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Scandal in Brazil


Fernando Collor de Mello is the only president Brazil has, the best available and, upon his election two years ago, the first chosen by the people in three decades. He came in on a tidal wave of enthusiasm for youth and free market solutions to the great South American country's daunting problems. Too bad that, one week before the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro casts the world spotlight on his vibrant and ecologically crucial country, the wheels are coming off his cart.

There was the sexual scandal between cabinet ministers, which made his swinging image grist for comedians. It was followed by more conventional financial corruption of other cabinet ministers one recorded on video discussing a $30,000 bribe -- that resulted in his demanding the resignation of all, and a major reshuffle.

But the aura of scandal hit home when his estranged younger brother, Pedro Collor, accused the president of stealing millions from his campaign, taking kickbacks and, as a youth, snorting cocaine. The stock markets of Sao Paulo and Rio plummeted. Confidence in the government sank. The 42-year-old handsome president sued his brother for calumny and took to television to deny all.

The 40-year-old Pedro, who all along said he lacked proof and just wanted to open his brother's eyes to what went on around him, recanted and said he had never meant to hurt anyone. But the polls show an enormous sentiment for presidential resignation and the congress appointed a commission to look into the charges. The congress is a malapportioned monstrosity controlled by cattle barons from the under-populated rural north, grossly under-representing urban dwellers.

Brazil is South America's greatest collection of resources and an engine of wealth production, but it is mired in inequality. The drastic currency reform of 1990 was at best a partial success. Inflation has come down only to a rate of 20 percent a month. Unemployment is enormous. Cholera is spreading. The new blow to confidence comes just as Brazil was nearing completion of negotiations to settle the Third World's largest debt. Until last week, there was economic hope.

It's just a colorful blood feud between brothers, perhaps, but the victims number all 150 million Brazilians. President Collor de Mello has little role in the United Nations summit on the environment, except as ornamental host, but the conference is as important for Brazil's new image of responsibility as it is, potentially, for world ecology. The scandal could not have come at a worse time. That is usually the idea of those who bring scandal.

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