SAO PAULO, Brazil (Dec. 20)
Brazil’s president-elect, Fernando Collor de Mello, seems interested in maintaining good relations with Brazil’s Jewish community, one of the two largest in Latin America.
His answers to questions of Jewish concern, submitted in writing by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency before Sunday’s runoff elections, were largely positive.
But some of his responses were tinged with the same ambiguity and evasiveness on certain issues that surfaced during the campaign and probably cost him more than a few Jewish votes.
The 40-year-old Collor, who describes himself as a “conservative Social Democrat,” won a close race against trade union leader Luis Inacio da Silva, a former metal worker popularly known as “Lula.”
On the issue of anti-Semitic propaganda, Collor seems to be a great believer in the separation of powers.
He told JTA that he would “use his influence” to have Brazilian courts prosecute neo-Nazis who slander Jews and circulate books that say the Holocaust was a Jewish fabrication.
He explained that such issues are dealt with by the judiciary and that in his executive capacity, he can do no more than motivate the judges to act in accordance with the constitution, which forbids any kind of racial discrimination.
“My relationship with the Jewish community has been frank, open and constructive,” Collor asserted in his reply to JTA’s questionnaire.
“Therefore, my attitude as to the aspirations and specific problems of the Brazilian Jews will be determined by a permanent, democratic dialogue,” he said.
AMBIGUOUS POSITION ON THE PLO
Collor rejected Brazil’s “pragmatic diplomacy” in the Middle East during the past two decades, which has given priority to relations with the Arab world at the expense of Israel.
Pragmatic diplomacy is discriminatory, he said.” We intend to have an open, dynamic relationship with all countries in the world.”
Asked if his government would allow the Palestine Liberation Organization to open an office in the capital city of Brasilia and grant it diplomatic recognition, Collor replied:
“I believe in the self-determination of peoples. However, we cannot admit the destruction of one state by another through terrorism and bloodshed.”
Collor spoke critically of the PLO during his campaign this summer, but promptly withdrew his remarks when the powerful Arab lobby objected.
Jews also sensed something manipulative and gratuitous in his claim, during a campaign speech to Jewish groups, that one of his grandfathers, a labor minister in the 1940s, was the son of “German Jewish parents.”
The fact is, there is no prominent Jew on the president-elect’s staff.
But if Collor was not the ideal candidate from the point of view of Brazilian Jews, his opponent was even more worrisome to that largely middle-class community.
Although da Silva calls himself a “progressive Catholic” and non-Marxist socialist, many Jews has visions of finding themselves in a Cuba-like regime if he was elected.
Collor will be sworn into office March 15, unless incumbent President Jose Sarney decides to resign before his term officially expires.
That happened in Argentina earlier this year, when President Raoul Alfonsin bowed out ahead of schedule, leaving runaway inflation and other economic woes for his successor, Carlos Saul Menem, to handle.
Brazilian Jews, estimated to number 250,000 to 300,000, seem to have learned to live and even prosper with high inflation.
Most Jews make their living as storekeepers or owners of small-to medium-sized manufacturing plants. There is a sizeable number of professionals. There is also a small group of Jewish multimillionaires, who rank among the richest Brazilians.