Search This Blog

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The King of Cattle

While I contemplate the crash, yet again, of our last run at that old lady, Ms. Democracy -  already a troubled woman way back in its younger Greek days - it comes to my mind a few memories with my grandfather. 

Clovis Maia, to whom I own my identical name, was born in 1914 in a middle-size farm in Passos, a city in the state of Minas Gerais. His father owned the farm and was himself born from farmers of Portuguese heritage, back when they dominated both the land and its workers - slavery was in place when my great-grandfather was a kid.

But this is not a story about my grandfather. This is a story about a lad 3 years younger than Clovis, his cousin Sebastião Maia, better known as "Tião" Maia, born in a nearby farm too. I still remember my grandfather telling me about the little youngster following the older cousins while they were taking care of the cattle, learning how to lead it through the pasture. 

After learning the basics, the boy would offer his services to the family in exchange not of money, but cattle. At 16 years old, he already owned a few of his own. At 20, he moved to the farmlands of Araçatuba, in the state of São Paulo, and started a business selling and buying cattle by the hundreds. 

Tião Maia soon realized who had the upper hand to set up the cattle prices: the companies who bought from the slaughterhouses and run the distribution of the meat to the bigger cities across the country, mostly in the hands of a few American and British firms. So when the 40's and WWII came, and Oil became gold, he made a double business of deforesting land and selling the wood for the railroad companies to burn, while planting grass in the same land to later on feed the cattle. With the extra cash, he mounted a reserve to buy up land and cattle from troubled farmers at every drop of the meat prices. Soon he set up his own slaughterhouse, the TMaia Company, and reproduced the same strategy of buying up every slaughterhouse around who got in trouble too. Now he was dictating the price of the meat to the Gringo's companies, before taking over a few of them too, and establishing a multinational distribution system. He was one of the first entrepreneurs to send a mission to recently established Israel, in order to hire Rabbis to ensure a kosher process (and market access) to his production line.

By the end of the 50's, Tião Maia was the richest man in Brazil. And a folkloric figure among the parties and socialites of Rio de Janeiro, where his cowboy mannerisms and language (he never finished basic school) made him the darling of gossip tabloids. He married a Miss Brazil and soon divorced, because she was "too jealous" (women tend to be, when their rich husbands take every girl at every party). 

He was on a roll, but no party can go on forever: 1964 came and Tião Maia was a friend of João Goulart, the deposed President of Brazil back in the day. He was also a friend to the previous President, Juscelino Kubitschek (the president who created Brasilia in 1960, the city I live in now). Both presidents where friends for a reason: they were also fellow farmers and cattle businessmen. Imagine that, my dear friends who bought up the idea that Brazil needed a coup in the 60's in order to save it from communism: what were the odds that Tião Maia and his presidential/farmer friends would support a Marxist movement that would take away their wide and vast farmlands?

Tião was imprisoned in the first days of the coup in 1964, but as they had nothing else to accuse him of, he was fred after a few weeks. To show that his Midas touch was not related to political connections, I mention that, in the begin of the 70's, Tião was also a founding partner of TAM, a small airline taxing company he was invited to take part at, because he was the first businessman in Brazil to buy his own private airplane. TAM later on grew up to be the biggest Brazilian airline company, merging with LAN Chile a few years ago, being now the mighty LATAM group.

But life under autocracies isn't always fair, even one installed under the pretext of saving our capitalism: the regime started price controls in order to fight back the recession and inflation of middle 70's, and soon Tião was in jail again, accused of holding up his cattle from the market in order to not sell it at the low prices our purported "saviors of capitalism" mandated. Oh, the ironies of life. 

Fed up by the State interference in his businesses, Tião called it quits. He disinvested and sold everything he could, and in 1976, almost 60 years old, decided to start anew. Tião didn't know a word in English, but he knew Australia was a main source of the meat sold for Americans and British, so there he goes. He arrives and in 6 months buys up so much land in Queensland, the local governor calls him for a personal meeting and asks "Why in this crisis, when no one is buying cattle anymore, a Brazilian comes up here and buys all this land? You will undo the agrarian reform we just finished!". European Common Market new regulations had recently caused a massive slaughter of cows, and crashed the price of cattle worldwide. Tião just answered the Governor, with the help of a translator: "The prices will rise again". And it did, making Tião an ever richer man, famous back then in Australia for herding the cattle with the help of helicopters. 

