Sunday, February 19, 2017


There are three of them: Eike Batista of Brazil, François Fillon of France and of course Donald Trump for the whole world. At first sight, they don’t look like hot calendar guys as they are all past middle age. Physically, they could not be more different. Batista (known as Eike in Brazil) dons a shaved skull; Fillon proudly displays bushy eyebrows and the Donald’s inscrutable comb over hairdo now has a life of its own.

The three come from worlds apart, but scratching the surface one can find many common traits among them. They have oversized egos, yearn for recognition and display obsessive self-aggrandizement bordering on fantasy. They see themselves on a messianic mission to restore their respective nation’s pride. They share the same foes: media and judges. They blame the first for disclosing their shortcomings or too closely scrutinizing their business, and the second for blocking their whims and pet projects. This love-hate relationship with the traditional media stems from being both media creations and media targets. Lastly, they believe that their big shot status gives them divine rights to be above the law and to act like modern carpetbaggers.

They run their large families like small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) in a very paternalistic fashion. They like their wives sexy, exotic and immigrants; they dote on them for looking pretty and keeping their mouths shut. Machismo is their common trait, either bourgeois patriarchy or nouveau riche crude misogyny. Their brood is less docile and far less discreet, happy to splash daddy’s money or benefits from his social and political privileges. They live in mansions, ostentatiously or discreetly.

Coincidentally, they all believe that they can deal with President Putin of Russia.

Eike Batista (60) may not be a household name outside Brazil, but he is a favorite of business magazines. His, is a riches to rags story. He is the brash and flamboyant guy who lost US$ 34.5 billion in 2013 when his mostly oil conglomerate went burst. He makes the Guinness book of record for suffering the largest and quickest corporate collapse of all time. A year before, according to Forbes magazine, he was the seventh richest man in the world and the richest Brazilian with a lavish lifestyle to match. He liked to be photographed with his Lamborghini and Porsche parked in his living room. In January, he flew to New York City, allegedly to avoid arrest but decided to return. Now, his hair shaved courtesy of the jail barber, he is sharing a cell with common criminals in a suburb of Rio de Janeiro. He stands accused of paying US$ 16.5 million in bribes to a former governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, who is also in jail. For good measure, he is also charged with money laundering and insider trading. His cozy relationship with corrupt politicians explains his meteoric rise and abysmal fall. Nonetheless, he blames his incompetent directors for the collapse of his empire.

Eike vows to make a comeback, no longer peddling speculative oil deals but promoting instead a generic version of Viagra, a tooth paste to regenerate enamel and a miraculous capillary treatment for which he will be the perfect poster boy.
François Fillon (62) needs help but not from miraculous capillary treatment. Actually, some female journalists got under his skin by implying that he needed epilation. Fillon is a professional politician continuously elected since age of 26. In November 2016, unexpectedly and by an impressive margin, he won the primaries of the center right party, Les Républicains. His Trumpism “light” and his aura of integrity carried him to victory over his opponents. He became the blue-eyed boy of the media and his path to the French presidency seemed assured, until his Mr. Clean image was shattered by disclosures made by the nosy satirical weekly newspaper, le Canard enchainé[1]. The Canard claimed that Fillon had paid his British-born wife Penelope and two of his kids with parliament funds to do no measureable work. An under-the-radar-political wife, Penelope lived in the family’s 12th century chateau in the countryside and received close to a million euros in salary for two decades.

The hiring of family members to provide MP assistance is legal in France, but increasingly controversial. To be paid at taxpayers’ expense for doing no work is still illegal in France!
A financial prosecutor is investigating and the scandal is a boon to the media. With his poll figures nosediving, candidate Fillon has become an embarrassment to his party. He intends to fight on, and repeatedly blames lynching by the media lynching for his falling from grace. He also denunciates the judicial investigation as politically motivated. Fillon’s defense is seen out of sync with the current French mood; people have no tolerance with nepotism and the impudent use of the parliament budget for family benefit. Populist movements consistently blame the privileged political elite for all the country’s problems.

