A massive blackout left as many as 53 million Brazilians in the dark late on Thursday and early Friday, the latest in a string of energy shortages that have raised questions about whether Brazil’s infrastructure is keeping pace with economic growth.
Officials said a fire in a substation in the Amazon knocked out the whole northeastern electricity grid in the region’s worst blackout since 2001. The outage, which follows two other big blackouts in Brazil in as many months, lasted up to four hours in some places and brought major industries to a halt.
The blackouts come as soaring use of Brazil’s old infrastructure is congesting cities and major highways, causing delays and shutdowns at some of its biggest airports, and creating chronic logjams at seaports and rail yards.
The problems have cast doubt on the country’s ability to accommodate economic growth in recent years and are prompting concerns Brazil will not be ready to host two major global sports events — the World Cup soccer tournament in 2014 and the 2016 Olympic Games.
“This is unacceptable for modern industrial production,” said Jose de F. Mascarenhas, head of the Federation of Industries of Bahia State, in the region darkened by Thursday’s failure. “It’s a disaster and it’s happening repeatedly.”
Bahia’s largest industry, petrochemicals, will not be able to restart for days, he added, lambasting the government for poor maintenance of transmission lines.
Meanwhile, residents across the 11 states hit by the blackout were left without air conditioning and ventilators. Many complained they could not sleep due to heat and mosquitoes.
Energy Minister Marcio Zimmerman, in comments to reporters on Friday, called the failure “a total collapse of the northeastern grid.”
He said the recent woes are “not normal” and called the second emergency meeting in five weeks.
Two previous blackouts darkened Brasilia, the capital, and much of Brazil’s southeast, including parts of San Paulo, the country’s industrial and financial center. Though some government officials sought to characterize each outage as “isolated,” both blackouts created shortages that affected consumers in areas beyond the site of malfunction.
As such, critics are once again questioning the strength of an overall system that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, as energy minister in a predecessor government, helped oversee and which she promotes in her bid to modernize Brazil’s economy.
Brazil went through a so-called “blackout crisis” in 2001 and 2002, when a drought limited the output of hydroelectric dams. In response, the government rationed electricity in certain regions, severely crimping economic growth.
While Brazil has invested heavily in electricity generation since then, it still has a long way to go. The government plans to build as many as 48 new hydroelectric plants by 2020 to keep up with the energy demands of rapid economic growth.
A decade of rapid expansion during the government of former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva saw many new industries built in northeastern Brazil, plus the lifting of 30 million Brazilians from poverty. The surge in usage of millions of new TVs, refrigerators and other domestic appliances strained supply.
Shortages of electricity have become more harmful for Latin America’s largest economy since it slowed down a year ago.
“If you want the economy to grow at 5 percent per year you need to increase provisions of electricity by 5 or 6 percent per year. When you don’t, you end up with blackouts and that’s what’s happening recently,” said Neil Shearing, chief emerging markets economist with Capital Economics in London.
Energy policy has been at the forefront of Rousseff’s efforts to boost growth. Last month she announced a major cut in electricity taxes in a bid to help boost industry and address the so-called “Brazil cost” — a mix of high interest rates, labor costs, onerous taxes and infrastructure bottlenecks that hamper competitiveness.
French authorities yesterday said that they would close a Paris mosque as part of a clampdown on radical Islam that has yielded over a dozen arrests following the beheading of a teacher who had shown his pupils a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed. The mosque in a densely populated suburb northeast of Paris had disseminated a video on its Facebook page days before Friday’s gruesome murder, railing against teacher Samuel Paty’s choice of material for a class discussion on freedom of expression, a source close to the investigation said. The French Ministry of the Interior said the mosque in Pantin, which has
LONGSTANDING NEUTRALITY: The US request came as it vied for influence in Southeast Asia with China, but Indonesia has never let foreign militaries operate there Indonesia this year rejected a proposal by the US to allow its P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance planes to land and refuel there, four senior Indonesian officials familiar with the matter have said. US officials made multiple “high-level” approaches in July and August to Indonesia’s defense and foreign ministers before Indonesian President Joko Widodo rebuffed the request, the officials said. Representatives for Indonesia’s president and defense minister, the US Department of State’s Office of Press Relations and the US embassy in Jakarta did not respond to requests for comment. Representatives for the US Department of Defense and Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi
COVID-19 UNDER CONTROL: The two prime ministers agreed to ease entry bans, and allow short-term business visits and reopen flights between Vietnam and Japan Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, in his first overseas summit since taking office last month, yesterday agreed with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to step up defense and security cooperation in the face of China’s expanding influence in the region. In talks in Hanoi, Suga and Phuc set up a basic agreement allowing Japan to export defense equipment and technology to Vietnam. Japan has been pursuing such agreements to bolster ties with Southeast Asian nations and sustain its own defense industry. Suga said that his four-day trip to Vietnam and Indonesia would be key to pursuing the “free and open Indo-Pacific” vision
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night said that he has no problem with being held responsible for the many killings under his crackdown on drugs, and that he is ready to face charges that could land him in jail, but not charges of crimes against humanity. Duterte’s televised remarks were among his clearest acknowledgement of the prospects that he could face a deluge of criminal charges for the bloody campaign he launched after taking office in the middle of 2016. Police have reported that at least 5,856 drug suspects have been killed in raids and more than 256,000 others arrested since