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Friday, 10 May, 2002, 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK
Profile: Fortuyn's right-hand man
Joao Varela wipes away a tear for Mr Fortuyn
Joao Varela (left): Hand-picked by Pim Fortuyn
A young black immigrant may seem an unlikely choice as the new face of a party that wants to close the Netherlands' borders to foreigners.

Supporters of Pim Fortuyn march through Rotterdam
Immigrants should adopt Dutch values, say Varela and Fortuyn
But Jaoa Varela, a 27-year-old cosmetics executive from the Cape Verde islands, was hand-picked by the late Pim Fortuyn as his second-in-command.

At the time, Mr Fortuyn's critics denounced the choice.

Mr Varela had been picked as a "token black", they argued, to give a veneer of respectability to Mr Fortuyn's controversial stance on both immigration and immigrants.


We are not a racist party, otherwise I would not be here

Joao Varela
Mr Varela has never denied that he has been a useful "piece of marketing" for Mr Fortuyn.

But that does not alter the fact, he says, that he agrees with Mr Fortuyn that the Netherlands is a "full" country, and that immigrants should be obliged to accept Dutch culture and values.

"We are not a racist party, otherwise I would not be here," Mr Varela said in a recent interview.

"Fortuyn just defended the idea that people should create something for themselves, and for society," he said.

"I want to motivate the immigrants, push them, make them capable of fending for themselves."

Catholic sportsman

Mr Varela himself is a story of immigrant success and integration - a story which many say has coloured his vision of how others should behave.

Pim Fortuyn
Pim Fortuyn: Islam does not respect homosexuals or women
He came to Rotterdam, Mr Fortuyn's own hometown, at the age of six with his seven brothers and sisters, the children of a poor guest worker.

At the age of eight he had run away from home.

Initially he was taken in by an orphanage, then by Dutch foster parents, before making it to Erasmus University in Rotterdam to study economics.

In addition to his academic prowess, Mr Varela also proved himself as a sportsman. In 1987 he was the Dutch youth tennis champion, and was a respected athlete at university.

He is also, like Mr Fortuyn, a Catholic who highlights the gulf between the Christian and Muslim immigrants of Rotterdam, where half the population is of foreign extraction.

Political novice

He vigorously defends Mr Fortuyn's argument that Islam is a "backward" religion, which treats women as second-class citizens and persecutes homosexuals - a culture which has no place in the tolerant and liberal Netherlands.

But despite his devotion to Mr Fortuyn, and the clear respect which the late leader held him in, he remains a political novice.

The party has postponed the decision on who should take the reins until after the election on Wednesday.

Mr Varela was due to take charge of immigration issues should the party do well in the polls, as had been predicted.

But it clearly never occurred to him that he might end up in charge of a party which some believe could breathe fresh air into Dutch politics, and others declare is doomed without the leadership of its flamboyant former leader.

See also:

07 May 02 | Europe
Dutch press in shock
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