Go Back

Brazzil - Corruption - September 2004

Death to Brazil's Varig!

In Brazil, only a foolish traveler flies Varig; or those fuming
patriots, who insist in honoring "our stuff", no matter how bad
it is. Despite its extortive fares, for years Varig has not managed
to be out of the red. Last year, the company's loss was US$ 612
million , following negative results of US$ 956 million in 2002.

Janer Cristaldo


Picture It does not please me to speak of numbers when I write. Today, the circumstances demand it. Some years ago, I came across a gaúcha (a woman from the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul) friend that I hadn't seen for so long, and I invited her for a beer at the Brahma.

This was in an era when the Brahma had two bandoneóns (an accordion like instrument), that kept playing even after musicians were asleep. She was just back from a trip to Portugal and a little anxious to chitchat. We had barely begun discussing the night's topic, and I made the observation:

—I hope you didn't fly Varig.

She jumped up on her clogs. "I didn't come here to be offended. Either change subject or I'm leaving right now."

That is, she had flown Varig. What surprised me was the intensity in her reaction. Patiently, I explained that my intentions were not to hurt her. That if she wished to leave, to do so.

But that would not stop me from saying to her that only a foolish traveler flies Varig; or those fuming patriots, who insist in honoring "our stuff", no matter how bad it is; or yet those ferocious monoglots, prisoners of language, fearful of facing even a Spanish speaking flight attendant.

She had paid close to 2,000 dollars for round-trip. Well, around the same time, at least a dozen airlines were covering the same route for some 800, 700, or even 600 dollars. With the difference between 600 and 2,000 dollars, you can have great parties in Lisbon.

In any case, what remained was the enigma in her violent reaction. It just so happens that the young lady not only was doing analysis, but also the analyst she was seeing was a great crook, one who coaches smaller crooks for the trade.

That breed reacts in a curious way when pushed against the wall: "either change subject or I'll get up and leave." Many times I found myself in such situations and, invariably, the young lady was doing analysis.

Deep inside, nostalgia of a dictatorship. Since no longer the censorship from the State existed, the young lady placed her personal censorship on the table.

But I was talking about Varig.

For over three decades I have traveled abroad, practically every year, and always have I avoided the infamous little airline. My first trips were by sea, actually. But when I was pressed for time and had to fly, my first flight was on LAP, Paraguayan Airlines.

I can't recall either the fare or the flight attendant at the time—I suppose in cruzeiros (the old Brazilian currency)—but the cost was a third of that of Varig.

There was a but. LAP couldn't pick up passengers in Brazil and take them directly to Europe. It had to return to Assunción and leave for Europe from there. Brazilians may be dumb, but a good portion of them are not.

This portion was enough to fill up any LAP flight. The airline had to take off from Paraguayan territory, but nothing obligated the plane to land in Paraguayan territory.

Well, landings and takeoffs are operations that use up more than a few dollars. Since there wasn't an empty seat, the plane would simply fly over Assunción and head on Northbound. Many times, without wanting, I flew over the Paraguayan capital, not ever setting foot on the ground.

Such absurdities persist to this day. If you want to come from Recife to São Paulo, for example, it turns out cheaper to purchase a ticket Recife-Buenos Aires, on Aerolineas Argentinas, and in a nonchalant way step off the plane while in Guarulhos (São Paulo's main international airport).

In my trips, often have the Argentines saved me precious funds, and even the Uruguayan Pluna. Flying Varig was throwing out cash.

Last year, I invited a niece who works in London to visit me in Rome. She didn't give a minute. She found an air fare London-Rome-London for 50 pounds and didn't resist. Well, 50 pounds are 250 reais.

The distance between Rome and London is 1876 km and more than a two-hour flight. From Rio to São Paulo there are 429 kilometers and a 40-minute flight. How much do you pay for a round-trip ticket on Varig? Bottom price: 486 reais. Top: 920.

In summary: for a one-fourth the distance London-Rome, you pay, in round figures, two to four times as much. My niece, who even worked as a waitress to finance her English studies, soon found another irresistible travel opportunity: London-Barcelona-London for 17 pounds.

The distance between the two cities is 1541 km, and 17 pounds means 85 reais. Of course these aren't average air fare prices in England, much less in Europe. It doesn't matter.

What matters is that a waitress, for example, always has a chance of spending a weekend in Rome or Barcelona. Add that to the purchasing power of a British citizen and the average salary of a Brazilian. The only conclusion a sane individual comes to is: let Varig die.

Parasitic Varig

In 2000, I planned for a Scandinavian trip. Varig's fares were near 2,000 dollars. I went to work and found a Swissair ticket, São Paulo-Zurich-Oslo-Stockholm-São Paulo, for 669 dollars. The patriotic ones please forgive, but to fly Varig is an affidavit of ignorance.

Thanks to its parasitic relations in Brasília, Varig has always kept Brazilians away from Europe; or from abroad, for that matter. Having a monopoly over flights within national territory, whenever possible, Varig stopped other airlines from offering fares at better rates to travelers.

Recently, the airline Gol offered flights at 50 reais to 27 Brazilian cities, creating a competitive field even with buses. Upon request, the Civil Aviation Department (DAC) immediately came to the rescue of Varig and erased the chance of Brazilians to fly as Europeans do, that is, cheaply.

Despite its extortive fares, for years Varig has not managed to be out of the red. Last year, the company's loss was US$ 612 million (1,836 billion reais), following negative results of US$ 956 million (2,867 billion reais) accumulated in 2002.

Recently, The New York Times highlighted the current financial crisis of the Brazilian airline. According to the newspaper, the Lula administration is considering a set of measures to keep Varig from going bankrupt, a maneuver similar to PROER—the restructuring program for private banks that in the past had been cursed by the Workers' Party.

After unfruitful attempts to co-opt TAM (another major Brazilian airline) to dig Varig out of bankruptcy, the government wants to get the Finance Ministry and BNDES (Bank for National Development) involved in rescuing the airline.

In other words: you, tax payer, will be called upon to save an elitist and incompetent company that considers flying a privilege of the rich; and whose philosophy is to deny flying at humane prices. All this under the pretext of helping the Brazilian commercial aviation sector.

It's old history. The government takes over an insolvent company, cleans out the books, and returns it to the market, all pretty and cute, for the joyful use of the king's friends. You pay for it.

Let incompetent companies die. This government, run by the Workers' Party, has taken up a capitalist profile, obedient of the IMF's stipulations. But every now and then, it has a socialist relapse and insists in subsidizing incompetence with the people's money.

One could worry about the employees losing their jobs. Nonsense. Whichever airline fills the corrupt space occupied by Varig will need land and air personnel, duly trained and fluent in Portuguese.

The right to travel is something that is not—but should be—in the Human Rights Declaration. Death to Varig. So that all Brazilian have the same chance to fly as a waitress in Europe.

Janer Cristaldo—he holds a PhD from University of Paris, Sorbonne—is an author, translator, lawyer, philosopher and journalist and lives in São Paulo. His e-mail address is cristal@baguete.com.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by Eduardo Assumpção de Queiroz. He is a freelance translator, with a degree in Business and almost 20 years of experience working in the fields of economics, communications, social and political sciences, and sports. He lives in Boca Raton, FL. His email: eaqus@adelphia.net.

Discuss it in our Forum

Send your comments to Brazzil

Anything to say about Brazil or Brazilians? Brazzil
wishes to publish your material. See what to do.