Maximizing profits and reducing expenses

Magnus Thierfelder Tzotzis, 2019, Installation with water
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By GERSON ALMEIDA*

What values ​​should prevail in the reconstruction of Rio Grande do Sul?

When declaring, in an interview with the National Journal, that the citizens of Porto Alegre had their homes flooded because they were living where they “should never live”, Mayor Sebastião Melo did not just try to transfer the responsibility for the negligence of his management to the victims.

He was anticipating his government's strategy for rebuilding the city, something that became clear with the hiring (without bidding) of the company Alvarez & Marsal to manage financial resources, structure a recovery plan and manage the crisis committee, among other functions. By hiring a company completely distant from the local reality, Sebastião Melo discards renowned research institutions, such as universities, IPH and qualified technicians from the city and state, who have invaluable accumulated knowledge.

What reason makes you disregard the pioneering spirit of the capital of Rio Grande do Sul in environmental struggles – initiated by Luiz Lutzenberger and Agapan –, as well as its tradition in innovative environmental management, which knew how to develop knowledge strongly rooted in the territory, whose synthesis is the Atlas Environmental of Porto Alegre and the Participatory Budget?

This decision can only be explained by the action of this company in the “reconstruction” of the city of New Orleans, devastated by Hurricane Katrina. A company that defines itself as “committed to telling customers what is really needed to transform change into a strategic business asset, manage risks and unlock value at all stages of growth” (www.alvarezandmarsal.com), focused on the corporate logic of large companies in the gas, mining, financial system sectors, etc., whose priority is maximizing profits and reducing expenses.

It was by prioritizing maximizing profits and reducing expenses that Alvarez & Marsal operated in New Orleans, closely coordinating with authorities in the city and the state of Louisiana. In this collusion, the climate disaster began to be treated as an opportunity to deregulate the real estate market and demolish popular rental housing complexes, replacing them with more profitable residences for large developers and, consequently, moving the less wealthy sectors away from the areas of greatest market interest. Another initiative to “add value” was to prioritize the “tourism sector, with plans to build a new airport and a myriad of luxury hotels” (The Diplomatic World, 21/01/2019).

In other words, according to the report from the Le Monde diplomatique, “the red carpet was rolled out for businesspeople, covering them with tax benefits” and investment facilities. The governor, Kathleen Blanco, less than two weeks after the hurricane hit, without any shame, said: “It took the storm of the century to create the opportunity of the century. Let’s not let it pass”, without being able to contain greed and treat the crisis as an opportunity to do business, or negotiations.

This conduct was reverberated by Jair Bolsonaro's environment minister, Ricardo Salles, when he defended that everyone's attention to the COVID pandemic should be taken advantage of, to “manipulate” the laws and rules of environmental preservation, making the destruction of Amazon a business opportunity. Everywhere, neoliberal scoundrels act like scoundrels.

Interestingly, the government of Eduardo Leite – a partner in maximizing profits and reducing expenses Sebastião Melo in the crusade to overturn the flood protection system and dismantle environmental laws – signed two large contracts with the same Alvarez & Marsal (set /20 and Aug/22), also without bidding, to prepare the privatization of CORSAN, which yielded R$ 10,4 million to the company (Sintrajufe-rs). Therefore, it is legitimate to think that the hiring of Alvarez & Marsal by Sebastião Melo – who campaigned denouncing the lack of maintenance of the city's flood protection system and made no repairs after being elected – is part of a strategy to reduce city ​​to the role of relaying merchandise and facilitating its delivery to large corporations, as happened with CORSAN and the city of New Orleans.

The democratic field must understand that the climate change denialist right, which has done nothing to mitigate its serious consequences – like the one the people of Rio Grande do Sul are suffering – has already built a model of action mirrored in the experience of New Orleans: taking advantage of climate tragedies to create favorable conditions to impose a pattern of gentrification unimaginable under normal conditions.

We need this to be understood, so that the immense mobilization of society and the federal government for the recovery of Rio Grande do Sul does not lose sight of the fact that the environmental issue is “intrinsically conflictive and these conflicts are an expression of tensions in the process of reproducing models development” (Henri Acselrad). For the democratic field, reconstruction actions must be the affirmation of ethical, sociopolitical and environmental principles that understand cities as spaces for diversity, enjoyment of life, culture and well-being and do not accept segregation and standardization of spaces and territories.

*Gerson Almeida, sociologist, former councilor and former secretary of the environment of Porto Alegre, he was national secretary of social articulation in the Lula 2 government.


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