Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Cariocas awoke last Friday to discover that, in the wake of the Santa Maria night club tragedy, some 49 cultural locations in Rio were summarily ordered closed by the municipal and state authorities, because they did not have proper safety permits.

The Curmudgeon, also known as Michael Royster.
The Curmudgeon, also known as Michael Royster.

Among these were thirteen theaters, many quite well known — Carlos Gomes, Sérgio Porto, Baden Powell, Gláucio Gill — which had programming scheduled for February. Does it surprise you to learn that all these are owned and operated by the governments of either the City or State of Rio de Janeiro?

That’s right! The government-owned theaters did not have proper safety and security permits — most of them because they had not been inspected by the Fire Brigade. That’s right! The governmental Fire Brigade did not inspect the theaters owned and operated by the government!

It gets worse. The City has eight museums (among them the Memorial to Getúlio Vargas and the Castelinho do Flamengo) which were closed for the same reason. The State, not to be outdone, also has eight, among which are the renowned Casa França-Brasil, the Museu da Imagem e de Som and the Carmen Miranda Museum. Also closed were eight public libraries belonging to the City, and ten “lonas culturais”, canvas bigtops housing cultural events.

On Saturday February 2nd, some 209 privately-owned establishments open to the public (bars, nightclubs and restaurants) were inspected – 127 were closed, 52 were fined, twenty received warnings. Ten, or less than five percent, were given clean bills of health.

The Curmudgeon asks: “Why are we not surprised?”

The Fire Brigade, under pressure to explain why it had not been doing its job, says it’s increasing its goal of inspections (sometime this year) from 16,000 establishments per year to 40,000. The Commander of the Brigade actually said, in a hurt tone of voice, “It gives the impression we weren’t doing anything.” Oh, indeed it does.

What the Curmudgeon knows is that the Fire Brigade hasn’t been doing its job for a very long time. In this age of computers, how is it that the Fire Brigade doesn’t know when a commercial or cultural establishment, open to the public, has to have its safety and security system revisited? If they do know, do they simply “forget” to send inspectors out? Or, worse yet, are there inspections which turn a blind eye to the presence of violations such as the absence of fire extinguishers, emergency lights and exits?

The Romans used to ask “Cui bono”, meaning who has benefited from this “blind eye” approach? The reply is, theoretically, everyone.

The first theoretical beneficiary is the public, people yearning for culture, who can continue to frequent these tinder boxes. Second, theoretically, are the cultural establishments themselves, government – or privately- owned, who can continue their lucrative business. Third, theoretically, are the inspectors, accused of supplementing their measly salaries with kickbacks.

So, in theory, it’s been a win/win situation for all concerned!

But in theory, people don’t die. In practice, people do die.

Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 35 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)


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