Terror Strikes II:
Do Brazilians Care?
Fitzpatrick Week of September 15 -
John Fitzpatrick is an occasioal guest Editor on InfoBrazil. He is a
Scottish Journalist who first visited Brazil 15 years ago, and has been based in São
Paulo since 1995. His 26-year career in journalism includes stints as a Reporter in
Scotland and England, Deputy Editor of an English-language daily newspaper in Cyprus, News
Editor of a radio station in Switzerland, Financial Correspondent in Zurich and São
Paulo, and Editor of a magazine published by one of Switzerland's largest banks. He
currently runs Celtic Comunicações, a Sao Paulo company which specializes in editorial
and translation services.
in many countries to Tuesday's terrorist attacks in the U.S. has been of genuine sadness
and sorrow for the victims and the American people. Across most countries in Western
Europe, normal life stopped for three minutes on Friday as people paid tribute to the
dead. These were genuine acts from the heart by ordinary individuals, not staged events
organised by governments. One gathering in Germany brought together 200,000 people. The
British Parliament held a special session. Even Russia observed a minute of silence.
What did we see in Brazil? Virtually nothing. Most of our political leaders kept quiet and
the people appeared not to care. President Fernando Henrique Cardoso did condemn the act a
few hours after it happened, and offered support. However, he was quick to point out that
it could worsen Brazil's economic problems. None of the emotion the world associates with
Brazil has been on display.
As Brazilians continued to watch events unfold on television, political life went on in
its usual way. No terrorism here, just the usual soap opera of corruption, violence and
power mongering beleaguered Senate President Jader Barbalho finally stood down,
more evidence piled up against former São Paulo Mayor Paulo Maluf also facing
corruption allegations, and the Mayor of Campinas, a major city in São Paulo state, was
shot dead. Another development this week was the defeat of the anti-government wing of the
PMDB party, at a convention that elected São Paulo Congressman Michel Temer as the
party's new president. This was a blow to Minas Gerais Governor Itamar Franco, who may now
seek membership with another party to launch his presidential ambitions next year.
So there were plenty of things happening here, but why have the terrorist attacks in New
York and Washington, D.C. evoked none of the emotions among Brazilians which they have
among others elsewhere in the world? Obviously one cannot force people to feel genuine
sorrow, but the muted response has been puzzling and, to a non-American foreigner like me
who lives here, disappointing and distressing.
It is distressing because it puts Brazil out of line with the world's democracies, and
shows a lack of solidarity with a country where tens of thousands of Brazilians live
300,000 in the New York City area alone. Around 30 of these Brazilians are feared
dead in the New York attack. It shows a lack of sympathy for a nation which has suffered a
devastating surprise attack. It shows the ignorance of the less educated population, and
the smugness of the better educated.
Of eight letters published in the daily O Estado de S. Paulo at the time of writing this
article, six are broadly anti-American, accusing the U.S. of reaping seeds it has sown.
One wonders if any of the correspondents wrote a letter of condolence to the American
ambassador. Another part of the same newspaper expressed relief that the U.S. Consulate in
São Paulo would be leaving the posh Jardins area soon for a new location, and the
well-heeled residents in the area would not have to endure the disgraceful sight of people
queuing up to get visas.
The lack of a political response is disappointing because it shows the U.S. that it cannot
rely on Brazil as an ally. By Saturday, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso had yet to
speak on the phone to President Bush, an incredible indictment of Brazil's failure to
understand the importance of these attacks.
The left-wing Worker's Party (PT) wasted no time in linking the attacks to U.S. policies,
making sure that its condemnation of the terrorist acts was part and parcel of its
condemnation of the U.S. One is as bad as the other in the PT's view. We should
expect this from the PT, but the parties in the governing coalition have been shamefully
However, the U.S. is not relying on any muscular support from Brazil because it knows it
will not be forthcoming. During the Second World War Brazil let the Americans use its
territory, and even sent troops to fight with the Allies in Italy. This is not the case
now. It is obvious there is no support for an active role by Brazil in any future U.S.-led
anti-terrorism operations, and the terrorists are already winning with their intimidation
Two examples prove this. For some time, Brazil and the U.S. have been discussing allowing
the Americans to use a Brazilian Air Force base at Alcantara, in Maranhão state, to
launch rockets into space. To be fair, there was a lot of political opposition to this
before the terrorist attacks hit the U.S., but the opponents are now adding fears that the
base could become a terrorist target to their reasons. The chairman of the Foreign Affairs
and National Defence Committee of the Lower House says now is not the time to discuss the
matter, and "maybe it would be better to wait a little", meaning put it on the
backburner. To his credit, Defense Minister Geraldo Quintão said the attacks should not
interfere with the discussions, but if this is the case why does the government not do
something to show its resolve? Would it not be heartening if, instead of equivocating and
being intimidated, Brazil announced, as an act of solidarity, that the U.S. could use the
Another example came from Foreign Minister Celso Lafer, who said immediately after the
attack that Brazil's relations with countries like Iran, Libya and Iraq might change. By
Friday he was eating his words, as the Foreign Ministry called in the ambassadors of these
states, all of which have links with terrorist groups, and toned down the minister's
It is interesting to compare Brazil's timid attitude with that of Argentina, where the
Peronist opposition movement is calling for Argentina to help the U.S. militarily. Unlike
Brazil, Argentina has suffered terrorist bombings against Jewish targets and even sent
troops to join the Gulf War coalition against Iraq. Cynics might say Argentina is only
offering military help in return for U.S. financial aid to overcome its current crisis.
They may be right, but at least Argentina is showing some mettle, unlike Brazil, which is
coming across as more of a gentle giant.