[Translation of an article from Página/12 of Buenos Aires, Argentina, for January 14. See original here.]
By Eric Nepomuceno
In Río de Janeiro
It rains, and it rains hard. In several parts of Minas Gerais, in different regions of the Brazilian southeast and in the mountains neighboring Río, it is only with the help of the gods that one gets through the daily threat of being eliminated because nothing is to be expected from the government.
Exactly one year ago, the summer storms washed away two cities in the neighboring mountainous region – Teresópolis and Nova Friburgo – and caused heavy damage in a third, the most beautiful and important, Petrópolis. The tally of destruction was 918 dead and 215 missing, who surely are dead as well. It was the greatest disaster provoked by climate change ever recorded in Brazil.
On that occasion municipal, state and federal authorities did precisely what they are doing now: they appeared in public with remorseful looks, spouting words of encouragement and announcing the holy miracle of reconstruction. Nobody apologized for the neglect. With great pomp, they promised measures that were never taken despite all the announcements made beforehand.
Dilma Rousseff had assumed the presidency less than two weeks earlier. Visibly affected, she promised to release resources and to create work groups, bringing together several ministries to act together with mayors and the governor. She asked for emergency solutions to lessen the suffering of the thousands of people who had lost their homes and, with them, everything they owned in this world of neglect.
That is exactly what she is repeating now.
A year later, with the same obstinacy, the rains have returned. In the beautiful and solemn mountains neighboring Río, what really threatens the lives of the people, more than the predictable dangers of nature, is the ineptitude, the irresponsibility and the cynicism of those in charge: mayors, national ministers, the always smiling and talkative governor, Sergio Cabral. And the game of finding a culprit begins again. It is precisely the culprits who play the game, who try to shove the blame onto one another. They insist on the lie that nature is unpredictable. But nature does not create the favelas, which grow every day, nature does not steal resources, does not lie.
There is an explanation for everything, while nothing is explained. For example: in the storms last year, 75 bridges were destroyed in the mountainous region of Río. Only one was rebuilt. How to explain this absurdity? To the beat of the drums and the blare of the trumpets, thousands of houses for the poor have been promised. None has been built. Who can explain this deception? While the proclaimed people’s houses have not gotten off the drawing board, to date more than 7,000 families receive from the state government the so-called “alquiler social” [housing subsidy], about 270 dollars. What can be gotten with that amount are shacks in the favelas, which are spreading at an astounding rate. In other words, the state government uses federal money to encourage the growth of the existing favelas and to promote the establishment of new ones. All of them on risky terrain. All of them excellent candidates for the next tragedy.
Beyond this kind of public stupidity, beyond the offense of administrative ineptitude, there is another aspect: corruption. Because of the ineptitude of an imbecile and criminal bureaucracy, most of the resources promised by Dilma were never released. And because of indecent impunity, of what was released, most never got to its destination. It has been proven that at least 100 million reais (some 40 million [Argentine] pesos [or 59 million dollars]) vanished in thin air. There are mayors whose mandates were terminated by the courts but none of them returned the money and none of them is in jail.
The rains have come back, with their threatening waters. Since October, at least three million people have been affected in Minas Gerais, São Paulo and Río. The dead are still being counted by the dozens. If the fury of the skies increases, very soon they will be counted by the hundreds. Once attacked, nature returns the offense and gets decisive backing from the criminal irresponsibility of the governor of Río, of Dilma’s ministers, of the filibustering mayors who make use of the money sent them by the federal government to rebuild their dreams and rescue their lives.
The rain will not wash away that shame.