The New York Times
May 15, 2004

Brazil's Government Drops Its Threat to Expel a Times Reporter

he government of Brazil last night restored the visa of Larry Rohter, The New York Times bureau chief in Rio de Janeiro, effectively dropping its threat to expel him from the country for an article he wrote critical of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

The Ministry of Justice in Brasília said it took the action after receiving a letter from Brazilian lawyers for Mr. Rohter asserting that he had meant no offense to Mr. da Silva and regretting any "embarrassment" the article may have caused.

The article, published on Sunday, reported publicly expressed concerns about Mr. da Silva's drinking habits and said that there was growing national worry that his conduct might be affecting his performance in office.

Mr. da Silva said Monday that the article represented "a malicious assault on the institution of the presidency" and on Tuesday he ordered Mr. Rohter's visa revoked.

The Brazilian press and large parts of public opinion initially supported the president's scornful response to the article and backed his denunciations. In his lawyers' letter tonight, Mr. Rohter, a fluent Portuguese speaker, argued that the version of his article had been badly translated in the Brazilian press, "a fact that could have amplified the misunderstanding."

Mr. da Silva's decision on Tuesday to seek Mr. Rohter's expulsion provoked a strong counterreaction, led by press associations, legal and judicial groups and opposition politicians.

The country's most influential newspaper, O Estado de São Paulo, published an editorial on Thursday calling the president's action a "monumental stupidity."

Commentators protested that Mr. da Silva had based his action on a discredited repressive press law from the years of dictatorship under Brazil's military, which had persecuted and imprisoned Mr. da Silva and many members of the his left-leaning government.

In Washington, Richard A. Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said that Mr. da Silva's move was "not in keeping with Brazil's strong commitment to freedom of the press."

Mr. da Silva said Wednesday that he would not consider reversing his action, but on Thursday he said he would reconsider it if The Times retracted the article.

The Times tonight put out a statement expressing its pleasure at Brazil's decision to drop the action and reaffirming its belief in the accuracy and fairness of the article.

The statement, from Toby Usnik, the paper's director of public relations, read:

"We are very pleased that the government of Brazil has reversed its revocation of Mr. Rohter's visa. We are happy that Mr. Rohter will be allowed to travel freely in and out of the country. Both Brazil and The New York Times benefit from having a Times correspondent covering this important country.