Brazil’s Many Blackouts Result from a Blackout of Ethics

A Brazilian protest against the blackout in 2000

When reading the newspapers, watching the TV news, speaking with persons in
the street, we can perceive that the Brazilian people are very worried. They
feel that the road we are traveling is far from a tranquil one. They are
unaccepting of the public power’s sluggishness, confusion, and apparent
disorganization in solving a large accumulation of problems.

It is a Brazilian convention to call the collapse of services a “blackout.” The blackout most often cited nowadays is the aerial one, which, in truth, is more than an aerial or airport blackout. The Aeronautics of a country that has one of the largest air spaces in the world has been abandoned, left aside.


But the blackout does not affect only the Aeronautics. The Brazilian Air Force no longer receives the investments necessary for a country the size of ours. There is a blackout in air defense; there is a blackout in national defense.


But that is only one of the blackouts affecting the life of a Brazilian. There is at least one more that touches us daily, one that is far from being solved: the blackout of security. What is worst is that, absorbed by the immediate occurrences – the assaults, gunshots, kidnappings, generalized violence – we are forgetting the future risks. We are ignoring the blackouts that await us ahead.


The unemployment, for example, is not seen as a future blackout. We have millions of Brazilians with no prospects, millions of young people who have never held a job. But no one is asking where a country is going with a population living without the security of a future job.


Our Social Services are also undergoing a blackout. Millions of Brazilians have stopped paying into Social Services because they are in the informal economy. The crisis, therefore, is even greater. And no one can guarantee tranquility to today’s employees who risk a social services blackout in a few years.


We are facing a very grave blackout of Science and Technology. Compared with our potential, our production in that area is ridiculous. And the little that we now have is due to the efforts of the public universities and the research centers, which were created many years ago.


The evolution of science has not been accompanied by investments in the sector. We are falling behind in the production of knowledge, which is the basis of the economy of the future. And, although we know that the blackout of Science and Technology will soon be transformed into an economic blackout, no one is doing anything to confront it.


The existence of so many blackouts results from a blackout of ethics. Part of this blackout, which is evident enough, is reflected in the corruption and in the favor exchanging that have taken root in the public power and are widely criticized. But there is an invisible part, which is the corruption in priorities, in the definition of the public actions that make the gears of society function.


The blackout of ethics impedes us from suffering over the misery that surrounds us; and it makes us tolerant of the corruption and the shame of the illiteracy, of the exploitation of street children, of the attraction of young people to crime.


These blackouts could be confronted more easily if the Brazilian people knew to whom to turn. But everyone is asking himself or herself who, in a future election, would bring hope to Brazil. This is carrying us to the worst of the blackouts: the blackout of democracy, resulting, in great part, in the weakening of the Legislative Power.


The Congress has not succeeded in setting an agenda to confront the blackouts. In the years since the return of civilian rule in 1985, we have made immense leaps in the field of democratization. But although – from the point of view of the functioning of the institutions – we have full democracy, we are still a country with a privileged minority and an enormous mass of excluded poor people. And as long as the political agenda is in the hands of the wealthy segment of the population, the democracy will be incapable of constructing the Brazil that we want.


To avoid a confrontation with the enormous rage that is building, we need to listen to the complaints of the people. We have to react to the general indignation before it is transformed into revolt, which is impossible to administer.


We must, above all, firmly combat the blackout of democracy. It cannot lose its reason for existence, its sense, and its credibility. Because when democracy suffers a blackout, a deep crisis, it also runs the risk of its own blackout.


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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