The Miami Herald
Jan. 15, 2004

Pilot's obscene gesture offends Brazil

Brazil arrests an American Airlines pilot and detains the crew after the pilot lifts his middle finger during a security check.

  From Herald Staff and Wire Reports

  SAO PAULO, Brazil - It was apparently an expression discernible in any language.

  An American Airlines pilot from Coral Springs gave Brazilian authorities the finger as they photographed him as part of increased security measures for U.S.

  It was a bad move. Brazilian police arrested him, and he was fined $12,700. American Airlines paid the fine.

  The pilot, Dale Hersh, lifted his middle finger while undergoing a new fingerprinting and photographing process put in place Jan. 1 by Brazil as a response
  to similar U.S. procedures, said Francisco Baltazar da Silva, chief of Sao Paulo's federal police.

  Hersh, 52, was taken to a federal courthouse. He could have faced up to two years in jail, but federal prosecutor Matheus Baraldi Magnani said he asked a
  local magistrate to impose a fine rather than go to trial, for what he termed Hersh's ``insulting behavior.''

  The judge complied, fining Hersh 36,000 reals ($12,700) and releasing him, Agence France Presse reported.

  The fine, the judge said, represented 150 times the Brazilian minimum monthly wage and took into account ``the pilot's financial circumstances and his
  insult to national pride and the federal police.''

  ''Basically, it was a joke done in bad taste,'' da Silva said.

  He said Hersh apologized repeatedly after learning the ramifications of the joke.

  So did his employer.

  ''The company apologizes to the Brazilian government, the airport authorities, the police or anyone else who may have perceived anything they believe to
  have been disrespectful,'' said Martha Pantín, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, which is conducting its own investigation of the incident.

  The crew of the airplane arriving at Sao Paulo's international airport from Miami was detained and not allowed to officially enter Brazil after they laughed
  and joked during the incident, he said.

  In Washington, a State Department official said Hersh and the rest of the plane's crew likely would leave for the United States on Wednesday night.
  American's flights from Sao Paulo typically arrive in Miami or Dallas in the early morning.


  The incident is the latest flap in a growing diplomatic spat between Brazil and the United States.

  Brazil began requiring Americans to be photographed and fingerprinted upon entering Brazil in response to a U.S. antiterrorism measure that requires the
  same from citizens of all countries who need visas to enter the United States.


  The Brazilian requirement was first imposed at the order of the federal judge, but on Monday it became the government's official policy, citing the diplomatic
  concept of ``reciprocity.''

  On Monday, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva asked President Bush to drop the visa requirement for Brazilians entering the United States.

  In a statement issued Tuesday by the Foreign Ministry, the Brazilian government said the requirement could lead to a souring between the two nations.

  ''Recent episodes, such as the new system of identification of travelers, create a negative climate in public opinion with inevitable political implications,
  which is not in the interest of the two countries,'' the statement said.

  But in Rio de Janeiro, tourism officials are trying to console American tourists arriving at the airport by treating them to samba music and dancers and giving
  them flowers, jewelry and T-shirts.

  Brazil currently requires Americans to have visas to enter Brazil because of reciprocity.

  Herald business writer Ina Paiva Cordle contributed to this report.