The dengue fever epidemic currently affecting several Brazilian cities,
especially Rio de Janeiro, is frightening all of Brazil. While the authorities
are exchanging accusations and arguing over whom to blame, few people remember
those who predicted this epidemic.
Many were the doctors, epidemiologists and politicians who issued warnings, called for action, and denounced the fact that Brazil, and especially Rio, was headed for the epidemic that we are witnessing today.
The risk of epidemics foretold is not limited to the health sector alone. For decades ecologists have warned – just as many warned of the coming dengue fever epidemic – that the deforestation of the Amazon is a plague that is destroying the environment. But these warnings were and continue to be ignored.
Some groups – and not only the right-wing conservatives – even resisted, stating that, because progress is measured by the number of trees cut down and transformed into lumber, protecting Nature is therefore backward. Twenty years ago a Brazilian Marxist was saying that concern for the environment was an imperialist invention to impede Third World development.
We Brazilians are the Aedes aegypti of the Amazon.
In São Paulo, it is well known that one day the excess of automobiles will cause city’s transport to halt completely, but every day more and more of them are produced, purchased and driven. This continues despite the common knowledge that the car epidemic is going to paralyze the city’s organism, just as dengue paralyzes the sick person’s.
The corruption, the provisionary measures, the congressional emptiness are the mosquito that is contaminating the democracy.
Brazilian politics has dengue, with the forecast that shortly it will be hemorrhagic, but we are doing nothing to interrupt the march of the epidemic that leads to outright authoritarianism. Much greater than the present authoritarianism of the excessive provisionary measures unjustified by urgency. But the warnings are falling into the void, just as warnings of the risk of dengue did some time ago.
For years an epidemic of unemployment has been foretold, one caused not by lack of openings but by lack of preparation.
This is an epidemic that could possibly reduce the rhythm of growth in several sectors. Every day job openings go unfilled in the industrial, agricultural, construction, and service sectors while millions of unemployed persons want to work but lack the necessary qualifications.
In the past fifty years several politicians, like Leonel Brizola, issued warnings and tried to convince Brazil to give importance to education. According to every indication, this epidemic will also worsen because education is not advancing as it should, while the demand for qualified workers is growing faster than their preparation, which, when it is offered, is insufficient, incomplete and out of proportion to the complexity of current demands.
We all know that many other epidemics are about to break out in Brazil, but we will wait to express our indignation and, feigning surprise, blame others: the cabinet minister will blame the mayor; the mayor will blame the governor.
The worst of all epidemics is the lack of consciousness that we need a common project for the nation.
The epidemic of concern only for the immediate and of corporativism provokes omission and legitimizes future forgetfulness.
It impedes investing today to avoid what will occur only tomorrow. This is why none of us is taking responsibility for the rest of Brazil. We leave water in puddles and children out of school (as long as they are not our children).
As if the earthquakes of epidemics were going to leave only our house standing and as if the houses of other people were not important. Thus, the neglectful citizen and the opportunistic administrations are looking merely at today’s votes and not at tomorrow’s illnesses. They oppose demanding the present sacrifices needed to construct the future.
The concentration upon the immediate and upon corporativism impedes us from identifying the epidemic of the absence of knowledge-capital. This epidemic does not cause fever and aches in each infected person, the way dengue does, but it poses an even greater threat to the future of Brazil’s economy and to its families.
Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his new website – www.cristovam.org.br – and write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome – LinJerome@cs.com.