Friday, February 1, 2013

Santa Maria Tragedy

Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

To say that we are both devastated with the awful news from Rio Grande do Sul is the understatement of a lifetime, we are sadden beyond words.
I have been watching the Santa Maria tragedy on the news, reading it on newspapers, magazines, blogs, you name it, it's everywhere. And it has affected people worldwide, from Mexico, to the UK and the United States to Thailand and New Zealand. Nightclubs are being inspected, some shut down, and fire safety rules and regulations are being reviewed and upgraded.
Not to mention Brazil, 2 nightclubs were closed at the infamous Rua Augusta on the night following the fire, 10 nightclubs were shut down in Manaus, 9 Municipal Theaters closed in Rio de Janeiro, only 1 passed the city fire inspections this week.
A much stricter set of laws stalled in the Brazilian Congress since 2007, are now being pushed forward for an immediate vote.
Dilma Rousseff, the Brazilian president, met with majors of the largest Brazilian cities this week and pressured for tougher enforcement of fire safety laws, the laws are actually good, but enforcement is crucial.
I am honestly tired of hearing Brazilians and foreigners alike blinded by dramatized and overblown claims of corruption in Brazil for every and any problem that arises in front of them, yes, corruption exists, yes, it is bad, very bad, but it is just not to blame for every single thing that goes wrong with this country.
I have read some claims that most businesses in Brazil operate without licenses and these claims are just not a fact, not by a long shot.
There are the few, rogue exceptions for sure, two night Clubs were closed in Sao Paulo, that is not the rule, and very much an exception.
Brazilian businesses in general do follow the rules, principally in Sao Paulo and other Southern states, the staggering majority of them have operating licenses (called Alvara in Portuguese), are safe, and corruption is not as generalized or prevalent as perceived by some foreigners and yelled out by some Brazilians.
Keep in mind, many Brazilians are prone to exaggerated drama and have a tendency to multiply negative aspects of Brazil by 10 fold, trust me, I am not one of them.

Gross Negligence, poor judgment, a sad chain of events

- The Santa Maria Night Club, had until recently 2 exits, when it was last inspected by the Fire Department, in 2012.
- They also had no "flammable acoustic" insulation, the toxic foam was installed as recent as the end of 2012, because of neighbors complains of noise.
- Two fire extinguishers near the stage had their dates falsified by a rogue employee, who pocked the refill money, and lied to the owners about it.
- Band members used a cheap 1 Real version of the outdoor pyrotechnics opposed to the more expensive 35 Reais safe for indoors type.
- The recent renovation also created a maze of corridors, right next to the main exit, leading to restrooms without windows.
- Crowd containment bars were recently installed right in front of the main entrance/exit on the sidewalk, creating an extra barrier for an emergency evacuation of a large crowd of people.
- A line of Taxi Cabs were parked right in front of the Night Club at the time of the fire, forming another barrier wall that slowed down the crowd even more as they desperately tried to exit the flaming building. (Due to the recent Brazilian ZERO tolerance for drinking and driving, most people nowadays will get a ride to a night club and ride a taxi on the way back home).

What a night club in Brazil must look like to pass fire safety inspections according to current laws!


As you can see, there was an unfortunate series of disgraceful poor judgment decisions and events that had little or nothing to do with corruption of city officials and more to do with negligence on the part of the owners, night club workers, band members, and yes, a slow and inefficient inspection conducted or not yet conducted since last August by the city of Santa Maria's fire department.
My point here is not to discussion the existence or prevalence or corruption in Brazil, my point is to not be blinded by dramatic claims that Brazil is corruption ridden and there is nothing anyone will ever be able to do about it, that is not true, and we can and must do a lot to change it constantly, the first step is to dramatized and exaggerate and second, never, ever give up, hope and change is not just a popular sounding campaign slogan, but has to be a way of life, it most certainly is for me.
I have not seen or read any real connection between any act of corruption and the Santa Maria fire yet, that could very well change in the future, but as we stand, a lethal combination of gross negligence, poor judgment and bad timing cost the lives of 236 victims, but make no mistake about it, Brazil is learning from this tragedy and fire safety will be greatly improved in that country in the years to come.



GingerV said...

over the years this story repeats itself. every country has issues with corruption. it is not just Brasil, but anyplace that has man running the show....that is not men but MAN... there is corruption because man seems to have an underlying tendency towards self serving and greed.

Born Again Brazilian (not religion, just Brazilian) said...

I do hope you are right.

Unknown said...

Well this is a refreshing change someone speaking some sense, well done to you. We have lived in Brazil for six years now and we followed this tragedy in both the Brazilian and British press and frankly the hysteria in some of the British articles verged on nonsense. Thank you for getting to the real story and offering a rational approach to understanding how this terrible event happened. Brazil is making huge improvements on a daily basis and should be encouraged.