Blackouts Are All Over Brazil, But No One Sees Them Unless They Touch the Rich

A bus line in São Paulo, Brazil

Every day, from morning to night, millions of Brazilians wait for public transit for their commute to work or their return home. They stand waiting, in the sun or in the rain, with no information about the arrival of the next bus. They do not know if they will be absent from their first class or miss their test; or if they will arrive late at their place of employment, have their salary docked, or lose their job.

They do not know if they will have time to make dinner, talk with their children, see the evening soap on TV. And they know that this experience will be repeated the following day and the next one and the one after that. Every day they live through the anguish of the irregularity of urban transit.


But this blackout* does not provoke any furor; it is not reported on the front page of the newspapers; it is missing from the television news; it does not become the subject of congressional investigations.


When the air traffic control system has a crisis that causes flight delays, however, Brazil rises up against the blackout. The passengers can wait in air-conditioned lounges, with nearby restaurants and shops, but the suffering caused by the delay, the economic losses, the spoiled vacation plans, the unforeseen surgeries all drive Brazil into a state of panic and make the Congress convene not one but two congressional investigations (CPIs).


Depending upon which segment of the population is suffering hellishly, this same difference occurs in other sectors. The air transportation blackout itself is treated as a matter restricted to the air traffic controllers.


What is forgotten is the greater blackout, resulting in the lack of an aeronautics system that is well equipped and capable of protecting all of Brazil’s air, territorial and maritime space. The Integrated Center of Aerial Defense and Air Traffic Control (Cindacta) blackout is evident, but it is one small part of the invisible aeronautic blackout.


The death of any celebrity or patient in a private hospital generates immediate denunciations, criticism and proposals, but the total failure of the health system that attends the needs of the poor population of Brazil has continued for centuries without causing any great disturbances. Like an invisible blackout.


When banks and industries go on strike, the risk of an economic blackout moves the political forces but the strikes of K-12 teachers do not. These teacher strikes last for weeks, months, causing the most lasting of blackouts – the intellectual blackout that is rendering inviable Brazil’s entrance into the knowledge-based economy and society that characterizes the 21st century. But this, too, is invisible.


All of Brazil exempts itself from responsibility. The rich have accommodated themselves because their children are in private schools; the poor – like the 19th century slaves in relation to freedom – because they think that education is a privilege of the children of the rich. All have become accustomed and have accommodated themselves.


The entrepreneurs because they continue addicted to the epoch when there were competitive advantages to controlling the natural resources (like, by the way, recovered ethanol) or to controlling the capital of the machines. They do not understand and they do not dare to enter into the knowledge-as-capital epoch. They are causing a blackout of competitiveness.


Brazil only sees those blackouts with an immediate effect that make life difficult for the wealthy part of society. At the same time, the invisible blackouts make life hellish for the poor and for the future of the nation. Gradually they are going to black out the country. As if the stars were disappearing from the sky little by little until the darkness suddenly surprised us.


Each of the blackouts – air traffic, urban transit; intercity busses; rail, maritime, and aerial transportation; electrical sector; sanitation; education (pre-school, K-12 and university); retirement; judicial; police; prison; ethical; intellectual; cultural; scientific; technological; housing; hospital; ecological; public security and national defense (Aeronautics, Army and Maritime) – is causing sectors of the country to disintegrate, and each is leaving its mark. Brazil is blacking out.


The two CPIs currently underway will help to determine the faults that led to the aerial traffic blackout, but they will do little to illuminate and correct all the invisible blackouts. It is necessary to wake Brazil up from its illusory, splendid cradle, in which it appears condemned to remain lying. Deceived by blackouts that it does not see. More than CPIs, Brazil needs a wake-up call.


* During the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, Brazil experienced a series of electrical blackouts. The word “apagão” (blackout) is now also used to refer to the Brazilian air traffic crisis [translator’s note].


Cristovam Buarque has a Ph.D. in economics. He is a PDT senator for the Federal District and was Governor of the Federal District (1995-98) and Minister of Education (2003-04). He is the current president of the Senate Education Commission. Last year he was a presidential candidate. You can visit his homepage – www.cristovam.com.br – and write to him at mensagem-cristovam@senado.gov.br


Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome – LinJerome@cs.com.

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