May 15, 2004 in Nation/World

Brazil lets reporter keep his visa

Tom Murphy Associated Press

SAO PAULO, Brazil – Brazil’s government decided Friday not to revoke the visa of a New York Times reporter who wrote an article suggesting President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has a drinking problem.

The decision came after lawyers for correspondent Larry Rohter wrote a letter to the government saying that the article was not written to offend the president.

Silva’s government said it considered the letter to be an apology and a retraction of Rohter’s story published Sunday, which claimed the president’s drinking was a subject of national concern.

The four-page letter from Rohter’s lawyers does not contain an apology but says the journalist “never had the intention of offending the honor of the President.” It adds that Rohter has “great respect for Brazil’s institutions and laments the polemic created by his article.”

The New York Times, in a statement, reiterated that there was nothing inaccurate in Rohter’s story but said it was “very pleased” with the government’s decision about the visa.

“The president was offended and, initially, he reacted with a tough measure, revoking the reporter’s visa,” Justice Minister Marcio Tomaz Bastos told reporters. “But I told the president that legally the letter constituted a retraction, and the president said that, in that case, he considered the case closed.”

Silva had revoked Rohter’s visa on Tuesday and gave him eight days to leave the country. A court order Thursday had given Rohter permission to remain in Brazil long enough to contest the decision at a hearing.

Critics complained that revoking of Rohter’s visa was more in line with dictators than a democratic president.

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