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Celebrities, either through talent or opportunity or luck, or a mixture of all three, live charmed lives doing what they love and getting paid huge sums of money for it.

Dira Paes, drink driver

Society fawns over them and many people, especially the young, look up to them as idols.

Brazilian soap opera actress Dira Paes (right) is one of them. Romario is another. Mano Menezes, the manager of Brazil, is another. Actress Carolina Ferraz is another. Singer Djavan is another. Former Flamengo and Inter Milan player Adriano is another. And there are plenty more.

What do they all have in common apart from the fact they are very rich and hugely admired? They all refused to take breathalyser tests when stopped by police.

Paes was the latest and like most of these jokers she swore she wasn’t drunk. She complained that Brazil has a zero tolerance for people who drink and drive.

More than 40,000 people died in traffic accidents in Brazil last year. Between 40 percent and 75 percent of those deaths are alcohol related.

Are those statistics not clear enough?

Is it too much to ask that cosseted celebrities like Paes and Menezes and Adriano set an example?

The offending article

Just when you thought Brazilian laws couldn’t get any more backwards, another bit of needless bureaucracy leaves you not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

I bought a bottle of wine at the weekend in Pao de Acucar, my local supermarket. Over the years I’ve bought hundreds of bottle of wine, vodka, beer and rum at the same supermarket.

This time, though, I had to register.

REGISTER. Not just show ID – but register.

Like you have to do in the US to buy the kinds of fertilizer used to make bombs. Like you have to do in Scotland to buy certain kinds of hard drugs.

No matter that it was a bottle of wine, 13 % volume.

No matter that I am 45 years old.

No matter that it was a quiet Saturday lunchtime.

I still had to provide them with my personal data that they put on their central computer.

Sometimes Brazil beggars belief.

We’re only here for the beer.

That’s not something you’ll hear tourists saying about Brazil.

I don’t touch the stuff myself but connoisseurs (and lushes) tell me Brazilian beer is weak, fizzy and crap. Maybe that’s the reason so many people drink it on the beach in the morning.

But beer is one of the thorny issues that separate FIFA and the Brazilian government as they prepare for the 2014 World Cup.

Why, I hear you ask, would FIFA and Brazil be fighting over beer?It’s all explained here in my Financial Times blog.

Beer is no stranger to controversy in the World Cup. In 2010, South African police arrested 36 Dutch girls who wore orange dresses given to them by the Bavaria beer company and accused them of ambush marketing.

Another company had the rights to sell beer inside the stadium and they thought the girls were trying to get round that by drawing attention to themselves. (As if 36 stunning blondes in short dresses wouldn’t already be drawing attention to themselves.) The dresses didn’t even bear Bavaria’s logo.

But here’s a photo so you can see for yourselves (purely for journalistic reasons, of course)…

Sometimes it is hard to believe that Brazil really wants to advance.

I’ve written a lot, and repeatedly lauded, the economic progress and the reduction of inequality that marked the Lula years, such as in this Time piece and in this feature for the KPMG magazine.

But then I see reports like this one in today’s Folha and wonder whether Brazil’s development will remain purely financial.

The report is about how drink driving is still an serious issue on federal motorways because loopholes allow establishments, including service stations, to sell alcohol at the side of the road.

The story says that 93 percent of the shops alongside federal highways are in urban (or municipal) areas and so exempt from the federal legislation.

The idea that you can seriously hope to reduce road accidents while allowing establishments to sell alcohol at petrol stations beggars belief.

I wrote about the government’s well-intentioned but somewhat half-hearted attempt to tighten laws on alcohol sales in this Christian Science Monitor piece in 2008.

The Health Minister at the time said that alcohol is a factor in more than half of all accidents on federal highways. Alcohol-related accidents cost the country more than $6 billion dollars a year in lost production, car damage, and health costs, the ministry said.

In my story, I noted:

“Supporters of the ban note that 62 lawmakers, or 1 in 10, had their election campaigns financed by makers of beer, wine, or cachaça (a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugar cane), according to the Congresso em Foco website.”

The sad and outrageous fact here is when the law was proposed several associations, such as the Brazilian Association of Bars and Restaurants, went to court in order to maintain the right sell alcohol to drivers.

Two big retail store chains, Walmart and Carrefour, won injunctions against the ban. The ban passed but in this watered-down state.

The idea of putting a common good before profit is still rare in Brazil and as companies exercise more and more power and the government fails to support regulatory agencies that shows no signs of changing.

The actions of those two multi-billion dollar firms, as well as of the local associations, would be scandalous if it weren’t so tragic.

They put making money ahead of saving lives.

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