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José Alencar Gomes da Silva

August 14, 2011

In 2002 it was election time in Brazil, and Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, a left-wing union firebrand, looked like he might win. The poor dreamed of land reform and communism, the rich had nightmares about the same things, and the outside world looked on anxiously. Leftist movements generally end in tears in South America. Would this be the next Chile or Venezuela?

But Lula took a businessman, José Alencar Gomes da Silva, as his running mate, reassuring the middle classes, and the pair of them won two elections before peacefully handing over power in a free and fair one last year. Lula is now feted everywhere as the architect of Brazil’s steady growth, reduced debt, increased employment and social liberalisation, but he owed much of his success to Alencar.

Alencar, like Lula, was born in rural poverty, and created his company Coteminas (a huge textile and clothing conglomerate) from nothing. By all accounts he was a good boss. He made a fortune and spent it running for election. His first attempt was unsuccessful, but in 1998 he got in as a senator for the centre-right Liberal Party, and turned out to be a skilled and popular politician — so popular, in fact, that Lula invited him to balance the ticket. Alencar didn’t need asking twice. He deserted the Liberals for Lula’s Workers Party, and together they led two almost miraculously successful governments. Alencar’s role was to keep Lula economically sane, the middle classes onside, and troubleshoot whenever one of his colleagues imploded. During one crisis, and over his protestations that he knew nothing about the military, Lula made him defence minister. He made a decent fist of the job for two years before a reliable replacement could be found.

Although his health and love life caused trouble from the start, he made them both an electoral asset. In 1997 he underwent his first operation for a slow-growing (albeit eventually fatal) abdominal sarcoma. Over the next 14 years, with 16 further operations (as well as trips to the US for experimental chemotherapy), the public took him to their hearts, not just for the brave fight but for paying the doctors’ bills himself! Apparently most Brazilian politicians stick ’em to the taxpayer.

During his 2002 campaign, a woman called Rosemary de Morais popped up, claiming to be the unacknowledged love child of Alencar and a nurse named Tita. She produced a fair bit of evidence that he had been Tita’s lover in 1954, the year Rosemary was born, but he denied paternity, ungallantly claiming that Tita must have been bonking someone else. The lawyers had a field day, but in South America it does no harm to get into a bit of that sort of trouble, and Alencar managed to float serenely above the scandal. The case rumbled on until July 2010 when a judge ruled that Rosemary was Alencar’s daughter, on the basis that refusing to give a DNA sample proved his guilt. His lawyers were just rolling up their sleeves to appeal when Alencar inconveniently died. We can only speculate whether the decision to cremate him quickly was a final effort to keep his DNA out of Rosemary’s hands.

Here’s Alencar’s poem:

José Alencar earned his stash
From making women’s clothes.
He spent it getting elected,
But it took him two goes.

When Lula tapped him
To be Vice Presidente
He joined the Workers Party
And kept Brazil solvente

The people loved him for bravely fighting
The cancer that was killing him
The doctors kept on operating
But never let up billing him.

His lover’s child sued him
For deserting her mother
But he refused a sample.
So was he the father?

Straight after the funeral
They turned him to ash
To stop her from grabbing
The remains of the cash.

— Jim Thornton
Nottingham, April 2011

Reprinted from AO Deadpool

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