us access to the culinary world of the city centre. Now I went for lunch at sushi places, the new trendy vegetarian restaurants and cheap barbecue houses. One of my favorites was a place on the second floor of an old building on Ouvidor Street that was proud to serve steaks that dropped off both sides of the plate. If they didn’t, the owner would personally take your plate back to the kitchen and come back with another one.

The most alluring part of that universe inhabited by the privileged and rotating around raw money was the stock market. Due to Brazil’s never ending hyperinflation, at different times the Brazilian government launched shock policies to try to stall it. Some were electoral stunts and others were sincere efforts, it would take fifteen years for them to get it right and finally come up with an effective way to end the inflationary spiral. What these plans had in common was that they created spasms of optimism and a temporary false sense of regained stability. Of course, these changes affected investors and made share prices soar. Outside Brazil, these were the days of the yuppie, the casino economics years, when “Wall Street”, the film with Michael Douglas, hit the screens and making easy money was almost a divine commandment. After witnessing a friend buy a Ford Escort, the coolest car available, from stock market money I decided to join the herd. I got the little money I had and put into a fund and was extremely lucky. I got into the market right after a serious plunge, two weeks later the government came up with the Cruzado plan, which “froze” prices and promised that, this time, they would recuperate the economy. The value of my stock more than doubled, I won tons of money in one month and considered myself a genius.

Meanwhile at the bank, everything was going fine until the day I answered the external phone line in the investment department where, as part of the program, I was learning the ins and outs of its operations. It rang shortly before leaving time and there was no one else in. I cleared my throat and answered the call with one thing in mind: the clear guidelines not to give clients’ balances no matter what they said. However, my Botafogo supporter’s luck dictated that this was exactly what the stressed out voice on the other side of the line wanted.

With politeness, I explained that I could not do that and that he should call his account’s manager the following day. With a bit less politeness, he replied that he knew this but that he needed to know his balance immediately.

“I am sorry Sir, your account manager will be glad to do this tomorrow morning but I am not authorized to give you your balance.”

“I can’t wait until tomorrow, I need to know it now; can’t you do me this favor? I know you have access to the information.”

“I won’t lie to you, I actually do, but the rules are strict and you can only know your balance through your account manager”

“Come on, do me a favor, just go to the list and tell me how much money I have in my account, no one will know about it.”

“I am sorry, I can’t, call back tomorrow morning.”

This continued for some fifteen minutes and his tome went from bad to worse, I could not hang up but I was losing my patience with that arrogant guy. The conversation ended as follows:

“Listen son, I am tired of this shit, give me my f…ing balance now!!”

“Listen my friend, number one: I am not your son, number two: why don’t you go f…k yourself?!!” and hung up the phone.

OK, I lost it, but come on… this was not exactly my fault. Anyway, my “good” star ensured that this guy was an ex-director of the Bank who knew all the relevant people who could decide my future in that establishment. It is not hard to guess what happened next, when the program ended everyone else got a job, and I went back to giving English lessons. Another factor that contributed to this sad ending was that I hung out with the only international trainee in bank, a Dutch guy who decided to make me his guide to drugs and prostitutes in Rio. He was pals with the son of the American consul, who asked me in a rather impolite way who I was when we went up to his luxurious apartment. The only thing Diederick had learned in Portuguese was “caralho” – the male sexual organ – end the only thing he said in the local language was, “Caralho man!!” – the equivalent “of shit man!” – and he did not stop saying it. This was funny, but the down side of the friendship was that did not care about boasting about his carioca adventures and saying who had taken him there, and this ended up falling into the wrong ears.

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The conflict of the century

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Whoever thought that the conflicts of the Nazis against the allies ended with the second world war may be wrong. The conflict of conservatism against freedom is still out there. As this site relates to Latinos I will talk about the face under which it appeared in Brazil, in form of  the conflict between caretas (squares) and doidoes (crazies) that was ever-present in the 60’s 70’s and part of the 80’s.

After the dictatorship got rid of the left wing revolutionaries (many of whom were caretas ) the families, the military and other reactionary forces moved their attention to the menace that long-haired rockers, surfers and weed smokers in general presented. It remains a mystery why the powers found these libertarian minds dangerous, but they did.

The Brazilian middle class bought into the American mainstream fury against the libertarian forces of the sixties. The divide was clear, or you were in favor of changing the world, wore hippy clothes and had long hair or you wanted to save the world from those agents of change. The doidoes were in the minority, but their intensity was irresistible and their presence was overwhelming to a mainstream that had the entire military and police apparatus on their side.

