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By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – Last week Rio’s residents witnessed an Easter ritual unique to Brazil. On Holy Saturday Brazilians express their solidarity with Christ by making straw mannequins which represent the Biblical traitor Judas, hanging them in the streets, and attacking them furiously with sticks, baseball bats, chair legs or anything else to hand.

Deputy Ibsen Pinheiro, photo by Fábio Pozzebom/ABr.

Often the likeness of Judas is swapped for the likeness of a villainized politician. This year it was the turn of Deputy Ibsen Pinheiro. Pinheiro is the author of a controversial amendment to redistribute royalties from the production of oil.

The proposal has sparked public outrage in Rio because if goes ahead, the state will lose out on around R$7 billion per year, which could effectively cripple the region according to figures released by the state government. In an interview with Radio Globo last month, Pinheiro responded to news of Rio’s 150,000-strong protest against his amendment by saying, “Not all demonstrations are for the good.”

Talking to O Globo newspaper, Pedro Marinho, the organizer of a ‘Judas beating’ in downtown Rio last week, said, “The idea is to perform an action in defense of Rio, against the prejudices that this amendment will cause to all of society.”

Since the amendment was announced, Pinheiro has been on the receiving end of a series of dressings-down from Rio’s authorities. On March 18th the Câmara dos Vereadores (or city council) declared Ibsen Pinheiro ‘persona non grata’ in the city of Rio de Janeiro.

The term is most commonly used in diplomatic circles to indicate a person (most often a foreign diplomat) deemed unwelcome by the authorities. Outside of diplomatic circles it signifies a person condemned or ostracized by a specific group. Either way, it represents a thorough and unequivocal rejection.

Counselor Carlo Caiado explained that their objective was to register the indignation of the city’s legislative bodies about the Chamber of Deputies’ approval of the Ibsen Amendment, which they deem to be unconstitutional.

150,000 demonstrators gather in Rio de Janeiro to protest against the Ibsen Amendment, photo by Sarah de Sainte Croix.

The council also revoked Pinheiro’s medal of honor, the ‘Medalha Pedro Ernesto’, which was given to him in 1993 in recognition of his achievements since 1991 as president of the Chamber of Deputies. During these years Pinheiro drove hard for the impeachment of ex-president Fernando Collor de Mello, whose list of scandals reputedly ranged from large-scale corruption to family feuds. The decision to repeal Pinheiro’s honor was unanimously approved and he was denounced, “An enemy of Rio.”

However, the deputy is no stranger to banishment. In 1994, just as Pinheiro’s political star was rising, he and 17 other officials found themselves at the center of a huge corruption scandal. The group collectively became known as the Anões do Orçamento (or Budget Dwarves) in reference to their noticeably low average height.

Although the magazine Veja that first published the accusations was later found out to be grossly misinformed and Ibsen was absolved of all guilt, the scandal cost him his job and he stayed out of the public eye for almost a decade.

With the amendment due to go before the Senate in the coming months, it remains to be seen whether or not this latest furore will see Pinheiro demonized as the man behind the downfall of the ‘Marvelous City.’

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