For governments, God is the only crisis manager

BY Erick Vasconcelos

Monday, February 02, 2015

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After years of subsidising power consumption, something that curiously benefits capital-intensive manufacturing, Brazil's government has decided to raise electrical bills by 30 per cent in 2015. Indeed, 30 per cent is Mines and Energy Minister Eduardo Braga's most optimistic projection. Hikes will more likely average 40 per cent. Braga, however, as has become standard procedure for the Dilma Administration, prefers to navigate through meaningless promises until reality catches up and the government narrative crumbles permanently.


The increases are already in the bills, signalled by so-called "flags" indicating extra costs for power generation in each region in Brazil. Large chunks of Brazilian territory are now "red flag" areas, which informs us that the power supply is being supplemented by thermal plants, whose higher costs require us to cough up more money.


Besides the price increases, Brazil now lives with frequent nationwide blackouts. It is as if we have gone back in time to 2001; when, for an hour every day, for several months, power supply was cut. In 2005, then President Lula stated -- in another of his megalomaniac speeches ridden with sentences claiming "never before in this country" -- that Brazil would never suffer another blackout. His foresight did not extend even to the end of his own administration. In 2009, almost the whole country shut down and Lula stated that new power outages depended only on "God's will". Since then, God has apparently ordered several blackouts each year.


In 2015, the party in power, the Workers' Party (PT), still thinks the divine will provide for everything, making it rain so that hydroelectric plants can generate power for the people. This is not surprising for a government whose minister of science, technology and innovation believes that global warming is a tool used by imperialism to control the poor countries. For the current Government, any intervention by man in nature seems mysterious and unpredictable in its consequences.


Brazil's power crisis is compounded by a water supply crisis. The drought in Sao Paulo has already led to government rationing water. What is curious, though, is that 70 per cent of the water from the ever-drying reservoirs goes directly to heavily subsidised agriculture. And 22 per cent of it goes straight to Sao Paulo's heavily subsidised manufacturing sector. The remaining eight per cent goes to private homes, which are always the ones compelled to cut consumption.


Agriculture subsidies also have indirect effects on the water supply. Cultivation of cerrado (tropical savanna) lands that require intensive use of water, and the appropriation of Amazonian lands, limiting tree transpiration, also influence the Sao Paulo drought. Evidently, PT, which solidified its alliance with the agribusiness by appointing ruralist Katia Abreu to the Ministry of Agriculture, means to do nothing about it.


What impresses most in government pronouncements is their view of nature as indomitable and wholly unpredictable. Any measure involving future projections is absolutely absurd and unfeasible for the government, which works in cycles of four years (up to the next election). If hydroelectric plants run out of water, we can only pray for rain to restore the dams to their usual levels. If potable water runs out, only nature can replenish the reservoirs. Like tribesmen for whom any human interference in climate is anathema, every solution proposed by the government is an appeal to fortune and divine grace.


Brazilian politicians should be wary, however. Divine grace periodically answers the call for rain. And with the gift of rain, periodically Brazilian cities are flooded, hundreds die, and thousands are displaced. Even though that happens anually, without fail, the government floods are absolutely unpredictable, too. Well, what can we do? Let's pray for rain. But not a lot.




Erick Vasconcelos is a Portuguese language editor, translator, and journalist at the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org). See http://c4ss.org/content/35455


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