IRTON MARX is fed up with fighting Brazil's bad image.
The squalid shantytowns, corrupt politicians, and economic chaos
some foreigners associate with Brazil hardly exist in Santa Cruz do
Sul, a prosperous, squeaky-clean city of 150,000 in the state of
Rio Grande do Sul. Portuguese signs remind visitors that they are
in Brazil, but the fair-haired, light-skinned locals seem more a
part of Germany or Northern Italy than the compatriots of the
Iberian, Indian, and African peoples who dominate the rest of the
Furthermore, Mr. Marx can't stand samba. For a good time, he
prefers the polka music of the Biergarten. Carnival, he says, is
Marx is so fed up that he wants out. As the leader of the Santa
Cruz-based, Pro-Pampa Movement, he is fighting hard for the
separation of Brazil's three southernmost states and the creation
of an independent Federal Republic of the Gaucho Pampa, the plains
area in southern Brazil defined by its cowboy past.
"Brazil is like the old Roman Empire; it is big and falling
apart," says Marx, a blue-eyed, sandy-haired owner of a clothing
factory and a publishing company. "Our culture and economy are
different here in the south. We are part of the first world. We are
subsidizing the whole country and getting nothing back. Our
high-tech industries are being hurt by Brazil's horrible image of
corruption and mismanagement."
Amid Brazil's economic crisis and in the run-up to an April 21
referendum that may restructure the federal government, the
Pro-Pampa Movement is probably the most explicit example of
longstanding regional bickering over fiscal and political issues.
The movement already has a flag, is issuing identity cards, and
claims more than 700,000 official members in Rio Grande do Sul,
Santa Catarina, and Parana - the three states he hopes will secede,
with a total population of about 22 million. Marx says he wants to
adopt the deutsche mark as the currency of the new republic and
make German and Italian official languages alongside Portuguese.
Compared to the rest of Brazil, slavery was rare in the south
and much of the region is dominated by descendants of immigrants
who came from Germany and Northern Italy in the last half of the
19th century. In Santa Cruz and other cities German language is a
required subject in school.
The region's "Teutonic" character, Marx says, is threatened by
the mass migration of poor, unskilled, and mostly non-white workers
from the impoverished Brazilian northeast.
"When we are in the factory working," he explains, "the
northeasterner is on the beach. Our republic won't have any
preference or prejudice toward any ethnic or religious group, but
we want to maintain our way of life. We don't want shantytowns of
Rio or Sao Paulo."
Even the many political figures and newspapers who denounce the
Pro-Pampa Movement's racist overtones admit that its strength is
based on real grievances.
"The disintegrating effects of the global economy are happening
in Brazil too," said Espacio Camargo, a leading Brazilian historian
who has debated Marx. "In the face of this, Brazil has begun to
fall apart. I happen to think that this Pro-Pampa Movement is
proto-fascist, but it is based on honest concerns."
In particular, Ms. Camargo says, the country's 50-year-old
nationalist economic and political model no longer functions. …