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Western Press Review: Brazil Faced With Financial Crisis, Cambodia With Past, Michael Jordan With Future

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 14 January 1988 (RFE/RL) -- The recurrence of financial crisis in Brazil, only two months after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) sought to rescue Latin America's largest economy with a loan of $41.5 billion, is beginning to elicit Western press commentary. There is also some comment on the fate of two former leaders of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, a group responsible for the murder of up to two million people in the 1970s. Finally, there are several tributes to the internationally celebrated U.S. professional basketball player Michael Jordan, who has announced his retirement from the game.

FINANCIAL TIMES: All need not be lost

Britain's Financial Times says that "the gamble over Brazil has failed. In abandoning the narrow band of its currency peg (yesterday,)" the paper adds, "the government has been forced into a devaluation. This must damage its credibility severely. But it is dreadful, too, for the reputations of the IMF and the U.S. Treasury, (which organized the November international rescue package.)" The FT's editorial continues: "The only light in the gloom is that Brazil has devalued before wasting all its resources....Now at least it retains about $36 billion in reserves....Brazil should be able to survive even quite a big devaluation....(But) the government must ensure (that its fiscal) program goes through intact."

The paper sums up: "The failure of the gamble on Brazil's exchange-rate regime is unavoidably damaging --and not only to Brazil. The challenge is to minimize these accepting a significant devaluation, while using available resources to defend a more credible flow. All need not be lost, provided Brazil remains committed to fiscal stabilization and low inflation."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: What now matters is to minimize the danger of infection

In Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Helmut Maier-Mannhart comments: "It looks like the fourth stage of the international financial crisis has just ignited. Coming after southeast Asia, Japan and Russia, it is now clearly Latin America's turn. For days the Brazilian stock market has been in free fall. It has now been joined by the Brazilian currency, the real."

The commentary goes on: "The catastrophe there seems to be taking the same course as it did in Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia. Viewed in swift succession, what appears to happen is that currency devaluation is followed by increasing difficulty in servicing foreign debts because for every dollar borrowed more local currency has to be made available."

Maier-Mannhart adds: "What now matters is to minimize the danger of infection for other Latin American countries, the United States and Europe....One solution could be a further reduction in interest rates that might forestall a disaster in Western financial markets. But with interest rates at their present level the question which soon arises is whether cutting short-term interest rates in Europe from three to 2.5 per cent can really constitute an effective anti-crisis program. Yet it might possibly prevent worse from happening," he concludes. "Even in a crisis, psychology can have an important role to play."

NEW YORK TIMES: Brazil must show it can deal with its fiscal problems

The New York Times speaks of "bad news from Brazil" in its editorial today. The paper says yesterday's "devaluation looks like an unsatisfactory half-step. It may alarm Brazilians worried about inflation, but it is not enough to bring the currency down to a reasonable value. The move may also intensify Brazil's recession rather than help to end it," the editorial adds. "Weakness in Brazil...inevitably will damage other countries in the region."

The NYT goes on: "The IMF plan provided money to allow Brazil to let its currency decline gradually while it took needed steps to cut wasteful government spending, which largely goes to support current and retired public employees. But Brazil's Congress has balked at some of the modest reforms promised by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and one important state is threatening to default on its debts to the federal government rather than cut spending."

The paper sums up: "Brazil still has ample resources to defend its currency, as it had to do yesterday even after the devaluation. But it must show it can deal with its fiscal problems. Otherwise, the IMF may have to conclude that its decision to put together a Brazilian package was a mistake, and that to continue it would be to throw good money after bad."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Immunity for the Khmer Rouge leaders is not only a Cambodian problem

Two commentators discuss the failure of the current Cambodian government to prosecute the two former Khmer Rouge leaders when they were briefly in government hands. Writing from Burma, a country long ruled by military dictatorship, Anna Husarska says in the International Herald Tribune: "The news that immunity was possible for the two...Khmer Rouge leaders who turned themselves in last month, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, came just in time to cheer up the ruling clique in Rangoon. It made sure," she adds, "that this information was splashed all over (the state-owned, English-language daily) New Light and...all the other media outlets the collective dictatorship controls."

"No wonder," Husarska continues. "'Let bygones be bygones' -- the appeal made by Mr. Khieu Samphan -- must be an attractive slogan if you have thousands of deaths on your conscience, no plan to extricate your country from an economic crisis, and if you are facing the threat of a social explosion due to the accumulated anger of your people....This is the predicament not only of the rulers of Burma, but also of Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and Saddam Hussein of Iraq..."

She concludes: "The fate of the Khmer Rouge leaders is not only a Cambodian problem. Immunity for them would be immediately noted by the criminals in Rangoon, Belgrade and Baghdad, who are anxious to see a pattern for their own salvation. It would embolden other current or prospective murderers and have consequences far beyond (Cambodia)."

