Brazil's leader all at sea as economy sinks: Itamar Franco's course is still uncertain, writes Phil Davison in Rio de Janeiro

ITAMAR FRANCO, Brazil's President, was born premature at sea, surprising his mother during a cruise. 'Now he's immature and all at sea,' goes the quip at diplomatic parties.

When Mr Franco, 62, became acting president last October, pending President Fernando Collor de Mello's impeachment, polls showed that more than half of Brazilians did not know who the former senator was. Now, they know who he is but not what he is. After 100 days in the top job he is said to be feeling depressed, lovesick and isolated, often shutting himself off behind a tall iron fence around his at home to watch video movies and mope.

His few vocal supporters at senior level say there is a disinformation campaign to discredit him and destabilise the country. His populist ideas may be upsetting the ruling elite but are striking chords at grassroots level, they say. There is some truth in that. But even his friends are concerned about the President's psychological state.

They say the man who took over from the disgraced Mr Collor in December never wanted the job in the first place, was shocked as Mr Collor fell from grace and has considered resigning in recent weeks as his honeymoon with Brazilians, who at first revelled in the fall of Mr Collor, has ended. 'I can't take it,' he was recently quoted as telling a friend as criticism of his economic policies grew.

Mr Franco has taken to wearing sunglasses, is insomniac, anxious, suffers from regular nerve-related ailments and prefers to stay in his modest home to watch videos or write erotic short stories, friends say. 'I believe in ghosts and Saci-Pierre,' he told reporters recently, referring to Brazil's traditional one-legged, pipe-smoking bogeyman. His bogeyman has turned out to be the economy - he is already on his third economics minister.

'Corruption remains Brazil's main problem,' said one congressional source in Brasilia who asked not to be named, without being specific. 'A lot of people think it would be a good idea if he resigned . . . He is simply not a leader.'

A right-wing congressman and former ambassador in London, Roberto Campos, is less harsh. 'He's rather depressed and feeling a little bit isolated. He tried to please the left but they squeezed him dry . . . His record is mediocre. He doesn't have any clear economic views but is anxious for very quick results . . . It would be a disaster if he were to resign. But it may be a disaster if he stays.'

Mr Franco's problems began even before he took over from Mr Collor. First, his security men discovered his phones had been tapped both at his Brasilia home and at a Rio hotel he visited. Suspicion fell on Mr Collor, who may have been seeking 'goods' on Mr Franco's personal life, but the source of the tap was never revealed.

Then, days before he took over from Mr Collor, his mother died at the age of 91. He had been very close to her. On top of that loss, the strains of his new job led to the break-up of his relationship with a beautiful woman almost half his age, Lisle Heusi Lucena, 34, a senator's daughter. But friends said this week they were seeing each other again discreetly.

Mr Franco's biggest mistake was widely seen as his bust-up last month with his second economics minister, Paulo Haddad. Mr Haddad, widely respected in financial circles, abruptly resigned after the President gave him a deadline to slash Brazil's crippling 1,500 per cent annual inflation rate.

The price rises are eating into workers' wages and causing increasing social unrest. Rio was hit this week by a spate of supermarket break-ins that - after looters had followed the initial burglars - left shelves empty.

Mr Franco has pledged to create 4 million jobs, feed the hungry - estimated at between 30 and 60 million of the country's 150 million population - lower the cost of housing, raise the minimum wage (around pounds 40 a month) and clamp down on chronic tax evasion.

He is credited with two political successes in his 100 days. First, he took much of the wind out of the sails of the far left by coaxing into his centre-left cabinet a founder of the Workers' Party, Luiza Erundina, a popular former mayor of Sao Paulo. The move shattered the unity of the Workers' Party.

And last week Congress approved Mr Franco's controversial tax package, including a state levy on financial transactions. It was seen as a political victory but the package itself brought heavy criticism from the stock market.

A columnist in the Rio daily Jornal do Brasil compared Mr Franco to an American visiting the Rio carnival. 'He doesn't understand the lyrics, he ain't got rhythm, he can't dance and he came without a costume.'

It is without costumes that many characters appear in the erotic stories the President writes, or used to write. One quoted by the Brazilian edition of Playboy and penned before Mr Franco's latest troubles, contained the following passage: 'As she slipped into the bathtub, spilling water on all sides, he felt the ultimate ecstasy and tried to enter deeper and deeper, with a rising cadence, into her perfect body. Their bodies vibrated and, their lips glued together, they felt as one. Those were marvellous days.'

(Photograph omitted)

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game