- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 4, 2002

ANADIA, Brazil A decade after being ousted as president in a corruption scandal, Fernando Collor de Mello is running for governor of this remote province in the Brazilian outback and receiving a rapturous reception.

Striding confidently through dusty farming towns like Anadia, he slaps men on the back and kisses toothless old women, just like when he was president.

No one seems surprised to see him campaigning again in the province where he began his political career, and few blame him for the scandal that led to his impeachment.

"I always liked him, ever since he was president," says Maria Perreira, a 54-year old mother of four. "To me, he wasn't corrupt. The rich were out to get him because he supported the poor."

That someone so closely linked to corruption as Mr. Collor can even think of returning to power may astonish those watching from afar. But to those with an eye on Latin American politics it is no surprise.

Mr. Collor's return is indicative of a broader trend: Across the continent, voters are giving a second chance to politicians who were jailed, disgraced or quite simply disastrous.

In Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay and even Argentina, people are looking to the strongmen of the past to help them solve current problems. It hardly matters that most of them could not solve the problems the first time around.

Mr. Collor's popularity "is a very seditious, but unfortunately realistic, comment on much of the leadership in the smaller and poorer and more marginal areas of the region," said Riordan Roett, the director of Western Hemisphere studies at Johns Hopkins University.

"It demonstrates the problem there is a very thin layer of public servants who are available for responsible positions."

Mr. Collor's return to politics is remarkable because it comes in spite of a political curriculum that identifies him as the most cynical politician in modern Brazilian history.

Impeached for his part in a 1992 corruption scandal, Mr. Collor is seeking to become the governor of Alagoas, the small, rural and impoverished state where he made his name as governor in the 1980s.

The strategy has proven surprisingly successful, with opinion polls and political experts suggesting Mr. Collor, 53, should easily win the Oct. 6 election.

One of the chief factors in Mr. Collor's return has been the absence of a strong opponent. But generous tax breaks given to sugar cane producers during a previous stint in power have guaranteed the support of the state's biggest industrialists.

His control of the media the Collor family owns the state's principal television station, one of it's main newspapers and three provincial radio stations also ensures that coverage of his campaign is positive.

Mr. Collor has supplemented that support with a solid campaign in the state's rural areas, where the bedrock of his support lies. The people who live in the small towns scattered across Alagoas' dusty interior are uninformed and easily captivated by the appearance of a man who with his light skin, solid frame and dazzling smile embodies some symbol of perfection.

The main opposition to his candidacy has come from the state's students, some of whom have re-created the "painted faces" protests that helped bring about his downfall.

Like the youngsters who daubed their cheeks with the national colors of green and yellow 10 years ago, the Alagoan youngsters paint their faces in the state colors, red and blue, and take their outrage to the streets.

"Young people who cannot remember his impeachment don't know the wounds he inflicted on Brazil," said Marcus Calheiros, one of the student leaders. "We have to show them who Fernando Collor is and what he did."

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