Saturday, April 30, 2011

The good the bad and the ugly of Brazilian freedoms

One of the love hate relationships I have with Brazilian society is the lack of regulation or oversight or restriction imposed by the government.  I should say the lack of enforcement of these things.  Laws may exist and rules may have been drawn up, but seldom do you see any enforcement of same.

One example that reminds me of the vast gulf between the USA and Brazil in this regard is the simple fact that for the past several decades in Niteroi there has been a paved/mosaic waterfront promenade in Icaraí that goes all along the beach and rocky shoreline.  This promenade is sometimes at the same level as the sandy beach and at times it is 5 meters above a rocky shoreline.  At no place along this popular, crowded and open promenade is there a protective railing to prevent people from falling off the “cliff” (in places) and injuring themselves on the rocks below.
[I should say that just last year the city installed a railing, but as I say, it was not there for many, many years. My example holds.]
In the States there would be a railing or there would be a slew of law suits. Here, you are expected to take responsibility for your own safety and NOT GET TOO CLOSE TO THE EDGE – thank you very much.  If you fall over – well, it was not the City’s fault now was it?
So that’s the “love” side of my experience.  No government controlling your every move. But here is the “hate” side.
There is a successful and ever-expanding restaurant located directly across the street from our apartment.  As it has grown in popularity it has needed to expand in any of a number of ways: more storage, more water capacity, more seating space, etc.  This “construction” work has clearly been done in an informal way, sans any engineer or permits from the City.  The owner just hires some workers and oversees their work doing what he wants done.
Over time the restaurant owner has added two huge water tanks up on the hillside behind the restaurant. (Water systems in Brazil are generally gravity-based, so water is pumped to a tank higher up than where it is needed and gravity moves it down to faucets below.) In order to keep the restaurant supplied in water, a water tank truck arrives every morning to pump water up into the tanks above.
Here’s the problem. A restaurant employee must scramble up the rocks to the platform where the water tanks are located to facilitate their filling.  There is a small walking trail now worn into the hillside, but it is not terribly safe. (Cue dark sound effects.)
A couple of weeks ago the employee who was assisting the water company in filling the tanks slipped on the hillside, hit his head on the rocks – and died.
So the “freedom” to build your restaurant without pesky city permits or construction designed by engineers is now paid for by a dead employee.


The restaurant closed for three days – and is now back open for business.  But what to our wondering eyes should appear – but an engineer-designed metal stairway and rails around the water tanks.  Duh!
The personal liberty that is so palpable here in Brazil does not come without risk or consequences.  I’m prepared to take some of those risks, but employers should not be able to put their workers at risk in the service of saving themselves a few bucks. Some government oversight and enforcement can be a good (and life-saving) thing.

53 comments:

expatbrazil said...

Good and valid points. Brazil has always had this "kind of follow the law" culture. It begins with the people and goes to the top. If they really wanted change, it would come. They don't. Guy falls and then dies while working.... "Merda Acontece". Sounds better in Englilsh. :-)

Anonymous said...

In Chicago there are no rails along Lake Michigan. You're free to fall in and swim to wherever you can climb back up without a lawsuit. I don't think it is a good example of the culture enforcing personal responsibility upon someone.

Jim said...

Anon - I am not suggesting that the culture is enforcing anything, quite the opposite. In Brazil you are "free" to screw up, even on municipal property.

If you have traveled the USA you know that there is nearly always a railing or a restriction or a rule against walking out to the edge.

Heck - if you have a private pool in your private back yard, with a fence around it and some kid climbs over everything and drowns... the home/pool owner is liable for the "attractive nuisance" thier pool presented to the delinquent kid who took pains to drown in it.

There is a real difference, trust me.

I welcome your offering a better example.

Rachel said...

how sad!

Luasol (Jane) said...

Good points. Mauricio has been explaining how rules are made, but not followed. Last week, a fire broke out behind his mother's house. We walked to where the fire was, it was some at some type of motorcycle school. Anyway, he tried talking to the people about putting out the fire and they did nothing. They just smiled, disregarded the fire and kept doing their thing. Mauricio and I returned back to the house, he called the bombeiro, fire department. They told him a firetruck would be sent, but would have to wait an hour or more! I was horrified! So, the fire could spread and no one would arrive to put out the fire! I suppose that is why homes and buildings are built with concrete, instead of wood.

Dazinho said...

After some time living in the northeast I can safely opine that nobody gives a shite about anything until someone is killed. Everyone just hopes it isn't them.

ojeitobrasileiro said...

I feel the same way as you. I love that the society here isn't as litigious, I think that is what it comes down to in the end. The US has sooo many things they do as they are afraid of getting sued. However, in someways the govt here is more involved than in the US, and others not.

Jim said...

Rachel - sad indeed.

Jane - So frustrating!! C'mon people - look alive!!

Dazinho - my observation exactly.

Ojeito - I see the less litigeonousness (sp?) - but how is the gov't here MORE involved?

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