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To Avoid Oil Curse Brazil Needs to Use It to Promote Kids and Human Intelligence

Brazilian Children In the last fifty years, Brazil has invested in the city of São José dos Campos in São Paulo State to finance the Technological Center of Aeronautics (CTA) and the Institute of Aeronautical Technology (ITA). A rapid visit to São José dos Campos shows us the enormous results of that investment.

The Human Development Index (HDI) of São José dos Campos is 0.849 – the 37th best index among the 5,564 Brazilian cities. Beyond its dozens of high-technology industries, the most visible result is EMBRAER, the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer. On the factory floor, planes with the logos of the large aviation businesses from all over the world convey the impression that Brazil is a great country.

This caused me to compare São José dos Campos with the cities benefiting from the oil royalties. Even after decades of receiving royalties, almost all these cities have HDIs between 745th and 4,178th in the national rankings. This is because part of this income is used for current expenditures, not for long-term investments; and also because of workforce migration, those coming in search of oil revenue.

Rio de Janeiro has every right to demand that it keep the oil royalties it receives since, were this not so, there would be a financial crisis in the state to which Brazil has owed a debt since the transfer of its capital city from Rio to Brasília.

Rio received no compensation when the capital of the Republic was moved. It is necessary, however, to think about what will happen when the oil is depleted. A serious risk exists that the children of today will not yet have reached retirement age when the oil is depleted, or when the price of oil falls due to the ecological crisis or due to the use of renewable sources of energy.

While defending its conjoined finances, Rio must debate the permanent relationship between the oil and Brazil’s public finances: not only how much each state or municipality will receive, but also how to best make use of the oil to construct a better country. What is fundamental is not only guaranteeing the royalties that come from the oil, but also deciding what steps should be taken to make the financial resources generated permanent.

And, in that case, the example of São José dos Campos is striking. The best solution is to promote the true, permanent source of energy: human intelligence. This is the same solution that is transforming the mud buried in the ocean subsoil into energy riches today, and that will one day extract energy from permanent, ecologically clean sources.

Thinking this, Senator Tasso Jereissati and I are presenting a project of law in the Senate that, without withdrawing the resources that Rio is presently receiving, will link the resources of the new reserves to the improvement of elementary and secondary education throughout Brazil – the greatest bottleneck to scientific and technological development.

In a more recent project, I am defending the idea that these resources be distributed in proportion to the number of children in school in each municipality and state.

Brazil would thus be transforming a source of nonrenewable energy into a source of permanent energy and also distributing the present-day resource to the future. Rio would be a triple beneficiary: after São Paulo, it is the state with the greatest number of children in school; this would reduce migration, which weighs upon its budget; and this would construct an enduring flow of resources, something oil does not offer.

Before we approve the law that will define the use of oil resources, let us compare the application of the royalties with the investments the nation made in São José dos Campos, in the CTA and in the ITA. Without taking away the rights acquired by Rio and the other states with their ancient reserves, let us combine the Pre-Salt with the Post-Oil.

Around the time that the ITA and the CTA began, Brazil was engaged in the “The Oil is Ours” campaign. Since then, we have burned up billions of barrels that will never return, that we are stealing from future generations.

Today we should say “The Oil is the Children’s” because it should be used to build the Brazil of the future, avoiding the known curse that oil has brought to so many countries that consumed their reserves and spent their resources financing expenses geared toward the present.

Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his website – www.cristovam.org.br – and write to him at cristovam@senado.gov.br. A new translation of his science-fiction novel The Subterranean Gods is available on Amazon.com.

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

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