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The rise of Dilma Rousseff

The support of the outgoing Brazilian president, Lula, for his former chief of staff transformed her

A groan rippled through a bus station in Rio de Janeiro. It was 11pm and the results of the day's election were dribbling in. Tiririca, a blond clown and D-list television personality, had just been elected as the federal deputy for São Paulo. His campaign message? "What does a congressman do? I don't know. But vote for me and I will find out."

Tiririca's victory raised a small laugh in an election season that has been dominated by economics and the rapid growth that Brazil has enjoyed in recent years. Each candidate focused on a message of continuity, and the face of the popular two-term president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has featured on posters of candidates from across the political spectrum. Who would not want to bask in the glow of Lula's popularity? After eight years in office, he enjoys an 80 per cent approval rating and was recently described by President Barack Obama as the world's most popular politician.

Lula's presence was felt most strongly in the campaign of the Workers' Party (PT) nominee, Dilma Rousseff, a little-known member of the Lula administration until she became the centre of the presidential race. Once known as the president's candidate, Rousseff saw her standing in the opinion polls skyrocket and her victory seemed certain.

But, in a surprising twist, the Amazon-born Marina Silva, leader of Brazil's Green Party (PV), won 19 per cent of the vote in the first round
on 3 October. This has pushed Rousseff into a second-round run-off (to take place on 31 October) against José Serra of the conservative Brazil Social Democratic Party (PSDB). Silva's credentials attracted an eclectic range of supporters: she was the country's first African-Brazilian female presidential candidate, an evangelical Christian and the only environmentalist, creating a dissonance with Lula's agro-industrial policies.

Silva's strong performance in the first round was a surprise even to her, says Paulo Henrique Amorim, who runs the political blog Conversa Afiada ("sharp conversation"), Brazil's answer to the Huffington Post. "It really has nothing to do with Marina," Amorim says. "It's about the local religious leadership." A post on Conversa Afiada describes the typical PV supporter as "a species unique to the Brazilian Amazon, rarely encountered in western civilisation. It is an orchid - expensive, aristocratic and chic."

Amorim says that roughly a quarter of Silva's supporters are university-educated, middle-class high-earners. They enjoy a "European eco-sensibility" but are ideologically connected with the political right wing. Their vote will now go to Serra, he says. The rest are mostly evangelical Christians on low incomes. They are beholden to religious leaders, not party politics, and it is their vote that has been thrust centre stage.

The day after the first round of the election, the front page of the Folha newspaper featured the faces of Rousseff and Serra with Silva's green handprint smeared on their cheeks. Neither can ignore the stain. Yet Silva's popularity is merely a bump in the road on Rousseff's journey to power. Allyne Andrade, a young, black, Rio-based lawyer, voted for Silva in the first round but always intended to throw her weight behind Rousseff in the second. "I wanted to vote for Marina to remind Brazil that there's a third party - an alternative to the PT and PSDB," says Andrade. "Rousseff will get my vote because we need a continuation of Lula's policies."

To be continued

Although Rousseff has sought to cast herself in the mould of her mentor, Lula, her past couldn't be more different from his rags-to-riches tale of ascent from shoeshine boy to the presidency. The child of a Bulgarian immigrant entrepreneur and a Brazilian teacher, Rousseff had a comfortable, middle-class upbringing. In her late teens, after the military seized power in 1964, she became involved in the political scene at university and joined the left-wing urban guerrilla movement. In 1970, she was arrested in São Paulo carrying a gun and false documents and was sent to a notorious secret police jail where she was tortured and sentenced to three years in prison.

Since Rousseff went on the campaign trail in April this year, she has allowed her image to soften. A facelift, contact lenses and make-up have made her resemble something closer to the "mother to the poor" character that Lula created for her. Yet it is not her guerrilla past that has resonated with the average Brazilian voter, but her economic policies.

Speaking to voters in Rocinha, a favela on the steep slopes above Rio, I find public opinion almost unanimous. "Dilma will get my vote," says Patricia Corria Capistrano, 28, who works at a local hair salon, "because she will continue Lula's policies."

Antonio Favlão agrees. He has run a bar in Rocinha since the early 1980s and says it is only in recent years that the government's influence has started to reach the favela. "If Lula is able to continue his work through Dilma, I think things will eventually improve."

But Rousseff's credentials are so wrapped up with Lula's that she will have to tread carefully as she emerges from under his wing to govern for herself. Lula has been coy about whether he will seek a third term in 2014 but, for the next four years, he must retreat. The only thing that will taint his legacy is if he allows his popularity to undermine Brazil's strong, though relatively young, democratic heritage.

This article first appeared in the 18 October 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Who owns Britain?

Biteback and James Wharton
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“It was the most traumatic chapter of my life”: Ex-soldier James Wharton on his chemsex addiction

One of the British Army’s first openly gay soldiers reveals how he became trapped in a weekend world of drug and sex parties.

“Five days disappeared.” James Wharton, a 30-year-old former soldier, recalls returning to his flat in south London at 11pm on a Sunday night in early March. He hadn’t eaten or slept since Wednesday. In the five intervening days, he had visited numerous different apartments, checked in and out of a hotel room, partied with dozens of people, had sex, and smoked crystal meth “religiously”.

One man he met during this five-day blur had been doing the same for double the time. “He won’t have been exaggerating,” Wharton tells me now. “He looked like he’d been up for ten days.”

