Rio Grande do Sul – the dismantling of the state



The climate catastrophe in Rio Grande do Sul is no longer a tragedy repeated as a farce, as it is not the first flood to devastate the state and the capital of Rio Grande do Sul


The climate catastrophe in Rio Grande do Sul is not just a warning about climate change. In this case, it appears more like a tragedy repeated as a farce, as it is not the first flood to devastate the state and the capital of Rio Grande do Sul. An economically rich state, with a relatively small presence of poor and extremely poor people, especially when compared to others, and dominated by agribusiness. It has been the cradle of political movements of various kinds, including authoritarian modernizers, and has seen state and municipal administrations of a progressive nature, both politically and socially.

The setback of recent administrations is overwhelming, marked not only by radical features of the dismantling of the state and ethical misgovernment, with privatizations of strategic sectors of public policies, indiscriminate and immune to public control, especially the prevention of climate disasters. The consequences are there. But there is also the solidarity reaction of Brazilian society that has been spreading like a wildfire.

The federal government has been doing its part – and very well – from the outset, without any discrimination based on ideological or political criteria. Highlights here are the prompt response from the Ministry of Health, with the availability of vaccines, medicines and medical services and the SUS National Force; measures in the economic area, which allow financial reinforcements to the state of Rio Grande do Sul and the availability of social benefits to those affected by the rains, accompanied by support services.

Therefore, the mandate that the national State is responsible for protecting all Brazilians, without discrimination, is fulfilled. This includes quilombolas (15 isolated communities, estimating a total of 6,8 thousand families in these conditions) and indigenous people (30 thousand suffering from the impacts of the floods, estimating that 70% of their territories were affected).

The degree of mobilization of society in the face of the catastrophe is impressive. Donations are made, ways of organizing types of donations are publicized through social networks, and they are ultimately distributed across numerous organized sectors of society. Here it is worth highlighting that since the beginning the MST and MTST have been distributing meals, along with other initiatives. And the highlight on social media for animal rescue is incredible, after all, every life counts, having as a symbol the persistence and resilience of the horse on the roof, which was named Caramelo, transformed into the icon of the victim-hero of this environmental catastrophe. Persistence, resilience and submission.


So, is everything ok? No! There are worrying signs that go beyond what has been done and the fact that if we continue in this hegemonic direction of the state project in Rio Grande do Sul, the tragedy will repeat itself, as has already been happening in recent years, but not only there. The first of these is the proposal by the state executive that the resources that have been transferred by the federal government to the state should, in the name of greater agility in their management, be administered by a private foundation. Therefore, without public control.

More than that, if the financial support, including forgiveness of debt service and its suspension for a significant period, cannot be questioned, neither can it be unknown that in this case the political mismanagement that follows a line of uncontrolled State privatization and radical ends up being awarded by the federal government. They are two sides of the same coin: aid is undeniable and mandatory, but at the same time it reinforces bad government in terms of management aimed at the common good.

A second and dangerous aspect of this second face is that the reconstruction of the capital of Rio Grande do Sul will have consultancy for the preparation of its plan assigned to an American company, with competence already contested in the field, and that this assignment is justified by the fact that it will work for two months without payment, in a future contract involving millions. This is when what we are actually talking about is the deliberate lack of knowledge that the public federal university in Rio Grande do Sul is the bearer of knowledge and technology suitable for the reform and reconstruction of the city. The private – international – prevails over the public and national knowledge. This, at a time when federal universities are on strike in the fight for their survival as a center for teaching and knowledge production.

A third aspect of this dark side of the initiatives concerns the extraordinary aspect of this tragedy. Yes, it is extraordinary and tragic. Both for those who have lost loved ones and for those who have lost all their possessions. There is nothing to justify it, not even the 500 changes promoted by the governor in the environmental legislation that regulates the exploration of space, urban and rural. It was the Americans who invented counting human losses, but there is no loss that can be justified.

It cannot be ignored that it was the municipalities that voted massively for Jair Bolsonaro in the last elections that suffered most from the rains and floods. As it was the municipalities that voted most for Jair Bolsonaro in the penultimate election that had the most deaths from Covid 19. There is an association in this that should not be disregarded. And this is not about reducing the issue to political polarization, but rather about alternatives presented as projects for society: inclusive or exclusionary.

A fourth aspect that must be brought to the fore is not to leave the past in oblivion: campaigns to combat hunger, such as Betinho's in 1993, mobilized society, but in a socially undiversified way. Now the range of diversity of those mobilized is much greater, but marked by the unrecognized emergency in the case of hunger. Betinho's motto was “those who are hungry are in a hurry”, which applies to the current situation.

But the objective then was to be a permanent movement that was not restricted to haste, but also encompassed measures of a more structural nature and in the medium and long term. Now the immediate one is what sets the rules. The medium and long term is up to government officials to oppose donation measures, as today, May 15, the governor of Rio Grande do Sul asked for donations to be suspended because, according to him, they would be harming the local economy.


This facet of the dark side, or obscure, of the positive actions that should and are being carried out by the central government and society, is contrasted with society's non-existent reaction, or its lack of knowledge, in the face of chronic hunger, permanent drought, rains that devastate other areas of the country, although not of this magnitude (for those who lose loved ones and/or everything, the size of the calamity does not matter). It is as if these tragic and structural dimensions of our society were “natural”, when they are naturalized, as if nothing could be done.

They are conceived as natural or characteristic of poor Brazilians due to their inaction, for not being entrepreneurial, or of society, which has always been and should continue to be so, as the market is the master. So much so that agribusiness, one of the main responsible for the ecological catastrophe in Rio Grande do Sul, as well as in the rest of the country, will also be covered by government “aid”. And the National Congress at this same moment continues to vote anti-ecological laws, suspending presidential vetoes.

The situation in Rio Grande do Sul is catastrophic, its citizens deserve all the empathy, solidarity and support, but there is no way to ignore the fact that these actions by the federal government, mandatory as such, end up having the bitter taste of “rewarding a purposeful and well-directed incompetence of evil state and municipal governments. The question this presents us is not just trying to answer why so far only 30% of municipalities in Rio Grande do Sul have requested federal funding to combat the floods, since the vast majority are opponents of the current government. Is political rivalry worth more than solidarity with the population?

By legitimately appointing a coordinator to guide and monitor the destination of federal funds allocated in the state, the federal government is the target of the most varied criticisms, essentially because this is a year of local elections. This case is not about political appropriation of federal actions in the state; but rather that these cannot be presented as state or local initiatives. It must be made public that indiscriminate state privatizations, uncontrolled expansion of agribusiness and unplanned urban economic exploitation are harmful to life, human and animal.

In short, the political challenge is how to ensure that the good spell – the responsible action of the federal government led by President Lula – does not turn against the sorcerer: that is, how to mobilize and open the eyes of the population to urgent and earthly things , without promising the purchase of a place in heaven with tithes, but guaranteeing governments with projects to build a fair and supportive society.

Madonna recovered the green and yellow shirt, surfers – and firefighters – recovered the jet-ski as a rescue tool for those stranded and isolated by floods, now society must recover for good governments, committed to the common good and the preservation of life . Here's the challenge. The municipal elections are here!

*Amélia Cohn, sociologist, is a retired professor at the USP Faculty of Medicine. Author, among other books, of Letters to President Lula: Bolsa Família and social rights (editorial quicksilver).

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