Several years back, Francisco Elder Braga Fernandes was tending his bar in downtown São Paulo when he noticed something strange going on in the motorcycle parking lot next door. “All of sudden, the bikers were snapping pictures of me,” he recalls. When he asked what was up, they laughed and pointed to his flowing, salt-and-pepper beard. “They said I looked just like him, Osama bin Laden.” Fernandes had little use for politics or world affairs, but the self-made club owner who left the hardscrabble northeastern backcountry to make a new life in Brazil’s toughest city knew a thing or two about marketing. This was mid-September 2001. He didn’t think twice. He changed the name of his place from Barbas (Whiskers) to Bar do Bin Laden. “I am a man of goodwill. I can’t stand violence,” says Fernandes, 54. “But this was great for business. No one calls me Francisco anymore. It’s Osama or bin Laden.”
That might seem cynical, but then again, this is Brazil, the country that handed carnival over to professionals and holds nothing so sacred that it can’t be parlayed into a punch line. And Fernandes is no exception.
A brief Google search turned up nearly a dozen Brazilian establishments named after Al Qaeda’s former terrorist-in-chief, including bars, luncheonettes and one sit-down restaurant called Bin Laden and Family. There’s even a listing for an automobile parts dealer, Bin Laden Bombas, though the telephone apparently has been disconnected. Which may be a good thing, since in Portuguese bombas means “pumps” but also “bombs.”