Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – It’s been a good week for outrage, in Brazil and abroad. A Brazilian higher court held that two defendants could not be convicted of the rape of two 12-year old girls who were prostitutes. Outrageous! On Maundy Thursday, the Pope issued a roundhouse condemnation of women as priests. Outrageous! Günter Grass decried nuclear Israel as the gravest threat to peace in the Middle East. Outrageous!
In the Curmudgeon’s view, what has deserved more outrage than those is President Dilma’s abject caving into the industrial complex of Brazil.
Dilma’s government has, during the past two weeks, invented a number of tax and financial incentives to encourage big business in Brazil to continue to gouge the Brazilian consumer with unconscionably high prices. The government has ruled that in international bids, government companies must order domestic goods, even if they’re quite a bit more expensive.
The government has ordered BNDES to open its coffers even more widely, so as to finance dubious projects such as the transposition of the São Francisco River, which has already cost twice the original budget but is less than ten percent complete. It has reduced excise tax for those industries which are manifestly non-competitive with producers from abroad, such as white goods and textiles.
The wealthy sugar mill owners continue to reap huge government incentives for planting sugar, while treating their employees as feudal serfs. Government-financed construction projects for hydro-electric dams continue apace, and strikes by the workers there are treated by the government as if they were breaches of national security.
It’s almost enough to turn the Curmudgeon into an eco-geek. Every single one of these measures that benefit the local oligarchy has refused to consider that it is these very industrial projects and programs which most contribute to pollution.
Textiles, white goods and other favored industries are anything but eco-friendly. Not a penny goes to wind or solar power projects, only to gasoline and ethanol. The new law on forestry will permit ever increasing encroachments on the savannahs and the forests by agribusiness, and will amnesty those who violated the tougher terms of the former legislation.
Where’s Dilma now? As this is written, she’s off on a jaunt to the U.S. to preside over the signing of some pompously named educational program for future scientists, which will enable a few more lucky Brazilian students to study at Harvard and MIT.
She has agreed to stop by and say hello to Pres. Obama; while it’s a “formal” visit, it’s not a “state” visit. Needless to say, she’s accompanied by the usual suspects, i.e. a coterie of important Brazilian businessmen, all looking to do deals in the United States.
Word is, Dilma’s going to ask Obama to attend this conference Lula dreamed up, called “Rio +20”, which will, supposedly, treat of “sustainable” development, but will accomplish exactly nothing. Obama won’t attend, of course, because “it’s an election year.” That’s the same reason that was given for not making this a “state” visit; at least the diplomats are consistent.
A better reason for Obama not to attend is because he knows that Brazil, under President Dilma, has given up entirely on “sustainable” development. The government only wants jobs, lots of jobs, lots of public spending going to Brazilian industry, no matter how much it pollutes or deforests or exploits its workers.
And that’s an outrage.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus 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!)