Tião in Australia



He now used the extra money to make what he liked best: to have business and fun, all at the same time. He went to Las Vegas, not only for the parties and girls he would enjoy, but with the idea of starting a business in the real state sector. He realized the city had far too many hotels and casinos to attend for the tourists, but the people working for all that to happen would need houses themselves, so he set up the Tiao United States (TUSA) company and made up some more money building and selling residential condos. He made the point of building a near replica of the White House for himself too.

The life of partying and gambling was fun, but Tião could never fulfill a dream at any of his many marriages: to have kids. It turns out he was sterile, maybe a function of the many times he contracted malaria while running cattle as a young boy back in the day. At some point he adopted one, Mr. Aramis Maia, and we can maybe hypothesize that his life of partying and dealings did not allow for a proper bonding of father and son. A stroke in 1998 made Tião a shadow of his former self, and his son used the opportunity to take up business by every means. Tião, once the richest man in Brazil, a successful businessman at world stage, an inspiration for a famous 80's Brazilian soap opera character, was now a poor old man who couldn't cater for himself.

Fortunately, his siblings back in Brazil were also made prosperous by the cattle business, and "Juquinha" Maia, his brother still living in Araçatuba, provided for him a decent life till the end. Tião Maia died in 2005 in an apartment in São Paulo, not too far from where I was then living while doing my PhD. 

Staring back at Great-Uncle Tião and his entrepreneurship, I confess to be ashamed that, at the verge of a new round of 'saving the country from communism' (or so our new-but-so-old military men winning this election tell me), I feel afraid for my own future. When asked what he would do in Australia, not knowing the language, Tião answered "I don't need to, I am rich".  The lore says that, in Vegas, the only words in English he knew were "steak and eggs" (which was what he asked for at the restaurant every day). I know a bit more English than that, but the idea of starting anew abroad, approaching my 40's years old, is a bit daunting. Am I made from the same stuff Uncle was? I guess few people are...


36 comments:

Hey Skipper said...

Wow. That's a heck of a story.

Bret said...

Clovis,

Yeah cool story.

I'm sure you and your family will be successful wherever you choose to go. Hang in there! If you need help, let me know and I'll do what I can.

Clovis said...

Bret,

Well, thanks a lot.

The will to leave is sometimes balanced by that same kind of curiosity that makes people to stop to admire a vulcan in eruption, instead of fleeing right away.

Let's see how long does it take for the lava flow to get here.

Peter said...

Clovis, we've all seen the news from yesterday. Anything to add?

Hey Skipper said...

Clovis, maybe it will go in Brazil the way it has here in the US: all derangement, no eruption.

Clovis said...

Peter,

Last week, the police raided nearly two dozens universities, with heavily armed policemen, because some of them had flags wirtten "We are against facism!", or because some professor announced a public lecture on facism.

There are posters heavily circulated among social media, by recently congressmen elected, asking the students to denounce any professor who speaks against Dear Leader in classes.

Prosecutors tried to shut down Roger Waters - of all people - because he was displaying anti-facism slogans at his shows down here last week.

As just another brick on the wall, I better shut up, for I still need to feed two little kids. So no, I have nothing more to add.

Let it be clear I am now a strong supporter of Bolsonaro, and I take back anything written before implying otherwise. Brasil acima de tudo, Deus acima de todos!

erp said...

Are they talking about closing the universities? I haven't seen that anywhere.

Clovis said...

Not only universities but schools in general, Erp.

His future Minister of Education owns companies running online courses and they want to implement it at every level, including for small kids, in order to cut expenses with real classes in real schools. It is very convenient for his own businesses too, but they are surely thinking about our children above all.

Almost every aspect of his govt plan will be a great social reengineering.

Hey Skipper said...

Darn. Looks like you got your eruption right from the git-go.

Bret said...

"The dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe." Tom Wolfe, 1976"

I didn't know that Brazil was in Europe, though I suppose we could argue whether it's really fascism that's descended on Brazil, or a malicious sort of populism.

Hang in there Clovis.

Bret said...

Nothing much new about Brazil in the U.S. press that I can see. Ah well, we allegedly have our own fascism to contend with.

Bret said...

Erp,

You've implied before that a significant factor in what's wrong with America is the politics of our educational system. Should we also be closing down our educational system?

Bret said...

I see that far-right-wing jews are thrilled with his election.

I haven't figured out why he's pro-Israel yet. Clovis, can you enlighten us?

