The Brazilian president's choice of transport, crimefighting in El Salvador and why brows are furrowed over a new three-wheeler in the US.
When establishing Brazil’s Workers’ Party in the 1980s, now president ‘Lula’ traversed the vast country by car and bus. Today, he is a big fan of international air travel and he has given the presidential Airbus a budget overhaul.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has come a long way in his voyage from shoeshine boy to president of the world’s fifth biggest country. Since taking office in 2003, Lula has visited 66 different countries, more than any other president in Brazil’s history. He once vowed not to fly abroad unless absolutely necessary but now finds world travel the perfect antidote to office work.
“If he spends a week at his desk he goes mad,” says his former press secretary Ricardo Kotscho. “When he goes abroad, he has this ritual on the plane home where he lays out a map and discusses the next trip with the foreign minister.”
That ritual takes places on the €38m Airbus 319 Lula bought to replace a 30- year-old Boeing 707, (known as the “Su- catão”, or “big heap of metal”), which was so noisy and polluting some airports re- fused to let it land.The new plane is more hi-tech. But it is so cramped and no-frills that former president José Sarney, who flew to Pope John Paul II’s funeral in it, said, “My disappointment was so great that it ruined the whole trip.”
In addition to its Airbus, this summer Brazil placed an order with Embraer for two new 190 jets especially equipped for use by the president. They will replace the two Boeing 737s. Lula uses a number of VU-35 and VU-55 Learjets and Brazilian-built Embraer ERJ-145 jets for domestic travel. Brazil has Eurocopter VH-34 Super Puma and VH-55 Fennec helicopters, the latter made by Brazilian firm Helibras.
The president’s most famous car is a convertible, a 1953 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith. For daily business, he uses a bullet-proof GM Omega. In provincial cities, cars are provided by a hire company and range from limousines to Jeeps.
Surprisingly for a country with nine of the world’s 50 longest rivers, Lula rarely goes by boat. He has taken ferries to cross rivers, but helicopters are preferred. Brazil also has just 29,000km of railway lines, mostly for freight rather than passenger services. Lula’s few excursions by train have been while inaugurating rail lines, such as in May 2006 on the reopened steam link between the colonial towns of Mariana and Ouro Preto.
El Salvador may be changing its violent reputation. A media campaign, public metal detectors, a gun amnesty and increased police checks have had the desired effect in San Martín, a suburb of San Salvador where murder rates dropped by roughly 47 per cent in a year.The UN is now backing similar campaigns across the country.
Just as electrical transport is gaining a foothold among Americans, some states are pulling the plug. The Xebra, a three-wheeled electric vehicle with a top-speed of 65 km/h has been banned by authorities in Maine and Massachusetts, saying it cannot be legally registered either as a car (it has three wheels) or as a motorcycle (it has a steering wheel). ZAP, the Xebra’s manufacturer, insists the vehicle is classified as a motorbike under federal law. “It’s probably the safest motorcycle on the road,” says company spokesman Alex Campbell.
There have been reports of an imminent coup since left-wing president Evo Morales won a vote of confidence in August, confirming popular support for his government. People in the right-wing south east oppose his plans to redistribute natural resource proceeds to poorer regions.