Collor parades defiance of his detractors

BRAZIL'S embattled President, Fernando Collor de Mello, cocked a snook at his critics yesterday and put in a semi-clandestine appearance at the Independence Day parade in Brasilia, ignoring military advice to stay away.

As thousands gathered for anti- Collor demonstrations in cities all over Brazil, the high command arranged for the President to be flown to and from the military parade by helicopter, instead of acknowledging the plaudits of the crowds from an open-topped limousine and then reviewing the troops, as is the custom.

He was heckled and jeered by protesters, but the scale of the demonstrations was limited by the opposition's reluctance to embarrass the military, which has made no secret of its disapproval of the President's conduct but is determined - at least for the moment - to keep out of the political controversy. 'Collor's presence at the ceremony is purely for the sake of tradition,' said Walder de Goes, a military commentator. 'This is not a vote of confidence.'

Mr Collor has made clear that he has no intention of stepping down, despite the urgings of several cabinet ministers and state governors. He is determined to refute the allegations of corruption and illicit enrichment levelled at him in a congressional report last month, and seems set on putting Brazil through a long-drawn-out impeachment process.

Last week the national bar and press associations presented formal requests to Congress for proceedings to begin. A special committee of the lower house begins examining this request today and must give its approval before the case goes to the full lower house for a vote.

The Senate must also approve the impeachment motion by a two-thirds majority. If the legislature decides to go ahead, it will suspend the President for 180 days while he stands trial before the Senate. The Vice-President, Itamar Franco, will then take over for the duration. The latest head- count gives 355 votes for impeachment, comfortably more than the 336 required. The Attorney-General is also looking at the possibility of bringing criminal charges against the President.

All this is bad news for Brazil's economic recovery programme, which had been making good progress under the guidance of the Economy Minister, Marcilio Marques Moreira and his team of able young technocrats.

Business leaders feel that the President's early departure is essential if inflation, hovering at around 25 per cent a month, is not to take off again and foreign confidence, carefully nurtured by Mr Moreira, is not to evaporate.

The presidential crisis, provoked by claims that Mr Collor profited from alleged favour-selling, bid-rigging and influence- peddling by his former campaign manager, Paulo Cesar Farias, is also a disaster for Brazil's fragile democracy. High hopes were invested in the glamorous governor of Alagoas state when he was elected President - at 40 the youngest in Brazilian history - in 1989, despite his lack of a substantial party political organisation. As well as setting the economy to rights he promised to banish corruption from Brazilian public life.

All that has sunk, less than half- way through his five-year term, in a welter of rumours and accusations, and commentators now hope he will go before irreparable damage is done to the credibility of the political system. According to a recent poll, most Brazilians now appear to favour abandoning the presidential system altogether, replacing it with a parliamentary form of government.

The military, which ran Brazil from 1964 to 1985, has shown no sign so far of wishing to eject Mr Collor by force. 'The decision on what to do lies exclusively with Congress, and the armed forces will abide by whatever decision it takes,' said General Carlos Tinoco, the Army Minister.

It is difficult to see how the President can survive. He has practically no organised following now that the Liberal Front, his main backer in Congress, has decided to give its members a free vote on the impeachment issue. The latest opinion poll, in the influential Folha de Sao Paulo, indicated that more than 75 per cent of Brazilians would like to see him go. The only issue appears to be whether he agrees to go quietly or hangs on until removed.