I also see that anti-socialists around the world are not displeased with his election either.

Once again, to me, all these "isms" look remarkably similar in the end: anti-freedom and anti-human.

erp said...

Bret, no we shouldn't shut down our institutions, only get the unions and the state and fed bds of ed out of them. Public schools should be run at the local level and colleges and universities should keep out of politics and stick to their knitting.

If you haven't looked at the public school curricula lately, take a look. It will blow your mind.

Clovis said...

Bret,

Generally, right-wing people in Brazil are pro-Israel, and the more right-wing, the more pro-Israel. The contrary is true for left-wing people, and it's been like that for so long I can't figure out why by now.

We are irrelevant for Israel, and vice-versa, so the polarization on that topic down here is another proof of our lack of originality, we just imported the polemics from you guys.

erp said...

Clovis, here most Jews were/are traditionally left-wing and coming from NYC, many, if not most, of my friends, schoolmates and neighbors were/are Jewish.

From many conversations on this subject, the consensus is that Christians, especially Fundamentalists are not to be trusted. It's a contradiction, because these groups are in the main vocally supportive of Israel -- possibly for biblical reasons, but they are not publicly anti-Semitic.

There is far less anti-Semitism among We, the People than might "be imagined in your universe" and bandied about the media.

So this polemic can't be foisted on us -- and considering how many German "refugees" came down your way after the war, that might be the genesis of at least some your anti-Semitism.

Peter said...

Bret:

all these "isms" look remarkably similar in the end: anti-freedom and anti-human.

Indeed. It seems a lot of people who call themselves conservative are succumbing to pas d'ennemies a droite syndrome.

Clovis said...

Erp,

Most German immigrants came to Brazil before WWII. Quite a few were Jews.

Brazil may well be one of the least anti-Semitic countries in the world. Our Arab and Jew communities hardly clash, and you can't see traces of antisemitism at public life at large, apart from a few neonazi swastikas some punks draw now and then.

When I mention 'polemics', it is only about the eternal debate about Israel and Palestine, when the topic comes up in any political circle. Though, apart from times their wars are on the news, that's hardly a topic at all.

I doubt 90% of Brazilians would be able to locate Israel in a map.

erp said...

As I've said numerous times, I know very little about the internal affairs of Brazil, but I do know many German Jews saw the handwriting on the wall and went to Brazil, among other places, before the war and that a substantial number of non-Jewish Germans went after the war.

It's not a topic here either except among those who want to keep the pot roiling aka the media, academe, Hollywood ... IOW the left.

There is no debate about Palestine. There is not now and never was a place called Palestine. Jordan was created to fulfill that function. You can debate whether the history of the region was fair to all factions, etc., etc., but one thing isn't debatable, while there are virtually no Jews living in any Moslem country, there are many Moslems living as free citizens in Israel and even members of the Knesset.

erp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
erp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
erp said...

Triple comment this time.

Clovis said...

Bret,

---
I suppose we could argue whether it's really fascism that's descended on Brazil, or a malicious sort of populism.
---

Is there any difference? To the extent there is, which is worse?


Our newly elected president, when asked about the police invasion of university campi, declared - very much like our Erp - that universities are not a place for politics.

Setting aside the police was not targeting direct campaign discourse (the anti-fascist flags mentioned no candidate at all), setting aside the non-sense of the separation of what is political or not among the many topics that are part of university curriculae, it remains the fundamental cynicism behind that position: people should abstain from discussing only the politics that goes against Dear Leader. He never complained about the manifestations supporting him.

The congresswoman asking students to denounce teachers who mention him in class has photos all over the internet using t-shirts supporting him in school (she was a teacher up to now).

This Monday, the day after his victory, two dozen students appeared at the entrance of my university, flags up with posters of his face, shouting marching orders and so on. A contrary group soon formed and a brawl soon erupted, emulating the antifa X rightwing fights we've seen in the news of the US the last couple of years (I truly hate this lack of orginality of ours). Nothing worse happened because they announced in the social media they would go there to kick every communist out of the university, so the police and security was forewarned. I am still waiting Dear Leader to denounce this political manifestation in his favor too.

Also, as he promised everyone will be able to buy a gun very soon, I guess next time things will be more interesting.

Looking at it from close range, I guess I would prefer the old fashioned facism of olden days than this malicious populism (I like your definition), because black versus white worldviews are still safer to deal with than malicious people trying to burn down everything just to appease their inner devils.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "I guess I would prefer the old fashioned facism of olden days..."

