Brazilians love a good nickname; think of soccer players Pelé, Ronaldinho, or the appropriately named Hulk. The same is true in politics: from 2003 to 2011, Brazil’s president was a man known simply as Lula, a blue-collar hero whose legacy has been badly damaged by a series of political scandals. Rules governing the names under which candidates can run for office are relaxed, meaning local elections always promise some fun. This year, Batman ran for city council in suburban São Paulo, Bin Laden launched a bid for office in rural Minas Gerais, and a farmer in the small Amazonian town of Careiro da Várzea threw his hat into the ring under the name Barak (sic) Obama.
Jimmy, though, is the honest-to-God real name of Mr. Jimmy Carter Gonçalves, born in 1979, while Jimmy Carter was serving as the 39th president of the United States of America. Carter had paid a state visit to Brazil less than a year earlier, where he addressed the Congress in Brasília before flying to Rio de Janeiro to lay a wreath at the World War II memorial and meet with human rights advocates.
Brazil was then ruled by a military dictatorship, which bristled at President Carter’s foreign policy emphasis on human rights. Many everyday Brazilians, though, were enjoying increasing exposure to American culture, among them, Jimmy’s father, an orthodontist with an interest in politics who admired the United States.
“The Americans had a very large influence in Brazil then,” says Jimmy, who majored in history. While growing up, he’d overhear neighbors saying things like, “If only the Americans would take over and clean up Brazil.”
And so, some of them gave their kids names like Jimmy Carter. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, nearly 1,300 Brazilians are named Jimmy. While it’s impossible to say if they’re all named for the Georgian peanut farmer turned president, the majority of Brazilians given this distinctly American name were born in the ’70s and ’80s.
Public servants like Jimmy haven’t been getting paid on time for the past year
After lunch, Jimmy points his pickup down the dirt road to Cancelão, a little cluster of houses and stores about six miles north of Piratini proper but within the municipal limits. He’s running for vereador, or city councilman, as a member of the PMDB, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party. It’s the catch-all, big-tent party of Brazil’s right-wing president Michel Temer, who took office after Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s successor from the left-wing Workers Party, was impeached earlier this year.
Motivated by a concern for social issues, Jimmy places himself on the left of the spectrum; territory occupied by the PMDB generally in Piratini, where local party affiliations and ideologies don’t always line up the way they do on the national level.
“Our state PMDB isn’t the same PMDB that’s in Brasília,” Jimmy says. “And our local PMDB is even a little different than the state party.”
Some of Jimmy’s friends have been leaning on him to embrace full-bore socialism, but he’s not there, ideologically speaking. Meanwhile, the local Worker’s Party is allied with a number of other rightist parties, including the confusingly named Progressive Party, which is also a conservative party nationally.
This is Jimmy’s second shot at vereador in Piratini. He ran eight years ago, and came up just short. He sat out the election four years ago, but was drawn back into politics when the Brazilian economy fell into a deep recession. The fiscal situation in Piratini is so dire that public servants like Jimmy haven’t been getting paid on time for the past year.
“As a teacher, I know that I can do things for people over the long term, because you’re planting little seeds,” he says. “But I think that politics has more immediacy … It has a power that enables you to do more.”