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Resentment rises over comments in Oldsmar

The city's hosting of former Brazilian President Fernando Collor de Mello continues to generate political heat.

At a City Council meeting Tuesday, council member Marcelo Caruso raged against the Reform Party after a party official criticized trade missions with Brazil.

"I'm glad that I'm not a member of the Reform Party," Caruso said during the meeting. "They are a bunch of Nazis, aren't they?"

Caruso's statement then drew a rebuke from a colleague.

"I think it's very wrong for you to sit up here on the dais and to attack people, attack groups," council member David Tilki said. "You may have your personal feelings. We all do. I think we all, at times, have to bite our tongue and remember where we are sitting."

The discussion began when Mayor Jerry Beverland talked about how Collor's visit last month might help the local economy by increasing trade with Brazil. Beverland also said the city should host the current president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who will be in Florida later this summer.

"It's going to bring economy to Pinellas County, the west coast of Florida and the city of Oldsmar," Beverland said.

Tilki has been critical of the city for spending $2,313 in public funds on a lunch buffet and limousine tour for Collor. Tilki has said he was not comfortable with the city hosting Collor because the former president resigned from office after a corruption scandal led to his impeachment.

As to whether the city should host the current president, Tilki said he needs more information before he can make that decision.

"Hosting is a very broad term, not knowing the extent of what we are talking about, what type of reception we are talking about and what type of costs we may incur because of this," Tilki said. "At this point, I'd like to say, "Sure, bring him on.' But I'm not prepared until there is some more facts before us to say whether I'm willing to spend a penny."

But Tilki might not have to make that decision, Caruso said. That is because the current president has reconsidered visiting Oldsmar after reading articles on the Internet about criticism of Collor's visit.

"Matter of fact, I spoke with the secretary of the president and with the president himself very briefly for about five minutes and the words were, "I don't think they want us to go there,' " Caruso said.

That's when Janice Miller, chairwoman of the Reform Party of Pinellas County, joined the discussion. Miller, who lives in Oldsmar, told Beverland that he was making a mistake.

"This world economy is not going to benefit the American worker," Miller said. Trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade "have proven that."

"These people will come here and they will take the jobs away from Americans," she said. "They will end up going back, taking businesses back with them to South America, and the jobs will go with it."

Caruso, who was born in Brazil and has lived in the United States for about 12 years, said he took Miller's statements to be an attack on him and minorities.

"I just felt that she was trying to bring something very negative to what we were trying to do for the county and city," Caruso said Wednesday. "She was bringing something very negative to every minority in the county. She was saying that we are second-class citizens, and we want to take people's jobs away."

Caruso also said he is disappointed with Tilki "for taking her side."

Wednesday, Miller said elected officials should refrain from insulting residents who speak at a public meeting.

"He is supposed to be here to represent the people of this community, all the people of this community, and he is showing that he has no idea what representing means," Miller said. "Whatever I say, it is my right to say it as an American. If he doesn't agree with me, he should sit there and shut up."