Lyrics from “A Rasteira do Presidente” by Bicalho/Silvio Modesto, released by Bezerra da Silva (1986)
Fiscais do Presidente, se liga // President’s Inspectors, at attention
Tabela de preços na mão // Table of Prices in hand
E vamos lutar contra a inflação // And let’s fight inflation!
E não é mole não // And it’s not easy, no
Vivendo dessa maneira // Living this way
Eles inventaram essa tal de inflação // They invented that thing called inflation
E o Presidente deu aquela rasteira // And the president pulled that fast one (“made that tackle”)
Não é mole não (tuburão) // It’s not easy, no, shark (predatory businessmen who profited from inflation)(refrain)O meu salário é o mínimo // My salary is the minimum
porém é o máximo que eu consigo vencer // And yet it’s the maximum I’m able to pull in
Desconto pro INPS// Withholdings for Social Security
e o maldito Leão// And that daggone Lion (income tax)
ainda quer me morder // Is still trying to bite me
ORTN e INPC // ORTN (national treasury bonds) and INPC (inflation index)
Eu escuto dizer, mas eu não sei o que é // I keep hearing talk – but I don’t know what it is
Eu só sei que recebi meu pagamento // I just know I received my payment
Que não deu pra comprar meu alimento // And it wasn’t enough to buy my aliment
Remarcaram os preços eu fiquei a pé // They marked up the prices and I was left behind!
O que não consigo entender // And what I just can’t understand
o meu nome é sujo no SPC // My name’s “dirty” in the SPC (credit protection service)
Meu crédito é cortado na praça // My credit’s cut off on the streets
não me vendem fiado nem o que comer // They won’t even sell me food on the cuff
O banco não me empresta dinheiro // The bank won’t lend me money
porque não tenho bens para me garantir // Because I don’t have any assets as guarantees
Veja bem, não pedi nada emprestado // But look here, I didn’t ask for anything on loan
Dizem que devo dolar adoidado // Yet they say I owe mad dollars
Ao famigerado, FMI // To that infamous IMF
Os ladrões de gravata o que vão fazer // What the crooks in ties are gonna do
O bicho vai pegar adoidado // The beast is gonna go crazy (things are gonna get ugly)
Em cima daquele que não obedecer // On anyone who doesn’t obey
O trabalhador já pode com a sua família // The worker can go ahead with his family
Fazer sua ceia // and make his supper
se os federais chegarem em um supermercado // if the feds get to a supermarket
Encontrem os preços remarcados // And find the prices marked up
Dão bolacha no gato e mete na cadeia // They’ll box the cat’s ears and throw him in jail
Bezerra became famous in the 1970s and ’80s for his hard-core but humorous sambas about the hustling malandro lifestyle and life on the morro (favela). He was revered for his deft denouncement of government corruption, most notably the crooked and brutal police force.
Bezerra’s acquaintances from the morro composed many of his best-love songs. They were bricklayers, carpenters, repairmen, and “22s” (crazies) who had chosen to steer clear of crime, but respected and wrote about malandro precepts like the “Lei de Murici” (Lei de Murici: Cada um cuida de si — Murici’s law: every man for himself; mind your own business) and especially excelled at writing witty smack about snitches and sogras (mothers-in-law) in thick slang.
At the time, Brazil was in the midst of a bumpy transition from military dictatorship to democracy, and was meanwhile suffering the consequences of the military government’s brash fiscal and monetary policies (which were not much improved upon in the first years of the democracy). Hyperinflation topped 235% in 1985 and was on track to hit 500% in 1986. José Sarney had taken office as transitional president on March 15, 1985, and after a dismal first nine months, promised in January 1986 that he would not allow inflation to continue shooting up. In an ill-fated attempt to keep this promise, on February 28, 1986, Sarney declared a bank holiday and announced his Plano Cruzado – “shock treatment” for the Brazilian economy, which was also meant to serve as a symbolic rupture from the legacy of the military dictatorship.
This “heterodox plan”replaced Brazil’s currency the Cruzeiro with the Cruzado (worth 1,000 cruzeiros), fixed at 13.84 to the dollar. Salaries were adjusted up by 8% (public servants) and 15% (minimum wage), and an “inflation insurance” mechanism was put in place to increase salaries automatically if inflation hit 20%.
The plan also froze prices for food, gasoline, hygiene and cleaning products, and services. These fixed prices were published on a table (mentioned in the song) as a means of holding business-owners to account. In announcing the plan, Sarney called upon every Brazilian citizen to be “um fiscal do president” – a president’s inspector – making sure that shops were sticking strictly to the price table. And indeed, as the song makes reference to, the government shut down businesses that were caught cheating.
Not surprisingly, the plan led to basic supply-and-demand mismatches, empty shelves, dissatisfied producers and consumers… which as usual nurtured a flourishing black market. In November 1986, Sarney’s government was forced to abandon the plan and launch Plano Cruzado II. Cruzado II unfroze prices and signaled the return of staggering inflation, which would plague Brazil and Bezerra’s friends on the morro until 1994, when the Plano Real finally pulled the country out of this financial quagmire.
Another element of this quagmire that comes up in the song: In the 1980s, Brazil was drowning in billions of dollars of external debt, a legacy of the military government’s over-borrowing to finance ill-advised national development projects. Over the course of the ’80s, Brazil signed eleven bail-out agreements with the “infamous IMF.”
Bezerrra, who was born in 1927 in Recife, Pernambuco, and arrived in Rio as a stowaway in the 1940s, died in January 2005 at the age of 77.