On Monday, Wharton went straight to his GP. He had suffered a “massive relapse” while recovering from his addiction to chemsex: group sex parties enhanced by drugs.

“Crystal meth lets you really dig in, to use an Army term”

I meet Wharton on a very different Monday morning six months after that lost long weekend. Sipping a flat white in a sleek café workspace in Holborn, he’s a stroll away from his office in the city, where he works as a PR. He left the Army in 2013 after ten years, having left school and home at 16.


Wharton left school at 16 to join the Army. Photo: Biteback

With his stubble, white t-shirt and tortoise shell glasses, he now looks like any other young media professional. But he’s surfacing from two years in the chemsex world, where he disappeared to every weekend – sometimes for 72 hours straight.

Back then, this time on a Monday would have been “like a double-decker bus smashing through” his life – and that’s if he made it into work at all. Sometimes he’d still be partying into the early hours of a Tuesday morning. The drugs allow your body to go without sleep. “Crystal meth lets you really dig in, to use an Army expression,” Wharton says, wryly.


Wharton now works as a PR in London. Photo: James Wharton

Mainly experienced by gay and bisexual men, chemsex commonly involves snorting the stimulant mephodrone, taking “shots” (the euphoric drug GBL mixed with a soft drink), and smoking the amphetamine crystal meth.

These drugs make you “HnH” (high and horny) – a shorthand on dating apps that facilitate the scene. Ironically, they also inhibit erections, so Viagra is added to the mix. No one, sighs Wharton, orgasms. He describes it as a soulless and mechanical process. “Can you imagine having sex with somebody and then catching them texting at the same time?”

“This is the real consequence of Section 28”

Approximately 3,000 men who go to Soho’s 56 Dean Street sexual health clinic each month are using “chems”, though it’s hard to quantify how many people regularly have chemsex in the UK. Chemsex environments can be fun and controlled; they can also be unsafe and highly addictive.

Participants congregate in each other’s flats, chat, chill out, have sex and top up their drugs. GBL can only be taken in tiny doses without being fatal, so revellers set timers on their phones to space out the shots.

GBL is known as “the date rape drug”; it looks like water, and a small amount can wipe your memory. Like some of his peers, Wharton was raped while passed out from the drug. He had been asleep for six or so hours, and woke up to someone having sex with him. “That was the worst point, without a doubt – rock bottom,” he tells me. “[But] it didn’t stop me from returning to those activities again.”

There is a chemsex-related death every 12 days in London from usually accidental GBL overdoses; a problem that Wharton compares to the AIDS epidemic in a book he’s written about his experiences, Something for the Weekend.


Wharton has written a book about his experiences. Photo: Biteback

Wharton’s first encounter with the drug, at a gathering he was taken to by a date a couple of years ago, had him hooked.

“I loved it and I wanted more immediately,” he recalls. From then on, he would take it every weekend, and found doctors, teachers, lawyers, parliamentary researchers, journalists and city workers all doing the same thing. He describes regular participants as the “London gay elite”.

“Chemsex was the most traumatic chapter of my life” 

Topics of conversation “bounce from things like Lady Gaga’s current single to Donald Trump”, Wharton boggles. “You’d see people talking about the general election, to why is Britney Spears the worst diva of them all?”

Eventually, he found himself addicted to the whole chemsex culture. “It’s not one single person, it’s not one single drug, it’s just all of it,” he says.



Wharton was in the Household Cavalry alongside Prince Harry. Photos: Biteback and James Wharton

Wharton feels the stigma attached to chemsex is stopping people practising it safely, or being able to stop. He’s found a support network through gay community-led advice services, drop-ins and workshops. Not everyone has that access, or feels confident coming forward.

“This is the real consequence of Section 28,” says Wharton, who left school in 2003, the year this legislation against “promoting” homosexuality was repealed. “Who teaches gay men how to have sex? Because the birds and the bees chat your mum gives you is wholly irrelevant.”


Wharton was the first openly gay soldier to appear in the military in-house magazine. Photo courtesy of Biteback

Wharton only learned that condoms are needed in gay sex when he first went to a gay bar at 18. He was brought up in Wrexham, north Wales, by working-class parents, and described himself as a “somewhat geeky gay” prior to his chemsex days.

After four years together, he and his long-term partner had a civil partnership in 2010; they lived in a little cottage in Windsor with two dogs. Their break-up in 2014 launched him into London life as a single man.

As an openly gay soldier, Wharton was also an Army poster boy; he appeared in his uniform on the cover of gay magazine Attitude. He served in the Household Cavalry with Prince Harry, who once defended him from homophobic abuse, and spent seven months in Iraq.


In 2012, Wharton appeared with his then civil partner in Attitude magazine. Photo courtesy of Biteback

A large Union Jack shield tattoo covering his left bicep pokes out from his t-shirt – a physical reminder of his time at war on his now much leaner frame. He had it done the day he returned from Iraq.

Yet even including war, Wharton calls chemsex “the most traumatic chapter” of his life. “Iraq was absolutely Ronseal, it did exactly what it said on the tin,” he says. “It was going to be a bit shit, and then I was coming home. But with chemsex, you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

“When I did my divorce, I had support around me. When I did the Army, I had a lot of support. Chemsex was like a million miles an hour for 47 hours, then on the 48th hour it was me on my own, in the back of an Uber, thinking where did it all go wrong? And that’s traumatic.”

Something for the Weekend: Life in the Chemsex Underworld by James Wharton is published by Biteback.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 18 October 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Who owns Britain?