Voice of Brazilian Rodeo Rides a National Movement to the Right

January 12, 2017

January, 07 2017 (Nytimes)

GOIÂNIA, Brazil — Ten-gallon hat? Check. Ostrich-skin boots? Check. Belt buckle emblazoned in English with the words “Get Tough”? Check.

“We dress like cowboys in these parts,” said Cuiabanno Lima, explaining his attire as he tore into a cut of sirloin at a steakhouse in this city in the heart of Brazil’s farm belt. “I can’t just walk in here wearing shorts and flip-flops. Sorry, but this isn’t Rio de Janeiro.”

Mr. Lima, 40, an acclaimed Brazilian rodeo announcer, has a point. Mud-splattered pickup trucks roam Goiânia’s streets. Música sertaneja, Brazil’s equivalent of country music, blares from speakers at open-air bars. Stores like West Land, Texas Center and Botas Goyazes sell western duds.

The growth of a cowboy culture here reflects major shifts in Brazil in recent decades. Buoyed by rising global demand for food, Brazil evolved into an agricultural powerhouse, emerging as a top exporter of soybeans, corn, sugar and coffee.

Brazil also ranks among the world’s largest beef producers, with a cattle herd that has grown more than 30 percent since 1990 to an estimated 215 million head. That gives Latin America’s biggest country, population 206 million, more cows than people.

While Brazil’s economy is mired in a long slump, agribusiness has remained largely resilient during the crisis. The expansion of a rodeo circuit in Brazil, with hundreds of flashy competitions held across the vast interior each year, points to the importance of ranching as a pillar of the economy.

That’s where Mr. Lima comes in as an unofficial spokesman for Brazil’s farm states.

While unknown to many residents of coastal cities in Brazil, he has won fame in the hinterland as a rodeo announcer with an ostentatious style that might shock some counterparts in the United States, and for his vocal embrace of socially conservative positions in a country shifting to the right.


Mr. Lima, a country singer and bull riding announcer, in an animated chat at a barbecue house in Goiânia. Credit Dado Galdieri for The New York Times
In a meandering interview over a lunch of draft beer and copious amounts of beef, Mr. Lima expressed his views on a wide variety of issues, including religion (he calls himself as a staunch Roman Catholic who also frequents an evangelical church), the role of women in society (his views appear to be reflected in a country music video he made in which he boasts about paying for a homemaker’s plastic surgery) and the environment.

“Don’t get me started on the Amazon,” Mr. Lima said, referring to the vast river basin where, the authorities say, the expansion of Brazil’s ranching frontier has illegally destroyed large tracts of the rain forest. “I’ve flown over the Amazon in a small plane, and all I saw for hours was trees. Trust me, we can deforest a lot more if we have to.”

Mr. Lima’s readiness to voice publicly what many Brazilians say in private reflects, perhaps, a yearning for the spotlight. As he roams the backlands rodeo circuit in his Mitsubishi Titan pickup, the competitions where Mr. Lima works are often as much about him as they are about bull-riding buckaroos.

At a rodeo here in Goiânia on a recent Friday night, scantily clad female dancers warmed up the arena before Mr. Lima burst onto the scene around midnight, his arrival heralded by fireworks, a nightclub smoke machine, cannons discharging confetti into the air and a dance involving a good deal of strutting by Mr. Lima himself.

After singing Brazil’s national anthem, he led competitors in a lengthy prayer before getting on with the event. He often cracks jokes, exudes pride in Brazil’s ranching culture and bursts into song while describing the technical aspects of the cowpokes competing for prize money.

“I love the United States and recognize how much we owe to the rodeo scene up there, but the folks in Brazil expect a little more from their rodeo announcers,” he explained. “What am I, essentially? A storyteller.”

Mr. Lima got into radio announcing after studying three things: law, journalism and how to be a clown. He said it was during his time at clown school in Rio, when he was trying to find a way into show business, “that I learned the valuable lesson of laughing at my own failures.”

A self-described “bastard son of a rancher,” Mr. Lima was raised by his mother, a shopkeeper, in Barretos, a city in São Paulo State that has long been an epicenter of the Brazilian rodeo scene. Mr. Lima travels extensively throughout the year to various farming regions, but still lives in Barretos with his wife and son.

To the surprise of some of his fans, he was not always Cuiabanno Lima. His given name was Andraus Araújo de Lima; Andraus was also the name of a São Paulo skyscraper that caught fire in 1972, a tragedy in which people trying to escape the flames were filmed leaping to their death from upper floors.

“Obviously, I needed a new name, something that spoke to the greatness of the interior of Brazil,” he said about his stage name. Cuiabanno refers to people from Cuiabá, the frontier capital of Mato Grosso, a western state with burgeoning farming enterprises.

In a country where animal-rights activists have grown more vocal in recent years, not everyone appreciates Mr. Lima’s exaltation of Brazil’s agribusiness prowess.

“Cuibanno is nothing more than an amusing court jester in a rodeo scene dominated by wealthy ranchers and corporate sponsors,” said Leandro Ferro, president of I Hate Rodeo, a nonprofit group in São Paulo seeking to raise awareness about claims of animal cruelty at Brazil’s rodeos.

Mr. Lima chafes at such criticism, contending that his critics are unrealistic about the significance of agriculture and ranching in contemporary society. “Not everyone can go organic, eating leaves in expensive pretty packages,” he said. “The world needs animal protein, and Brazil supplies it.”

As for rodeos, Mr. Lima said he was pleased that they were growing into a big business with corporate backers. He noted with pride that Brazilian “caubóis” had grown so skilled in some competitions, like professional bull riding, that they ranked among the top money earners in the United States.

Despite championing such feats, along with his own rising prominence, Mr. Lima contends that elites in cities like São Paulo and Rio opt to ignore the signs around them that Brazil’s ranching culture, with its conservative values, is gaining prominence.

In Brazilian politics, for instance, a powerful bloc representing large landowners and large-scale agricultural interests exerts considerable sway in Congress. And a subgenre of Brazilian country music called “sertanejo universitário,” tapping the aspirations of the college-educated middle class, has surged in popularity.

“We produce the country’s wealth and increasingly the culture that people consume, but the interior of Brazil remains neglected,” Mr. Lima said. “Something in this equation has got to give.”