Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Don't Blame It On Rio -- Or Else!

News item: The International Olympics committee, looking for extra cash from the lucrative television market in Latin America, has chosen Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as the site for the 2016 Olympic games.

Here is some background advice for anyone considering visiting Brazil:

"Crime throughout Brazil has reached very high levels. The Brazilian police and the Brazilian press report that the rate of crime continues to rise, especially in the major urban centers – though it is also spreading in rural areas. Brazil’s murder rate is more than four times higher than that of the U.S. Rates for other crimes are similarly high. The majority of crimes are not solved. There were rapes reported by American citizens in 2008.

"Street crime remains a problem for visitors and local residents alike, especially in the evenings and late at night. Foreign tourists are often targets of crime, and Americans are not exempt. This targeting occurs in all tourist areas but is especially problematic in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Recife."

In Rio, "tourists are particularly vulnerable to street thefts and robberies in areas adjacent to major tourist attractions and on the main beaches in the city. In 2008 there were attacks along trails leading to the famous Corcovado Mountain, on the road linking the airport and the South Zone and on the beaches of Copacabana. Travelers are advised not to take possessions of value to the beach. Robbers and rapists sometimes slip incapacitating drugs into their drinks at bars, hotel rooms, or street parties. While crime occurs throughout the year, it is more frequent during Carnaval and the weeks prior. In the weeks before Carnaval 2009, robbers ransacked two tourist hostels. Travelers should be aware of their surroundings and victims are advised to relinquish personal belongings rather than resist or fight back. Tourists should choose lodging carefully, considering security and availability of a safe to store valuables, as well as location. Over the past year, attacks against motorists increased. In Rio de Janeiro City, motorists are allowed to treat stoplights as stop signs between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. to protect against holdups at intersections. ..."


The Brazilians won't like reading that, so they can sue me.

Oh, wait, they already have sued me for "insulting" Brazil.

So if they're insulted by the above, they'll need to instead sue the authors of the above, which would be the U.S. State Department in its routine guidance about visiting various countries.

There's an important point at work here in excerpting the current State Department travel advisory on Brazil.

As I have previously reported at some length, I was recently served with a lawsuit from Brazil, accusing me of libel in reporting and commentary I did in the United States after surviving a horrible mid-air collision over the Amazon three years ago.

The lawsuit is most notable for its novel legal argument that an alleged insult to Brazil is by definition an insult to every single citizen of Brazil. The plaintiff in the suit against me is a widow of one of the 154 people killed in the mid-air collision -- a person I had never heard of and certainly never wrote or spoke a word about until after the suit was filed. My sympathy toward her and the other relatives and loved ones of those killed in the crash is profound, and I have always expressed that feeling.

Three weeks ago, a process-server arrived at the front door of my house in New Jersey to serve me the legal papers on behalf of a New York law firm -- Grant, Herrmann, Schwartz & Klinger -- retained by the Brazilians to serve me the papers in a case that seeks enforcement in the U.S. of an anticipated $300,000 judgment against me after it is forthcoming in Brazil.

When friends of mine in the U.S., including lawyers and journalists, hear about this suit they smack their heads. Wait a minute, they say. You are being sued IN BRAZIL for comments made IN THE UNITED STATES -- and the Brazilians think they'll be able to cross the U.S. border to enforce a judgment against you?


But it gets even better. The complaint in the suit against me contains a series of preposterous allegations. For example, it cites a "rumor" that as a passenger riding on a business jet returning from a routine magazine assignment in Brazil, I "made the ill-fated journey with the intent of writing an article about the Amazon, intending to demonstrate that the air space belongs to no one," and as part of that dastardly plan, I "asked the pilots to turn off the device that would allow them to be detected in that space..."

The complaint also charges that, in a blog I started (and discontinued 20 months ago) to report on the aftermath of the Brazil crash and to expose the coverup and the move to scapegoat the American pilots, I referred to Brazil as "the most idiot of idiots" and "land of Tupiniquins and bananas."

I don't know what was more insulting, the absurd charge or the insinuation that my grammatical skills were that lacking. Furthermore, the word "Tupiniquin" was absent from my vocabulary till Richard Pedicini, my correspondent in Sao Paulo, explained that it refers to an extinct Amazon tribe.

