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Viva Brazil!

January 15, 2004

Opinions and preferences vary from person to person. To some, the high jinks at Rawalpindi are the really exciting events to herald the new year. To some others, by far the most significant tidings of the new year have come from elsewhere, and missed the bulk of the Indian media. Or perhaps the media have felt somewhat nervous to give prominence to the particular news item: it shows the great American cause in a bad light; the superpower must be handled with care.

The American administration, in a blue funk over how to crush terrorism as defined by it, has clamped an order concerning visitors to the United States of America. Such visitors will be fingerprinted and photographed before they are allowed entry into God's Own Country. Not all visitors though. Those from Canada, 26 west European countries, and Japan are exempt from the ambit of the order. The rest of the human population, black, brown, yellow and of other non-white hues, will however be treated as criminals, and subjected to regulation fingerprinting and photographing.

Beyond question, this is an outrageous order. It smacks not only of authoritarianism, but of blatant racism as well. The Americans have every right to take measures which will provide them with extra security. They, however, have no right to infringe upon human dignity, and in such a discriminatory manner. The rest of the world nonetheless continues to be in awe of the US. Not a murmur of protest from the United Nations. Not a murmur of protest from the countries whose citizens have been grievously affected. No sign of embarrassment from Japan either, despite its being honoured -- or dishonoured -- by conjunction with the whities in the manner the US notification has done.

But at least one nation has decided to defy the US. It is Brazil, the same Brazil which organized the developing countries at the World Trade Organization ministerial conference at Cancun last September and sabotaged, with spectacular success, the US-European conspiracy to appropriate for themselves, lock, stock and barrel, the economic sovereignty of the poor nations. The US authorities are trying hard since then to make Brazil pay for its insolent behaviour. Concerted attempts have been launch- ed by American trade diplomats to set up, under their leadership, a free trade area of the Americas, which would include all Latin American nations, barring Brazil.

This endeavour to blackball the largest country in Latin America has failed till now because of the strong support Brazil has received from both Argentina and Venezuela: the three countries together account for four-fifths of the Latin American economy. The set-back notwithstanding, the US government remains unwavering in its determination. Its particular target is Louis Inacio Lula da Silva, the president of Brazil, who, in the view of Washington, DC, is as much an evil incarnate as Saddam Hussein was upto yesterday.

It is under constant peril, so what, Brazil is still Brazil, and has kept flying the banner of resistance to imperial-colonial aggrandizement. In the matter of the American fiat on fingerprinting, the initiative has come from Brazil's judiciary. A judge in the state of Mato Grasso has, in a court order, described as blatantly discriminatory fingerprinting and photographing of visitors to the US from some countries, while exempting others. This, he has added, is an infringement of human rights, and violative of human dignity. He did not stop there: what the US authorities are contemplating, the judge has remarked, is xenophobic, reminiscent of the Nazi atrocities in Europe in the last century.

Tit for tat, decreed the judge. If Brazilians are to be fingerprinted at the point of entry in the US, US citizens too deserve to be treated similarly at Brazilian ports of entry. Were he sufficiently worried, President Lula could have gone on appeal against the judge's order to a higher court. He has not. His country's tourist trade, he is aware, is likely to be severely affected if the judge's decision is not reversed. He is equally aware that, should he not budge, the US administration might contemplate even graver measures. Brazil's president is unshaken. He has his own theory, and has plenty of logic to back it up: a bully can be brought to heel only when counter-bullied.

The US, the hyper-power, has been taking the rest of the world for granted. In case the rest of the world keeps shying away from protesting, the US authorities would begin to behave even more atrociously. Checkmating it is an imperative necessity. If the other victimized nations are hesitant, Brazil will show them the way to be cheeky. And one nation's courage will, sooner or later, bloom into collective valour.

Besides, if Americans are terror-stricken by visitors from non-white countries, including Brazil, Brazil has even greater reason to be wary of visiting US citizens, a fair contingent amongst whom could well be CIA or FBI agents. As regards the possible adverse impact on tourist earnings because of the Brazilian riposte, the point might be made, with a touch of levity, that, whatever the circumstances, the Copacabana girls will never lose their fatal attraction.

Will lessons be drawn, at both ends, from Brazil's defiance? Should not a few other non-white nations gather courage and snub the Americans in the same fashion that Brazil has done? This is important as much to assure Brazil as to convince the Americans that Brazil is not alone, the humiliation Lula's land has protested against is the shared humiliation of the non-whites, who form the overwhelming majority of the population of this planet. The new year has augured well for them because someone from their midst has displayed the guts to tell the Americans where they get off.

Official American overbearingness has, over the years, gone to extraordinary lengths. In the early Nineties, a circuit judge in Texas had the audacity to state that any representative of the US administration has the right to arrest, and, if so called for, kill, even on alien soil, foreign citizens suspected of acting against the vital interests of the US, and American authorities have of late been telling the world that even if Americans on official duty commit a crime on foreign soil, they must not be tried in the country where the crime has been committed, but sent back home where the American judiciary will try them.

What has been happening in Okinawa for decades on end every time a local girl is raped by an American soldier is also fairly well known: the right to try and sentence him has been denied to the Japanese courts. That right is claimed to belong to the US, and you better forget the fact that the island of Okinawa is an integral part of Japan, a sovereign nation and a non-negligible entity in economic terms.

Brazil has chosen to be nonchalant; it however badly needs company. That company will certainly not be provided by the government of India, whose own double citizenship rules are as racist and pro-white as the American order on fingerprinting. What about China though? It is one country with which the US authorities like to be on their best behaviour. Chinese citizens are equally affected by the indignity of the American decision, and they by now have ample clout to deal a body-blow to American hegemony. But, then, realpolitik often takes mysterious routes.

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Ashok Mitra

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