Conservative Leader Makes Politically Incorrect Remarks
Would you want this man to lead your Congress?
Nepotism is good. Homosexuality is bad. Getting pregnant through rape is a “horrible accident.”
Severino Cavalcanti, the author of these sentiments, is on a roll. When he was but a lowly back-bench congressman, such public pronouncements might have earned him a passing sneer in a political column. Now that he’s one of Brazil’s most powerful men, Cavalcanti’s controversial declarations have landed him on front pages across the country.
When he succeeded last month in installing his son as a federal agriculture official in Pernambuco, Cavalcanti dismissed charges of nepotism, describing those who complain as “losers who don’t know how to raise their children.” Congress has since begun deliberating several anti-nepotism measures.
Critics call Cavalcanti the epitome of many of the things wrong in Brazilian politics, a system that revolves around self-enrichment and patronage.
“On the one hand, he shows a bad side of Brazilian reality, of clientelism, nepotism and attending to private, personal interests,” said Alberto Goldman, a deputy from the Social Democracy Party. But he said Cavalcanti was also “playing an important role in securing for Congress a level of independence, of autonomy, for which we’ve fought for years.”
Social activists are appalled at many of Cavalcanti’s conservative stands.
He has made derogatory comments about gays and lesbians; he reportedly once asked a gay activist in public about his sexual practices. This month, feminist groups were flabbergasted when Cavalcanti made his rape comment and advised impregnated victims to have their babies and raise them “with affection and love.”
“For us, rape is a crime and not an accident,” said Simone Diniz, founder of a women’s health organization. Cavalcanti “contributes to backwardness and intolerance, even over and against Brazilian law, which is already very conservative.”
Supporters acknowledge that Cavalcanti’s views and public statements can be awkward. But they back his vision of a more powerful Congress and a humbler government.
In its efforts to contain Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, the Bush administration would be well-advised to keep a healthy distance from his rival.