Itamar Franco (1930 – 2011)

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.


Fordlandia_p.281No Botanists, surveyors and experts were consulted in choosing the site of Fordlandia, thereby creating the city in the middle of a swampland.


It was a grand, if eccentric, economic experiment, but by staging it in the Amazonian jungles, the American industrialist Henry Ford made a fatal error. In 1927, 65-year old tycoon sent two ships to scout the area. Ford wanted all of the parts he needed for his vehicles, but did not have the rubber; to break the Europeans monopoly on rubber, he made a deal with the Brazilian government to buy 2.5 million acres of Amazon land, roughly the size of Connecticut.

He planned not only to plant rubber trees, but also to mine the land for gold; drill for oil; and harvest timber. In addition, he hoped to bring his American-style sensibilities to the region: the production line; sanitation; buildings such as Churches, cottages; a hospital; a movie theater; and the idea of fair wages for hard work.White picket fences, movie screen, hospital, water tower, “main street,” three schools, church, hamburgers, square dancing lessons, etc etc.

What he didn’t bring was a an expertise in growing rubber trees, or an understanding of the Amazon and it’s people. They planted the trees so closely packed. Disease and insects plagued the land, and Ford had to relocate the city. Although he never actually bothered to visit the place, puritanical Henry Ford allowed no alcohol or tobacco in the city. The workers hated their unfamiliar lifestyles that they revolted and the Brazilian army had to be called it.

Later, an “Island of Innocence” 5 miles upstream which had bars, clubs, and brothels, was built. Henry Ford envisioned his own version of Gold Rush era San Francisco, but then synthetic rubber came along. Announcing curtly, “our war experience has taught us that synthetic rubber is superior to natural rubber for certain of our products,” Ford finally threw his towel in 1945. By this time, he had lost over $20 million in Brazil (modern equivalent: $200 million). Ford sold the land back to the Brazilian government for $250,000, a token sum. Not a single drop of rubber from Fordlandia made it to the states.