It is easy to minimize and make jokes about this conflict, but if one looks beyond the surface it has had an immense effect on the world as that generation reached maturity. The first one was the growth of religious fundamentalism; in order to undermine this hunger for change and the growth of communism (which in its essence is simply the notion of a society based on collaboration rather than on profit) the powerful introduced religion as an effective diversion. The place where this was most felt was in the Muslim worlds here the US and its careta allies invested heavily in zealots, such as Osama Bin Laden. The disaster in Afghanistan and in other countries with a Muslim majority is there for anyone to see. But it was not only there that this offensive took place, in Brazil and in the rest of Latin America all sorts of evangelical churches appeared and became the acceptable face of the will to change and of hope in for a better future. They became an important political force which the internal and external powers rely on.

The other area of combat against the doidoes was the war on drugs. The hard fist on drugs strengthened the criminal element, and the innocent cannabis was substituted by the lucrative cocaine and heroin. What was once something designed to be a chill out and a way to have a few moments without the weight of “the system” on one’s back became demonized and resulted in a costly multinational war. If diverted to more rational uses, the amount of money spent on this global paranoia against the “long haired” would have helped mend the economic, cultural and social cracks happening everywhere in our times, it would also have helped the world become a more intelligent and less hypocritical place with much weaker criminal organizations.

The doidoes counter attacked with the internet, a free vehicle to spread information, and to bring people together. The founders of the internet envisaged it as an instrument to bring democracy to knowledge as well as a way for people to escape the control of the state. Although the caretas are trying to undermine its freedom, this has been a highly successful revolution and has been one of the few  positive developments in the past decades.

Although no one knows how the future will be, if we take Brazil – a country known for absorbing anything you throw at it, where people of all races, cultures, faiths and ideologies are building something new – as a paradigm for what will happen at the end of the tunnel some conclusions may be taken. There, the conflict betweencaretas and our doidoes is still alive but got less important after the country was forced to brace together to tackle an economic crisis that lasted fifteen years and that makes the current one in the “First World” look like a walk in the park.

In those dark days each side learned from each other and now that the country found prosperity people from all classes have become more confident, more creative, more aware of their situation and more practical. It is not that the country can put itself in a place to teach other nations on how to deal with their contradictions, Brazil still has many problems with corruption and social inequality. However its experience shows that the friction of opposites makes things move forward and dealing with them in a rational way, using them equally and with an open mind is the way forward.

Ecology as a new form of Imperialism

There is a disturbing pattern in the Anglo Saxon press when the subject is ecology, and in particular when they talk about Brazil’s role in it. Some present the country as a potential savior of the planet but most articles portray it as an irresponsible menace and seek to open the eyes of the world eyes to the “natural disaster” sponsored by its reckless governments.

There is no doubt that there are reasons to be alarmed; the Brazilian Amazonian forest has taken a great beating due to the irresponsibility of powerful lobbies who put their interests above the planet’s health. They are indeed active, aggressive and have a big say in Brazilian politics; this is worrying because what they get away with affects the rest of the world. The crux of the matter is that the world is worried because Brazil is the guardian a resource that is precious for the entire humanity.  There are other countries in similar positions: Saudi Arabia controls a huge percentage of the world’s petroleum, Russia detains gas that is essential for the functioning of Europe, Britain and the US host a banking system that the world depends on,  the United States detains most of the servers that enable the Internet to function, etc.. the examples could fill out this page.

However when we look at this problem from a different perspective: if Brazil detains this crucial, so to speak, ecological capital, the so called “First World” detains a disproportionate amount of the world’s wealth. No one needs to be a scholar in history to know that this advantage was obtained by extracting richness from the so called “Third World”, and that this was done with the use of its also disproportionate military power. Also, no one needs to be a scholar in economics to know that if the wealthier countries administered these resources more rationally this would tackle poverty which is the main threat for forests, not only in Brazil.

While we read plenty of articles questioning the ability of the Brazilian government to tackle the environmental issue, we have never heard of any Brazilian organization claiming that Americans and European are bad in managing money and suggest that they have the answer, and that they should perhaps step in for the good of human kind.

