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Saturday, December 04, 2004

Why the Brazilians took my passport and my wallet 

From the perspective of the student who just choked up $90 for a Brazilian visa, one that according to the little fellow at the consulate “gets me no further than the beach,” Canada – Brazil relations can kiss my half-French-Canadian ass. The song and dance that I had to perform to get the green-light for Brazil was both excessive and irritating. That’s me going to the World Social Forum in January, so I’m committed to going to Porto Alegre regardless of Visa hassles, but let’s think about this from the perspective of Joe Six-Pack who wants to “go no further than the beach” for a fare helping of wine, women and song. And then let’s consider Brazil’s perspective, a country like most with temperate climates, which has to deal with unfair international treatment from the North and their fat, pale, pimply tourists.

From the perspective of Mr. Six-Pack, a vacation often entails a resort that has ample sun, sand, booze, and pretty things running around. For the most part, the -frozen Northern tourist wants nothing more than to be defrosted by tanning-oil-bearing mermaids in warm waters. Now and then the middle-class tourist will hit up an eco-tour, or travel to do relief work, but this is the exception to the rule. Of the millions of tourists that went to Cuba and Mexico last year, most of them went straight to the drinks bar in the pool.

So, when $100 is dropped on the getting of a Visa, compared to $0 for Mexico and $20 for Cuba, Brazil is shooting themselves in the foot by discouraging the tourist dollar with a high Visa. Now, let’s flip the world on its head for a second and think about their, the Brazilians, perspective.

Canada has put a lot of effort into keeping Brazilian goods out of the country, and hence Brazilian workers out of work. Canadian Beef, Wood, Steel, and Aeroplanes are all happily protected by Ottawa. Brazil says, “Oye! According to the WTO agreement that you made us sign, we can undercut your costs, and we don’t even subsidize our industries.” They continue to add, “You subsidize your industries, and then you tariff ours, hence practice outright protectionism which goes against your precious free trade accord…..piss off! Here’s a hefty Visa fee to help us recover our losses you syrup-drenched, beer-swilling hosers.”

Brazil’s approach to the U.S. is about the same, but more of an eye for an eye. As the Brazilian embassy in Washington states on its website, “a non-refundable processing fee of US$ 100.00 per visa will be charged to US citizens in reciprocity for the identical fee paid by Brazilian citizens who apply for a visa to the United States of America.” Oh, and remember when the U.S. required all Brazilians to be photographed and fingerprinted on the way into the country (along with everybody else who doesn’t look or talk exactly like their President)? Well Brazil set up cameras and got the finger-print ink ready for every U.S. passport carrier they saw.

There is a lot of talk coming out of the U.N. that Brazil will have a major role in the Security Council. Northern nations, and their beach-bound tourists, should know that things work different in the south, and that Brazil’s approach to international affairs is painfully direct and often points out the wonderful ironies and hypocrisies of other societies.

So, am I a hypocrite for complaining about an expensive VISA while I read a newspaper and eat a steak on a regional jet? No, I’d call myself more of a masochist, as I know I’ll get a strange sense of satisfaction when my VARIG regional flight lands on that sunny Porto Alegre beach, I eat a sword of beef, drink a tall bottle of Kaiser, all the while having my $90 Visa in my pocket.

Nice one ... I'm waiting for New Zealand to show half as much backbone, and impose a little "reciprocity" on American asses. Visa interviews (conducted at times and places of our convenience ... an obscure office in an obscure state - Nebraska, perhaps? - between 12 and 2pm every second Tuesday) and - more seriously - fingerprinting, photographing and "20 questions" at Customs.

As I remarked a while back, following my observations at Christchurch airport, NZ Customs is more than capable of harassing NZers ... let's extend that to the Americans too shall we?

Not Canadians though, bobert, rest assured.

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