Hmmm. I think millions of Jews would've disagreed. But if there ends up being a major genocide in Brazil because of the current politics, then I would certainly understand your preference.

The guns thing is interesting. "Dear Leaders" rarely like widespread distribution of firearms. My guess is that either he isn't planning on becoming a dictator ("Dear Leader") or that he doesn't follow through on enabling widespread firearm ownership.

erp said...

Even though I'm not a senator, I'd like to revise and extend my remarks as misquoted above Since Wilson, academe has pushed the left's agenda and has vilified and excluded opposite points of view.

Please insert "partisan" in front the word, politics, so the statement above should read: ... "colleges and universities should keep out of partisan politics ...".

Teaching about students about the left's attempt to conquer the world would be very welcome.

erp said...

Sorry for the typos above. Note to self: Coffee before polemics.

Clovis said...

Bret,

---
I think millions of Jews would've disagreed.
---
Careful Bret, Facism and Nazism, though brothers, are still different things.

Our Dear Leader will likely not implement a full dictatorship - he will not even need one to achieve most of his objectives - but freedom will be curtailed in many ways nonetheless. In part he is a manifestation of a sizeable popular will to do so. Democracies do commit suicide, maybe ours won't die, but it will be in a comma.


erp said...

Clovis, what, in your opinion, is the difference between Fascism and Nazism? According to University of Norway, the only difference is the Nazi's anti-Semitism.

Hey Skipper said...

[erp:] According to University of Norway, the only difference is the Nazi's anti-Semitism.

That's less of a distinction than it might seem.

Collectivisms (which includes nazism, fascism, and communism) always have a demonized other. For Nazis, it was Jews, among others. Communists had their kulaks and class enemies. And fascism of any stripe is based upon blood and soil.

If you were to take the definition of Communism from Wikipedia, and changed just a very few inconsequential words, it would fit fascism perfectly, and vice versa. The only significant difference is that communism is universal, while fascism is more local.

Not that it matters. The root of evil is their overweening collectivism; they are triplets separated at birth.

For all Trumps many faults, being a collectivist isn't one of them.

erp said...

Correct, but original question was the difference between fascism and nazism.

All the ism's on the left are similar. Our betters are the elites and we are the mind-numbed fly-over country bible-thumpers and drooling idiots. They think nationalism is our country right or wrong.

That isn't the case. We stand for equality under the law and everyone who shares our values and obeys our laws is welcome. Our treasure is our people, the best and the bravest from all over the world who want to breathe free and make of their lives what they will.

Don't know about Brazil's new president, but I wouldn't be surprised if he were successful as well.

Of course, he doesn't have Trump's experience dealing with the moron low-lives on the left who keep falling for the same lost wallet on a string scam over and over again.

This latest caper of bringing one of Mueller's bimbo's out of the woodwork made me laugh so much this morning, I nearly scalded myself with coffee.

Go Trump

Clovis said...

Erp,

I believe the main troube we are in, both down here as well as up there, is that far too many people share your sickness of heart in display here.

The next one is always the enemy, unless he thinks like you. It is the same loud denunciation of the other, over and over and over. Trivial politics is turned into a muddy war.

I am sick and tired of all that.

erp said...


Sickness at heart? Not wanting those who want to destroy our country and way of life to to so?

What trivial politics??? Destroy the United States and make us another banana republic isn't trivial.

What in your opinion would you have as the perfect healthy at heart kind of country?

And you still haven't told us what is the difference between fascism and nazism except the target group to blame things on.

Peter said...

Destroy the United States ...

I have little doubt you would fight to keep that from happening, erp, even to the last American.

erp said...

Peter, your comment isn't clear? Please explain.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "Careful Bret, Facism and Nazism, though brothers, are still different things."

Brothers? From wikipedia (and numerous other sources): "Nazism is a form of fascism"

So more set/subset relationship than "brothers." Or, All nazis are fascists while not all fascists are nazis. Perhaps a little simplistic, but close enough that I'm not sure what I need to be careful about. Unless you think that only the Nazi form of fascist could perpetrate a genocide/politicide/large scale war? If so, I'll simply disagree. In my opinion, all forms of serious fascism are conducive to such horrors.

Hey Skipper said...

In my opinion, all forms of serious collectivism are conducive to such horrors.

FIFY.