WASHINGTON POST: Best to confront history, with all its pain and awkwardness

In the Washington Post yesterday, Peter Goodman noted that the U.S. government had recently expressed "outrage at the possibility the pair (of Khmer Rouge leaders) might not be tried for genocide." But, Goodman recalled: "From 1979 to 1991, the (U.S.) leaned on the Khmer Rouge as an instrument of foreign policy, using the remnants of the guerrilla force to oppose the government installed in Cambodia by communist Vietnam. In those days, American enmity toward Hanoi trumped the shame of backing those responsible for the Cambodian genocide." He went on: "Last month, as part of his ongoing effort to consolidate power, (Prime Minister) Hun Sen engineered the defections of Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea from the tattered remnants of the Khmer Rouge, presumably in exchange for a promise of amnesty. The U.S. State Department, unencumbered by irony, struck a posture of outrage, asserting that 'justice in Cambodia has long been delayed, but must not now be denied.' Under international fire, Hun Sen reversed himself, calling for trials (for the two defectors), who promptly retreated to a Khmer Rouge stronghold."

"The reversal is welcome." Goodman added. "Best to confront history, with all its pain and awkwardness. It's a sentiment we in (the U.S.) ought to follow, rather than excise the critical role we played in the anguish that is modern Cambodian history."

WASHINGTON POST: Mr. Jordan has extraordinary physical gifts, intelligence and work habits

Several U.S. newspapers celebrate the extraordinary career of professional basketball player Michael Jordan, which ended yesterday with his retirement announcement. The Washington Post asks: "Is there life after Michael Jordan? The question must be occurring to the (North American) National Basketball Association, which was just gearing up for a short, uncertain season when it was hit by the retirement of the one man who has been indispensable to its rise in popularity during the 1990s....He is arguably the world's most famous person, and not only famous but admired --a figure whose selling power extends far beyond sports."

The paper's editorial goes on: "Mr. Jordan has extraordinary physical gifts, intelligence and work habits....He is one of those rare athletes...who create the illusion of almost floating a little above the playing surface, gliding through their earthbound opposition with unnatural quickness and ease. But behind this physical grace and beauty is a more base and essential characteristic: an almost unquenchable desire to win, a refusal to be denied."

The papers sums ups; "That intensity will always fill the picture of him that people hold in their minds: the fierce, darting stare, the tongue hanging out as he launches himself from somewhere around the foul line, levitates through the crowd and somehow propels --forces-- the ball into the hoop from whatever unlikely position he has got himself into. He could do it in so many new ways it's hard to accept the idea we've seen the last of them."

USA TODAY: Jordan was the ultimate superstar of the Age of Hype

The daily USA Today runs a commentary by Anne Ryan that says: "When Michael Jordan hung up that Number 23 jersey forever, you might have thought a president, king or pope had died. The country went into a funk. How could we face a Jordan-less void?...Before Jordan's farewell news conference was over, his vanished genius was only a cut below that of Galileo, Copernicus and Einstein."

Many asked, Ryan continues, "Gee, weren't we lucky to be around for the Era of Michael? True, for sports (or even ballet) fans, such gratitude made sense. You were in luck if you were a live or TV witness to Jordan's floating acrobatics that defied physics...But Michael Jordan was extraordinarily lucky, too," she adds. "Just as on the court, his life had exquisite timing. His career peaked at the moment when satellite technology, worldwide corporations and sports marketing could propel him to fame no athlete has ever known."

Ryan also says: "Michael rode a rocket --the sports boom of the 1990s, television's insatiable appetite and corporate advertisers who found his mug could sell sneakers, cereal and soft drinks. Granted, his art was pure. But Jordan was the ultimate superstar of the Age of Hype." Still, she too ends on a nostalgic note: "He was lucky. So were we. Someday another Michael Jordan will come along. It's going to be a long wait."

NEW YORK TIMES: Jordan worked as hard in practice as he did in games

The New York Times yesterday came to the same conclusion as USA Today's Ryan, writing: "Near the end of Jordan's autobiography, 'For the Love of the Game: My Story,' he says that 'the evolutionary process never ends. Somebody is going to improve on my game.' Perhaps so, but it is likely to be a long wait." The NYT's editorial also said: "For selfish reasons, we wish that Michael Jordan had stayed on. His absence denies us the pleasure of watching one of the world's great athletes and surely the most accomplished basketball player in the history of the game....But," the paper conceded, "it is hard to fault his decision to retire or its timing. He is 35 years old. He does not, by his own admission, have the physical and mental edge that he has always required of himself."

The editorial went on: "His athleticism --the soaring leaps, darting fakes, flawless ball handling-- was almost poetic. But what made Jordan special was his demanding code of personal excellence. He worked as hard in practice as he did in games."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: When does jumping become flying?

Perhaps the most heart-felt tribute to Jordan came from the most popular newspaper in the city for which he played his entire professional career. The Chicago Tribune wrote yesterday: "When people asked if he could fly, Jordan said he would always reply, 'Yes, for a little while.' And for a little while, in the greater scheme of things, Chicago soared with him. What a journey. Number 23 took his team, his sport and this city to unimaginable heights."

The editorial continues: "He is retiring from the game he loves. When the Chicago Bulls...get back on the court next month, it will be without 'the greatest there ever was, the greatest there ever will be,' to quote from (the inscription on) his statue on (Chicago's) West Madison Street. To say he will be missed is like saying Chicago would miss Lake Michigan if it dried up and disappeared."

"When does jumping become flying?" the Chicago Tribune asked in conclusion. "When it is captured in bronze for the ages and Chicagoans can tell their children's children: Ah yes, we saw him play."