RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- When he came into office in 2003,
Brazil's president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva -- known as "Lula" --
introduced a ministry of tourism, and for the first time the
country budgeted monies to promote tourism.
So members of the travel industry like Roberto Dultra were
surprised when the government started fingerprinting and
photographing Americans arriving in Brazil.
"A federal judge in the interior of the country issued an order
that made the immigration department implement immediately the same
procedures that were being applied to Brazilians entering America,"
said Dultra, a managing partner of destination management company
GB International and vice president of the Brazilian Incoming Tour
"It's based on a law that requires diplomatic reciprocity," said
Dultra. "I didn't even know it existed. It came into effect rather
The reciprocity was in reaction to the U.S. Department of
Homeland Security's US-Visit program, introduced Jan. 1, that
requires foreign visitors -- including Brazilians -- with
nonimmigrant visas to be fingerprinted and photographed at U.S.
Immigration officials in Brazil were caught off guard by the
judge's order, Dultra said. "For the first two days it was absolute
chaos at the airports. There were long lines up to eight, nine
But, the Brazilian tourism industry attempted to turn the
problem into an opportunity.
The Brazilian Incoming Tour Operators Association, the Rio de
Janeiro tourism board, the Hotel Association of Brazil and other
tourism industry players pooled their resources to conduct
welcoming parties for American tourists waiting in lines to get
fingerprinted and photographed.
Varig Airlines donated wet naps and H. Sterns Jewelers gave out
pendants to the sometimes-weary U.S. travelers. Visitors also
received red roses and T-shirts that said "Rio loves you." Four
hostesses handed out the gifts and carnival dancers torqued up the
"I didn't think too much of the idea when I first thought of
it," said Dultra, "but when I went to the airport and saw it in
action I was amazed at the effect it had on the arriving American
Some visitors clearly were annoyed by the new procedures. "But
after the greeting parties, they forgot all about it," Dultra said.
"It produced great results."
It also provided ample publicity. "All the major TV networks
were there," said Dultra. "The Associated Press was there. NHK from
Japan was there. We got great coverage."
The immigration department responded effectively, Dultra said.
"They quadrupled staff and put in new equipment to make the process
fast." After a few days, there were few lines and a two- or
three-minute wait to get through immigration.
The president appointed a committee to study the situation. "He
gave them a 30-day deadline to suggest improvements or perhaps
recommend scrapping the policy all together," Dultra said, making
no secret of his preference.
"We'd like to see them do away with these proceedings," Dultra
said. "It's most unfortunate. It's not a measure geared to
protecting Brazil from terrorism. We don't have this problem. It's
purely diplomatic reciprocity. To us that sounds very dumb."
Meanwhile, the government is considering its alternatives.
"There will be a meeting in Brasilia with the minister of tourism
to discuss the whole issue," Dultra said. "We're very hopeful
something will be done. Ideally we are asking them to forget about
the reciprocity principle and look at the country's interest. We
are hopeful we will be heard. They have been very cooperative. They
haven't avoided us. We are very hopeful it can be resolved
To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].