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Itamar Franco (1930 – 2011)

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Itmar Franco, the Elmer J. Fudd of Latin American politics, died last month, aged 81.

To many, the former Brazilian President Itmar Franco was remembered only for one thing: an unfortunate photograph of him kissing and dancing with a Playboy cover girl during the 1994 Rio Carnival. Taken from below the presidential podium, it showed that the model, 27-year old Lilian Ramos was wearing only a T-shirt, and nothing else, not even a fio dental (literally, dental floss — a Brazilian euphemism for a thong).

While many dismissed that lack of underwear was a carnival tradition, the photos scandalized the Brazilian establishment, and nearly brought down the fledging Brazilian democracy. The Catholic Church condemned his behavior, while the military considered an impeachment. But Franco survived, later joking: “What was I supposed to do, lend her a pair of panties? How am I supposed to know if people are wearing underwear?”

Chosen as vice-president only to win the support in his crucial home state of Minas Gerais, Franco found himself in the hot seat when his predecessor resigned over corruption charges. He was nobody’s idea of a president; an insomniac and sufferer of many nervous ailments, he once told reporters, “I believe in ghosts and Saci-Pierre”, referring to Brazil’s mythical one-legged, pipe-smoking bogeyman.

Born premature at sea, he was often mocked as being “immature and lost at sea” throughout his presidency. While many found him as naive and neurotic as Elmer J. Fudd or Forrest Gump, he was by no means colorless. One of his hobbies was writing erotic short stories, and after he became president, the Brazilian edition of Playboy quoted a passage from one of his works.

Yet, on the continental stage filled with cigar-chomping demagogues, drug-dealing kleptocrats and sabre-rattling caudillos, Franco remained a minor character; domestically he nonetheless presided over a pivotal time in his country’s history. A honest upright man in a country that had recently escaped military dictatorship, Franco restored the public’s belief in political system. He inherited a poor, underinvested country where the accumulated inflation was 1,800 billion percent from 1968 to 1993, and laid the groundwork for its recovery. Aided by a bright team of economists, his finance minister Fernando Henrique Cardoso created the Real Plan — a bold economic overhaul that created a new stable currency, reined inflation, slashed government spending, and raised interest rates to attract foreign capital. In a sense, Brazil’s slow revival began in Franco’s steady hands.

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photos taken from below can be unflattering. click for uncensored version.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 31, 2011 at 9:29 am

Posted in Obituary, Politics

Tagged with , ,

2 Responses

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  1. Some say also that there was a big scheme to destroy the image of Itamar Franco and that the whole carnaval thing was one of many done in that direction. He was a naive guy in that respect. But a lot of things (like being a constant joke in a humor program) were done to make sure nobody paid attention to him once he left the presidency and went to be the governor of one of the biggest estates in Brasil. He was kind of in the oposition for things that were being done in the FHC mandate, but he had no credibility anymore… And his other peculiarities (like the writing of erotic tales, his hair and the way he talk) didn’t help him at all…

    Wagner Costa

    July 31, 2011 at 8:27 pm

  2. Born premature at sea, he was often mocked as being “immature and lost at sea” throughout his presidency. While many found him as naive and neurotic as Elmer J. Fudd or Forrest Gump, he was by no means colorless. One of his hobbies was writing erotic short stories, and after he became president, the Brazilian edition of Playboy quoted a passage from one of his works.

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    August 28, 2011 at 9:32 am


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