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Brazil Is a Prisoner of Now with No Consideration for Tomorrow

Landslide in Rio, BrazilMuch before the skies were preparing for the rain, the tragedies in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and other cities were already in preparation. The tragedies are the product of nature and the actions and omissions of human beings.

One century ago, we freed the slaves but did not undertake agrarian reform or consider that this would force migrations to the cities. Since the 1930s, we have initiated the leap to industrialization, also increasing migration. And we submitted our urban infrastructure projects to the will and voracity of a model of profligate, concentrating development.

As a consequence, the cities are now paying for the errors and omissions of the past. We attract migrations and use resources to benefit the automotive industry, and not to give the dwellers security. Instead of urbanizing the hillside slums, we shielded the roads through which the water would empty.

We constructed our cities upon the foundation of the jeitinhos, those Brazilian quick solutions, and through governments with no vision. In wealthy, responsible countries, roadways are constructed with respect for the waters, with heavy investments in their drainage and allowances made for the social rights of the majorities – which are respected with the necessary urban investments. Those countries consider the long term. We remain imprisoned by the immediate with no consideration for the future.

We solve the problem of each piece of asphalt with no thought that someday the entire territory will be covered with asphalt. We allow poverty to expel each Brazilian from the countryside without perceiving that someday the cities will be overpopulated.

We tolerate construction on vulnerable hillsides without considering that the heavy rains, with no place to run, will someday drag away and bury women and children. Brazil constructed its cities as if the rains would never fall with the concentrated intensity that occurs only rarely – but that does happen.

And so as not to change the model of development and immediatism orienting our decisions, we continue making jeitinhos as if, in the long run, the rains would never come with infernal but foreseeable force. We keep employing public policies that gave preference only to the solution of the problems of a small, privileged part of society.

Nature is patient. It has no tolerance for jeitinhos.

We cannot blame only the present administrations or the local governments, or even all the elected officials. The blame goes to our culture’s preference for the immediate and its fear of prevention.

Not only the heavens are to blame. The rain did not choose Rio de Janeiro. It was Brazil that chose the road of improvidence. We opted for the immediate, for concentration, for industrialization, for rapid urbanization with an incomplete infrastructure.

The tragedy stems from the “rain-omission.” The rains increase in volume; the elected officials choose investments with no consideration for the long term; this omission closes their eyes; the environmentalists go unheard; tragedy is the result.

That is a problem that no elected official will solve: whether or not Brazil will continue with its practice of suicidal jeitinho. The low salaries are compensated with low exigency, with early retirement, subsidized public transportation tickets, and subsidized lunch tickets.

The poverty is compensated with public assistance grants; the lack of housing, with a tolerance for the irregular occupation of the land; the lack of statesmen and -women to change the country’s future, with politicians talented in the art of convincing people that everything is going well.

Certainly, the governors and mayors must do their homework. No one, however, will successfully solve the problems of his or her city if Brazil continues to disdain the future by celebrating the increasing number of cars, paved roadways and viaducts constructed. This is done instead of implanting a new development model that celebrates housing, the regularized occupation of the land, the respect for ecology.

The rain and the omission, meanwhile, will continue to cause cyclical tragedies, glaring and visible beside the other, permanent ones that we refuse to see, those in healthcare, in poverty, in education, in migration undertaken due to the need to survive. These, yes, are the true causes.

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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