By Brennan Stark, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The terrible tragedy of Região Serrana in early January this year has, unfortunately, been further tainted with allegations of corruption and the diverting of disaster relief funds into private pockets. Former councilman Odenir Cardoso Moreira, better known as “Quincas,” is currently being investigated by the Polícia Militar (Military Police) for the misappropriation of relief funds intended for the city of Teresópolis after the worst natural disaster in modern Brazilian history.
In early January 2011, Teresópolis was decreed to be in an official state of emergency immediately following the landslides, and the city paid approximately R$1.7 million to Quincas’ own pharmacy, the People’s Pharmacy Vidigueira, for medicinal aid to help combat the potential outbreak of infectious diseases such as leptospirosis, a potentially fatal disease spread through water contaminated with rat urine.
At the same time, however, authorities of the Comptroller General of the Union (CGU), concerned with earlier allegations that previous payments to Quincas’ pharmaceutical company had been misappropriated, began secretly tracking the funds, and soon found that much of it went missing.
According to Brazilian news source O Globo, CGU technicians also visited several pharmacies linked to Quincas within Teresópolis to investigate certain contracts made with RW Construção e Consultoria Ltda., a company currently being accused of diverting public funds in order to pay bribes and further avoid punishment for prior misappropriations.
Quincas’ link with RW Construção was made evident only by the admonition of one drugstore clerk, who asked to remain anonymous in the O Globo report. The pharmacist of 23 years has denied any involvement in the fraud, stating: “I have no involvement in the creation of the RW Construção. And I’m available to the court to provide all necessary explanations.”
In recent years, Quincas has been no stranger to allegations of corruption and diverting funds at the public’s expense. He was a councilman of Teresópolis four times before he was initially arrested in August 2008, along with twelve others, while attempting to flee to Uruguay.
Quincas was formally accused of participating in a corrupt scheme combining fraud with public bidding for the supplying of medicine and medicinal products to clinics throughout Teresópolis, according to the District Attorney’s office in City Hall.
Immediately following the tragedy, many donations of food, clothing, and money were made, and HemoRio accepted numerous blood donations from people between the ages of 18-65 who were in good standing health. Christ Church and the British and Commonwealth Society (BCS) opened their offices to facilitate donations, as well as eleven stations of Metrô Rio establishing collection centers.
Roughly two months after the disaster, basic utilities such as water and electricity were functioning once again. Nearly forty highways were damaged or destroyed in the region, and will be under repair for some time. Route BR-495, which stretches between Teresópolis and Petrópolis, reopened for traffic, although drivers were cautioned to be wary of damaged areas and loose gravel.
Although plans for new housing for the victims are in effect, there have been many delays in recent months. A spokesperson in Brasília spoke of the difficulty the government is facing in acquiring land fit for reconstruction. Many thousands are still suffering under displacement and uncertainty, despite President Rousseff’s proposal to build six thousand new homes under PAC project Minha Casa, Minha Vida (My House, My Life).