Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Regional Bias in Aiding Brazilian Floods? I'd Like a Little More Evidence, Please

Yesterday, I commented briefly on the flooding in Brazil, but there was something I wanted to go back to, and Randy has already highlighted. In the article, Alexei Barrionuevo and a few of the people quoted in the article blame the federal government, claiming there is a regional bias at play in the lack of aid to the northeast:

Mr. de Sousa Freitas said the town had already provided more than 5,000 subsistence meals for the displaced. He criticized the federal government for not doing more, saying it had sent only 1,051 meals to Trizidela.
Mr. de Sousa Freitas has not been alone in alleging that the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has done less for affected areas of the northeast than it did for wealthier Santa Catarina last fall.
Piauí and Maranhão, two of the states most affected by the floods, are also two of the country’s three poorest in per-capita income, with most residents earning far less than Brazil’s minimum monthly salary of $225.
“The people in the south treat the northeast as a subrace of Brazilians,” said Roberto Quiñiero, who owns a small food market in Pedreiras.

It is true that there is major regional bias and difference in Brazil, and the wealthier South and Southeast (including Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and the southernmost states in Brazil) definitely look down on the Northeast. It even takes on racial tones, as the poor (and often seemingly "browner") people and even people who are bad drivers are referred derogatorily to as "Baianos" and "Paraibenses."

Still, there's not a lot of evidence here for the claim Barrionuevo is subtly making that the government is favoring the wealthier part of Brazil. Basically, one guy is quoted as saying the people of the South (which does not equal "the federal government" or "Lula") are biased against the Northeast, which is true enough but neither here nor there; and another is quoted as blaming the federal government.

Now, I'm not saying the federal government hasn't been quicker to help in the South than the Northeast, or that its federal aid has been greater, but there's no way of knowing that based on this article. To know this, we'd actually need to see some solid economic figures and other statistics actually, you know, COMPARING the aid to the South last year vs. the Northeast this year (as well as the damage to both regions). But we don't get that from Barrionuevo; we just get a couple of victims and local government officials saying there has been a bias, and one federal government official saying there hasn't been any bias.

Certainly, the flooding in both parts of Brazil is tragic, and 300,000 dislocated in the Northeast is a somber number, but that doesn't excuse the New York Times (or anybody else) from suggesting the federal government is to blame without at least offering some evidence beyond anecdotal quotations that that is the case. Certainly, no government is faultless; I'd just like to see a little more "concrete" evidence before you make those claims in a major news source.