Death to Brazil’s Varig!

     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.
    By Janer
    Cristaldo

    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.

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