Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Fernando Lugo, Paraguay’s President, who (because he used to be a Jesuit Priest?) is much craftier than both La Presidenta (Argentina) and El Presidente for Life (Venezuela), came to São Paulo a few years ago, had his cancer treatment, is back in his home country and (apparently) none the worse off (politically or medically) for having had his treatment, and for having allowed doctors to tell reporters what he had and what he (and the doctors) were going to do about it.

Michael Royster
The Curmudgeon, also known as Michael Royster.

Compare, for a second or two, the behavior of La Presidenta, whose Argentine doctors said she had cancer. She declined an invitation from A Presidenta (Dilma) to come to São Paulo to be treated. Treated she was, in Bs.As., her thyroid was duly extirpated from wherever it was lurking…oops! quite harmlessly! No cancer, no problem! Rejoicing in the streets!  Evita! Evita! Evita!

Compare, for a nano-second or two, the behavior of El Presidente for Life, whose Venezuelan doctors said he had cancer.  He too was invited (by Lula, O Presidente Olímpico) to come to São Paulo and be treated. He declined, and fled to Cuba, where someone (he claims) removed a grapefruit-sized tumor from some undisclosed part of his anatomy. 

No publicity, no prognosis, no proof.  Did he have cancer? Almost certainly, because recent photographs show him 30 kilos heavier than before his operation, hairless, moon-faced from steroids, all of which indicate his cancer is much more serious than he will admit.

Clearly, both Chavez and Kirchner took wrong political decisions—they thought it was better to hide the truth. They were convinced that in Brazil, the media were insatiable and irrepressible, so their true condition would be known to millions instantly—and neither of them wanted that.

They were both wrong. Brazilian medics and Brazilian journalists are very, very good at hiding the true state of populist patients. Do you really believe that Lula is doing fine? Well, he’s not—he coughs a lot, he has a tickle in his throat. Yes, he smiles and waves but…he’s 20 kilos heavier, hairless, moon-faced from steroids… Brazilian doctors are clearly hiding the seriousness of Lula’s illness; that is their medical duty. The newspapers are also hiding this.

But we have digressed from Paraguay. Many of us in Brazil treat Paraguayans as inferiors.  A third of the population speaks only Guarany, an indigenous language regarded as uncultured by all Iberians, who “know” that half-naked savages couldn’t possibly have invented a language that was as “cultured” as Spanish or Portuguese. This is linguistic rubbish: the fact is (ask any linguist) that most American indigenous languages are far more complex than European languages.

The Puritans didn’t learn to speak Narragansett or any of the indigenous languages, because they simply couldn’t. Simple folk, of simple English background, they were cozened by the lingual variety of the native tongues. The “Indians”, having phonological and morphological knowledge far superior to anything English had to offer, were nothing daunted, and learned to speak English almost immediately, while being enslaved.

But we digress (once again). In praise of Paraguayan men, their President, Fernando Lugo (who may or may not speak Guarany) has come to Brazil, been treated, returned, and has led a life of comparative quiet. In this, he reflects Dilma, who has also had cancer treatment, done the needful and gone home without making a big populist deal out of it. May they both have long lives!

Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)



    For all interested in how SAE (“Standard Average European”) contrasts with “the greater diversity of the less-studied languages” please refer to the ground-breaking, albeit often criticized, seminal works of Benjamin Whorf (“Language, Thought, and Reality”).

    After MIT, Whorf studied, wrote and lectured about native American languages, including Hopi, Maya (a phonetic language according to Whorf), and Nahuatl (which, he claimed, was oligosynthetic). He believed that indigenous languages sometimes made more fine grained semantic distinctions than European languages and, as a result, that direct translation even of the most basic concepts is not always possible. Whorf was a student of Franz Boas (among the first to challenge that some languages were naturally superior to others) and Edward Sapir (who believed that languages contained the key to understanding the differing world views of peoples). Based on his extensive research Whorf concluded that “one of the important coming steps for Western knowledge is a re-examination of the linguistic backgrounds of its thinking, and for that matter of all thinking.”

    And yes, depending on who you are and where you are (your reality), the word “guarani” (language) may remind you (thoughts) of Tupi-Guarani cocares and diademas (displayed at the Museu Nacional, Palacio da Quinta da Boa Vista), or “O Guarany” in which José de Alencar describes the real and imagined 1604 adventures of D. Antônio de Mariz, maybe Vittorio Capelaro’s 1926 movie, or you may hear the music of “Il Guarany,” the opera by Antonio Carlos Gomes that had its world premiere in Milano (1870)…”Language, Thought, and Reality.”

  2. Curmudgeon! Kind of babbled tangentially today. All over the map. I speak for the legions of Curmedgeon fans when I say, go back to griping.


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