When one looks into the hard facts one sees that the worst time for forest devastation in Brazil was in the seventies, when the country was under a dictatorship and no one could protest against anything. The regime was sponsored guess by who? the United States of America and their allies who did not want Brazil to follow Cuba’s steps. As democracy returned and established itself the rhythm of the  forest devastation decreased, Brazil is now the biggest investors in the world in forest protection. Obviously a jungle with continental dimensions is difficult to control and there are problems, but not to the alarmist extent that one reads in many ecological articles about Brazil.

The Amazonian forest is still bigger than Europe, there are an estimated seventy tribes who have never had contact with white people, its rivers are still unpolluted despite their being a good deal of foreign factories next them beginning to throw waste into their waters. But a point that needs to be made here is that contrary to popular knowledge the forest actually tends to expand due to the excess of Carbon dioxide in the planet’s air.

Yet, some of eco-organizations suggest that Brazilians are incapable of looking after their resources and that the way to save the Amazonian forest is by “internationalizing” it. They are headed by citizens from countries that have destroyed their own forests long ago and their leader, the United States of America, has refused to sign important ecological treaties.

It is our view that countries with failed eco-policies, who have built their wealth exploiting other countries resources with eco-damaging technologies and who have ultimately invented pollution have nothing to teach Brazil or any other country about protecting their forests. Help is welcome when requested, but it seems that many ecologists want more than this. They seem to have an old notion that countries bellow the equator are an extension of their own and that they have a “responsibility” towards them. Perhaps it is time for them to stop teaching and start learning.

The Dilemma of the Brazilian Revolutionaries

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Above is the cover of one of the most important magazines in Brazil in the 50’s and 60’s, Manchete. The picture is of the familiar Che Guevara being awarded the Gra-cruz of honor by the conservative President of Brazil, Janio Quadros.

It was a tense hand shake: This was at the height of the cold war and the Cuban revolution was still fresh. Uncle Sam did not like this friendship and a few years later, after Janio resigned and was substituted by his left wing vice president Joao Goulart, he would sponsor a military coup that would deprive Brazil from democracy for at least two decades.

America’s fears were not completely unfounded, revolutionary groups were pretty active in Brazil in that period. There were the peasant’s leagues (Ligas Camponesas) arming rural workers and preparing them for a revolution, the Communist Party had factions that believed in bellicose uprisings and were working on it with Cuba and the Soviet Union, the politicized students believed that Brazil should follow in Cuba’s steps, the trade unions were strong and a large portion of the urban middle class thought that Cuban style Socialism would be good for Brazil.

The right, backed by the military and, as we mentioned, the U.S., was also plotting in the meantime. When the coup came, the right won in the short run, but in the long run the left triumphed, the success of current Brazil may be attributed to figures that were in the opposition back then; of the three latest presidents: Fernando Henrique Cardoso was exiled, Lula was put in jail and Dilma Roussef was trialed, tortured and then exiled.

The picture below shows her at that time

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Nowadays the leading party of Brazil, the Partido dos Trabalhadores, is very pragmatic and has distanced itself from any form of radicalism. It was born from the banned trade unions in the industrial belt of Sao Paulo who had nothing to do with the more theoretical and utopian students and intellectuals who were the core of the combatants.

The focus of this article, however, is about what was going on in the mind of the revolutionaries in those early days, which takes us back to the title. In Marxism a country has to acheive an advanced stage of Capitalism for there to be conditions for a revolution; there must be a large urban proletarian force to need the changes and to carry them through. As Cuba, Brazil at the time was vastly rural so the theory had to be re-thought and this was where the internal controversy came up.

For one side the enemy was the local bourgeoisie represented by Brazilian industrialists and large land owners. For them the path to socialism was for the people to take over big farms and industries by force and create a revolutionary country in a similar way that Fidel Castro did.

On the other side of the debate were the anti-imperialists, for them the enemy was the United States of America and their allies. Contrary to their opponents they thought that the local Capitalists should be strengthened in order to breed a proletarian class capable of creating a Socialist state. The subservience to foreign powers weakened this process and blocked the path to an egalitarian Brazil.

The PT, probably through circumstance, was closer to the second trend of thought. Once they reached the presidency, through Lula and now through Dilma the theory and the ideology were superseded by the practicalities of real life politics. The debate has become obsolete but despite this, the presence in Brazilian mainstream politics of people who went through that dilemma, the popularity of such a party and its success in making a continental sized country prosper while tackling its social issues without the spilling of any blood is a silent revolution that people should think about.

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