Actually, the drafters of that legal document appear to have picked up the insulting comments about Brazil not from anything I said or wrote, but from comments that strangers posted to a Brazilian blog that linked to my blog, and possibly also from out of that thin air I am rumored to have been plotting to lay an imperialist claim to.

Not that I wasn't hard on Brazilian authorities for the unwise way they rushed to criminalize the mid-air collision and blame the American pilots, and for their defiant insistence, against mounting and now-indisputable evidence to the contrary, that Brazil's air-traffic control system was not centrally at fault in the accident.

My main goal in taking on Brazil's air force (which runs air-traffic control) and its federal police (who worked with the air force to criminalize the case and prosecute the American pilots) was to argue on behalf of international aviation safety. Criminalizing an aviation accident is famously a grave mistake, because those involve go silent and investigators are stymied. Screaming about your injured "dignity" when your air-traffic control system is full of serious flaws is not something a nation worthy of world respect does -- and yes, I pointed that out again and again.

Those were my offenses in the eyes of Brazilian authorities, who maintained their defiance even after the world's most trusted aviation-safety agency, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, concluded last December that evidence "strongly suggests that this accident was caused by N600XL [the American business jet] and Gol 1907 [the Brazilian airliner] following ATC [Brazilian air-traffic control] clearances which directed them to operate in opposite directions on the same airway at the same altitude, resulting in a mid-air collision."

There is a growing furor in the U.S. over the Brazilian lawsuit, and it has nothing to do with me personally. No serious reporter wants to be part of the story, and I fervently wish I were not.

Instead, the furor is over the frontal assault this lawsuit represents against free speech in the United States. In this suit, Brazil maintains that it has the right to prosecute comment made by an American citizen in the U.S. -- comment that is utterly within the boundaries of U.S. First Amendment and other free-speech protections. Even if I had referred to a country as "the most idiot of idiots," that would not come even close to constituting libel in any court in the United States or even in the rest of the first world.

At its essence, the Brazil suit maintains that an American citizen who utters speech IN THE U.S. that Brazil considers offensive to its "dignity" is subject to a Brazilian libel judgment that can be enforced in the U.S.

Which brings me back to the Rio Olympics.

Though the 2016 games are seven years off, there will be a lot of reason for reporters, bloggers, researchers, sports analysts, planners and others in the U.S. to begin evaluating Rio as a setting for the Olympics, and to report on the preparations to get the sites and the city up to spec for such a major world event.

Do you all have to watch what we say about Brazil, and take great care not to offend its "dignity?" That lawsuit against me says yes, yes you do -- unless action is taken in the United States to put a stop to this alien attack on free speech in the U.S.

There have been precedents for this kind of action, though none quite as broad. For years, litigants have traveled to pliant British courts to accuse American writers, researchers and academics of libel in cases where the evidence would not stand up in a U.S. court.

The most prominent of these cases involves Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, a New York author and academic who was successfully sued for libel in a British court by a rich Saudi businessman (recently deceased) who she named in "Funding Evil," her 2003 book about Saudi funding sources for Al Qaeda terrorism. Her book was withdrawn from sale in the UK, and she cannot travel there (crimping her academic research) because of the judgment against her.

Dr. Ehrenfeld has protection from the judgment being enforced here, as a resident of New York State, which used her case to enact a law specifically banning enforcement in New York of foreign judgments in libel cases that would not stand up in a U.S. court.

Earlier this year, wide-sweeping legislation, the Free Speech Protection Act of 2009, was introduced in Congress. It would extend such protection against alien libel judgments to all American citizens. (Here's Sen. Specter's eloquent speech introducing the bill). The bill, introduced in the Senate by Sens. Specter, Lieberman and Schumer (later joined by Sen. Wyden) is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It needs to become law, before some other country joins Brazil in trying to shut down free speech in the United States.



ChefNick said...

I heard somewhere that it was advisable for tourists in Rio to carry a certain sum of money -- can't remember exactly how much, but probably around $100 -- on them at all times while walking around, as "taxers" would come up to you and demand money at knife- or gunpoint and that was the "going rate."

Hell, I wonder what they'll do to account for inflation . . .

ChefNick said...


One word: fuhggedaboutit.

The Brazzers will never succeed in this ridiculous ploy.

But I know I'LL never be flying to Brasil any time soon.

Let them rant and rave -- nothing will come of it. Just make sure and recover court costs. Maybe sue a favela drug lord in retaliation for "lack of promised quality of cocaine."