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Global warming and political cooling

January 8, 2007

On the morning news, I watched a report about the heavy rains that have inundated southern Brazil this January, and that are predicted to continue throughout the month.  The rains have washed out bridges and homes in rural areas and have flooded whole blocks in cities such as São Paulo and here in Porto Alegre.  Last Friday, it rained almost all day, with intermittent pancadas (downpours) intensifying the physical and ecological impact. 

Senhora Santos responded that such consistent and heavy rains aren’t necessarily normal for summer in Rio Grande do Sul when I asked her if summer was a rainy season.  In fact, for the last two years Rio Grande do Sul has experienced damaging droughts that many parts of the state are still recovering from.  Neither was the oppressive heat that suffocated the city last week at 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) normal.  And neither is the warmth that has characterized Pennsylvania’s winter thus far this season. 

This morning I’m off to visit the Parque Germânia, a new 14+ acre park bordering the Petrópolis and Moinhos de Vento neighborhoods, two of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city.  One wonders why a new park was created in these two areas when two of the city’s largest parks are already nearby and when there are so many other needs to attend to in Porto Alegre, most notably housing.  Well, knowing what’s happening to the Fogaça administration, I guess one doesn’t wonder:  to date, the administration that took power just after I left in 2004 has been paralyzed by such a diverse coalition of political parties that almost nothing has been accomplished in the past 2 years according to everyone I’ve spoken to so far; a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a nice new park certainly affords an opportunity for the mayor to look like he’s doing something for the city.  As Sr. Ervino, the Participatory Budget counsillor I had lunch with last Friday, explained to me–and as the employees of ONG CIDADE had mentioned to me last Thursday–Fogaça had to promise concessions to a wide array of political parties in order to gain the support necessary to win the 2004 mayoral elections.  After he won, he was forced to parcel up the city’s various agencies among these parties; since each party has it’s own agenda, none of the agencies have worked in concert to address the city’s numerous problems, and most of the agencies have been uncooperative with the Participatory Budget process–so uncooperative, in fact, that Sr. Ervino has dropped out of the process out of frustration, lamenting that the PB is dead.

So much good had been accomplished under the PB:  pavement and drainage systems were installed in peripheral neighborhoods; new schools and health clinics were constructed; land was conceded to whole neighborhoods of squatters who had nowhere else to go.  It’s sad to find out that this system which had been recognized by the UN as one of the world’s best democratic practices proved to be only as strong as the party that started it 18 years ago.  I want to ask people why they’re giving up rather than enlisting more people to fight to save the PB, but Sr. Ervino offered the answer before I even had a chance to ask:  meeting twice per week for several hours each meeting to discuss projects that never get implemented is too much for citizens without much time or money, especially when one factors in the unreimbursed bus fair that must be paid to get to and from the meetings.

I’ll be finding out a bit more about the recent turn of events in Porto Alegre this afternoon and tomorrow, when I go back to ONG CIDADE and interview a City Hall liaison for the PB.  I’m especially interested to find out the position and opinions of the liaison, as I haven’t yet had the opportunity to interview a government employee involved in the process.

Bom dia to everyone back in the States whose alarms clocks are just about to go off.  Ate mais…

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