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Former Economy Minister’s Sexual Biography A Bestseller

October 28, 1991

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ The biography of former Economy Minister Zelia Cardoso de Mello has become a literary sensation. It says little about tax reform and inflation, but a lot about Cardoso’s sexual exploits in office.

Among its revelations:

A fellow minister having an affair with Cardoso passed her love notes during an important Cabinet meeting; the wrong man became Central Bank chief because a secretary misunderstood his name; the value of bank accounts frozen in an economic reform plan - $115 billion - was picked out of thin air.

Sales figures released over the weekend showed ″Zelia, A Passion″ has sold more than 130,000 copies since being released Oct. 17, soaring to the top of bestseller lists.

″It’s out of control. Stores are desperate for more copies,″ said Elia Edel, manager of Editora Record, the book’s publisher.

The book, by novelist Fernando Sabino, is based on lengthy interviews with the 38-year-old former minister as well as on her diary and personal notes from her best-known lover, former Justice Minister Bernardo Cabral.

Cardoso had promised in an interview the book would be a ″political testimony″ about her 14 months in office, which ended with her May resignation. Instead, it deals largely with her affair with Cabral, which badly damaged President Fernando Collor de Mello’s government.

Thought initially finding Cabral ″old, fat, and balding,″ Cardoso soon fell under his sway. She broke off with Eduardo Modiano, the handsome young president of the national development bank, to take up with the married 60- year-old minister.

The romance became public in September 1990 when the two danced cheek-to- cheek to the steamy bolero tune ″Besame Mucho″ at Cardoso’s packed birthday party in Brasilia. It led to Cabral’s resignation a month later.

Cardoso followed suit in May, the victim of two failed economic recovery plans and credibility problems partly tied to her relationship with Cabral.

The book depicts Cabral and Cardoso sometimes more concerned with courtship than with the huge problems facing the nation - including the country’s worst recession, rampant inflation and a series of government scandals.

At one important Cabinet meeting, the two passed steamy notes as Army Minister Carlos Tinoco sat between them. One note from Cabral said Cardoso’s short skirt was ″delicious.″

″Imagine if that message had ended up in the hands of General Tinoco,″ Cardoso says in the book.

The pair’s romance ended in May, shortly after Cardoso’s resignation.

Cabral left Cardoso in Paris after a six-day ″honeymoon,″ promising to return after dental work in Brazil. He reneged on that promise, along with his pledge to divorce his wife and marry his mistress.

The book ends with Cardoso lying alone in her Paris hotel room, realizing she had been fooled by ″a professor in the art of seduction.″

Critics have charged that Cabral’s obsessive attention to courtship may explain his occasional legal blunders in office.

Several times he assured Collor that proposed measures were legal, only to have courts promptly rule otherwise.

Cabral has said little about the book, although he is reported to have told a friend it should have been titled ″Zelia, A Revenge.″ But to the delight of an enthralled nation, he has promised to write his own book.

The book also has some surprising political revelations.

Cardoso says Ibrahim Eris was invited to join her economic team and became head of the Central Bank only because her secretary misunderstood her request to ring up economist Ibrahim Elias.

The book also reveals that Cardoso decided to freeze temporarily $115 billion of private and corporate savings accounts - the key plank of her first economic ″shock plan″ in March 1990 - by, in essence, drawing a figure out of a hat. Government officials had said the figure was based on detailed studies.

Cardoso has been harshly criticized by the press and political figures.

The prominent weekly newsmagazine Veja called the book nothing more than a cynical ploy to remain in the national spotlight: ″Her next move might be to strip nude for Playboy ... or run for public office.″

Since the book was published, Cardoso has withdrawn from public view and has given few interviews.

But in an interview with Veja, she defended herself, saying, ″being in love only helps. Impassioned, people become nicer, friendlier.″

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