Porto Alegre in the dark – reflections of privatization

Image: Andrea Musto


All those who applauded the privatizations of public companies and who scrapped them when they were state-owned, now point the finger and cry “wolf” to hide their guilt

On Tuesday, the 16th, a strong storm once again hit Porto Alegre and several other cities in its metropolitan region, in Rio Grande do Sul. The weather event, despite its short duration, caused damage that resulted in more than 1,3, XNUMX million people without electricity, also damaging water and telephone supplies.

The force of the waters and climatic events have already been constant threats in Rio Grande do Sul in the last year, reflections of all the impact of man on the planet, where we increasingly have more concrete and less land, where we increasingly spend more resources and pollute more to export animals and other products to other countries. We cannot begin to talk about nature's fury without stating that it is not an aggression but rather a counterattack to our behavior as a society.

Soon after the storm, a major news report that followed the damage was joined by a cry from the Mayor of Porto Alegre, Sebastião Melo (MDB), to find a single culprit for all the suffering of the population: CEEE Equatorial, formerly CEEE, whose unit it was sold by governor Eduardo Leite (PSDB) to the Equatorial group, in 2021, for just R$100.

The mayor, who in other times celebrated the privatization of CEEE, expressed himself on his social networks about the difficulty in making contact with Equatorial to try to solve the supply problem. But is this problem just the fault of nature and a private company? There are other actions that make up the rite of privatist governments that need to be taken into account.

Sebastião Melo in 2021 expressing support for the Privatization of CEEE and in 2024 complaining about the services.


One of the favorite practices of those who sell public assets is to create public dissatisfaction with the service in question. It is not just a practice in the south of Brazil, sabotaging the public sector was something that even happened to Petrobrás itself during the governments of Michel Temer and Jair Bolsonaro. Just as we saw refineries remain idle for 30%, here in the south, public companies such as CEEE and Corsan suffered investment cuts for many administrations. Governor Eduardo Leite himself, before the sale, was one of those who cut the budget to retool the company.

In 2020, the then president of the Electrical Workers Union, Ana Maria Spadaria, denounced in an interview with SENGE RS: “There is poor management to justify the sale. I would say that, from the Sartori government until the continuation of the Leite government, what was done with CEEE was intentional scrapping. It was intentional to lead CEEE to this situation. If I am the financial director of CEEE, appointed by the governor, who is the majority shareholder, won't I pass on the ICMS? What is the reason for not passing it on? If we were able to discuss this clearly with the entire population, what the workers would say is that the scrapping of CEEE was deliberate to justify a sale that is not justified.”

Privatized people

Whether in the case of the energy company in Rio Grande do Sul or the refinery in Amazônia, the fact is the same: it is not public companies that are being sold, but an entire market, an entire portfolio of customers who do not have a second option. services.

In the case of the refinery, the fuel can come from another, but with the distance it is not viable, allowing whoever buys it to dictate the price on the local market. In water and electricity companies it is not so different, supplied customers do not have competition or other networks, depending only on regulatory agencies to guarantee a good price or a good service, which rarely happens.

So, the fact is that the governor did not sell CEEE, he sold the people of Rio Grande do Sul who need electricity supply from those supply sectors.

Profit above all

And what does a private company want as its ultimate objective? Peace on earth? Equality among all men? Obviously nothing but profit, a private company without profit simply closes its doors. This is no crime, companies are necessary and need to exist, they need to earn and create jobs, they need to supply markets. The problem is when a company has unique access to something essential for our lives, such as telephony, electricity, water, fuel and transport.

For example, the privatization of trains. In cities where privatization took place, the incidence of derailments increased due to the lack of investment in preventive maintenance, as well as the number of passengers transported fell in some places, as new companies increased prices.

In several parts of the world, the renationalization of public companies that were sold is a warning of a movement that we need to make in Brazil. Right now, in 2023, France has renationalized EDF, the country's largest electricity generator. According to data from the portal UOL, in 2020, between the years 2000 and 2017, 884 services were renationalized in the world, 83% of them from 2009 onwards. Among the biggest complaints from customers were the high prices and lack of investment.

Managers who cry “wolf”

So it seems like a very simple calculation: if privatized services tend to invest less and charge more, why do some executives still insist on privatization? Is there any other number that we don't see in this account that could be a convincing factor for privatizers?

Porto Alegre and Rio Grande do Sul are currently facing yet another major supply crisis following a climate event. All those who applauded the privatizations of public companies and who scrapped them when they were state-owned, now point the finger and cry “wolf” to hide their guilt.

*Jonas Tiago Silveira is a journalist, musician and writer.

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