Finally, Donald Trump (70), America’s 45th president is the oversized January calendar boy. An obsessive twitter, he is every day on the front page of the world’s news media. If Twitter is the Trumpism mouthpiece, the White House is morphing into a Kardashian-type casino where everything is for sale or negotiable. America continues to be controlled by a perverse and hypocrite moneyed elite. Wikibea-carioca is too unassuming to compete for hype, hysteria and alternative facts. Eike crashed, Fillon is crashing and Trump? Stay tuned.

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity


[1] “Canard” means duck in French or newspaper in slang. “Enchainé” means chained up. The satirical newspaper is left leaning, but has disclosed scandals affected both right and left wing politicians.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Brazil is not for beginners

The phrase is attributed to bossa nova singer and composer Tom Jobim. It implies that the country is not only soccer, samba and beaches which his famous song A Garota de Ipanema (The Girl From Ipanema) is about. Brazil is intrigues, dramas and also fascination.

In Brazil, the year started with a real carnage, a drug related carnage in several of the country’s hellish jails. Some 100 inmates may have lost their lives in atrocious conditions. Scores of headless bodies were dumped over the prison walls and body parts are still to be collected. Riots are common in overcrowded jails, but this year they spread out of control and were particularly gruesome. As long as gang wars take place within prison walls, Brazilians are not very concerned: a dead gang member is better than a live one, goes the saying. Gang factions are fighting over supply and territory.

Corruption and neglect have resulted in the government’s loss of control in several jails which are de facto run by the gangs themselves. They recruit members among the new comers, and run their business from the relative tranquility of their cells. Petty delinquents commonly wait for their trials in jail; conscripted into gangs, expandable, many die before having their day in court. Brazilians are certainly ashamed, but there is no sympathy for the reason that 15 policemen have been killed by gangs since the beginning of the year in Rio. I am honestly shocked by the situation, but since the government is powerless to regain full control, I think some drug use should be decriminalized.

If 2016 was the year of the zica virus, 2017 may be the year of yellow fever. So far, 32 people and scores of monkeys have died in the state of Minas Gerais. Again, the culprit is Aedes aegypti, a multi-task mosquito which spreads nuisances such as dengue, chikungunya and zica. Aedes is an old resident of Brazil; originally from Africa it came on board the ships bringing slaves in the 16th century. Fortunately, a vaccine exists against yellow fever and recent research indicates that it is good for ever with no need for a booster every 10 years. Carnival revelers should not worry, as long as Aedes does not get out of control, the World Health Organization will not issue a travel warning to Brazil.

One thing is sure, no one will be bitten by mosquitoes sitting in the Maracanā stadium because it is locked up. The iconic soccer stadium has fallen in a state of abandonment, “the broken legacy of the World Cup and the Olympic Games”[1]. Maracanā is the collateral victim of a tug of war between the bankrupt state of Rio de Janeiro and the management company embroiled in the Petrobras corruption scandal.

This year carnival revelers won’t be able to enjoy the chic B&Bs and trendy restaurants which had cropped up in Rio’s hillside favelas. With gang wars resuming in previously pacified favelas, business crumbled and several have closed down. This year again, the hedonistic carnival season will be less than exuberant as the recession lingers.

The once seventh-richest-man in the world (2012, Forbes), Elke Batista is now an Interpol fugitive. After losing his multibillion-dollar fortune, he is wanted for allegedly paying US$ 16 million in bribes to the jailed former governor of Rio de Janeiro. According to several tabloids, Batista has taken residence in a Trump Tower apartment in Manhattan.
Happier times: Elke Batista and Sergio Cabral, former governor of Rio

In spite of the gloomy situation, it is fascinating to watch Brazilian reveling; as the Guardian newspaper wrote[2] “austerity does not come naturally to Brazilians.” Brazil has become a cliché. In the 30s, Viennese-born novelist Stephen Zweig described Brazil as the land of the future; naysayers think it always will be. In the 60s, a grumpy General de Gaulle claimed that Brazil was not a serious country. Brazilians do not care as they believe the local proverb that God is Brazilian. For me, Brazil is the land of soap opera, spirited with farfetched twist and turns and happy endings.

[1] The Sun. January 10, 2017.
[2] January 12, 2012.