Woke up a co-owner of ESO’s facilities

The news is not that fresh, but I just want to register the information if someone missed the buzz of the last days or if this text was retrieved from an old and well-preserved server on the distant future when humanity has deceased. In case you didn’t know, Brazil is in its way towards being the first non-European country to be a member of ESO, the European Southern Observatory. The whole process started back in 2010, when the Ministry of Science & Technology proposed an agreement to ESO. At that moment, Brazil was enjoying fruitful times, with a steadily growing economy and a general improvement on the people’s lives, especially the poor. Things were good, so the 270 million euro investment on membership didn’t seem like too long of a stretch.

However, investments in science and technology are also slow to get on going in this country. It is now 2015, dollar and euro went skyward, our economy is stagnated, and there is a climate of political uneasiness. Things are rough now. Even so, the slow pace has led us to what seems to be a happy ending. In March 19th, the Congress finally approved the investment (which they generally called a cost) on ESO and the membership. The political strife between the federal government and the [mostly] opposing congress may have been a blessing: it is said that they only approved the membership because president Dilma Rousseff was showing signs of backing off of the agreement.

After going around back and forth through a series of bureaucratic assessments, the process went to the Senate, and on May 14th, they also approved the investment on ESO. As someone has put out on Twitter: Brazilians woke up next morning being the co-owners of the most advanced ground-based telescopes on Earth. Today, May 19th, the Senate has promulgated the approval through the Diário da União.

The Senate didn’t put much of a fight to bar the entrance to ESO. In fact, they seem to be in accord about the benefits to our country on becoming a member. Here’s what is said in the official statement by the Senate (my own translation):

“Given what was shown, we are certain that [the membership] is an investment that will give our country an immediate return. Furthermore, there are already many research projects whose success was only attained because of the efforts of our astronomers and the observation time that was conceded to them, in addition to the perspectives of participation by our companies and institutions on the E-ELT construction. On the other hand, we have to keep in mind that this is, above all, a long-term investment in science, technology and education by our country.”

That wisely said, we are now [arguably] one step away from finally becoming a member of ESO: we need the president Dilma Rousseff to approve the project of law. This is it, people, we are almost there! Even though there is this rough political climate in Brasília, it is highly unlikely that the president will overrule the decisions of the Congress and the Senate. Will she survive long enough as a president until then? Well, that’s another story, but I would bet that she will.

Anyway, this is where things are now. I am very happy, not only because we will continue to be able to use ESO’s facilities for our research, but also because this is a huge and inspiring step for us. Astronomy was judged by many politicians to be frivolous and unimportant given the core issues that our country has. But even so, with the efforts of many people, we are almost there. We have long ways to go when it comes to science, technology and education, but it is also true that we have never seen such good times in Brazil. Baby steps.


Featured image: an excerpt of the Brazilian Senate’s report on the decision taken on May 14, 2015

 

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Woke up a co-owner of ESO’s facilities

Brazilian Plenary approves ESO membership

It has finally happened, folks! We are almost there: the ESO membership. Okay, so, if you’re still unaware about this, Brazil is set to be the first non-European country to be part of ESO, the European Southern Observatory, one of the biggest and most prestigious astronomical facilities in the world. You can read more details about this here and here. The bottom-line was that the whole process of membership approval (by Brazilian politicians) was stuck, more specifically in the Plenary, an examining board composed of members of the parliament that analyzes and proposes modifications to the projects of law.

Today, 19 of March, 2015, after more than two years dragging along the project in the Plenary, they have finally reached to a consensus, a positive one, even after being compulsively criticized by many members of the parliament. Here is my translation of the declarations stated by the Chamber of Deputies:

“The 270 mi euros are going to be 1 bi reals.” – Nilson Leitão

As I wrote in a previous post, this amount of money is still less than many investments done by the country to private businesses. There is no reason to privilege business over science endeavors, especially for developing countries (as we see in India and China).

“It’s bad for the government, taking money away from people who deserve it and need it. It’s bad for the country” – Pompeo de Mattos

Again, pure demagogy, the same tactic used by Fábio Garcia. This is not money being taken away from people, it is an investment on science, science that will benefit people. Astronomy might not feed the hungry (PhD astronomers struggling to find a position will beg to differ), but it feeds the curious, it inspires the young, it attracts people to STEM – something that Brazil severely lacks. I could go on and on about this issue.

Just as a reminder, the project was target of criticism by both the opposition and the allied base of the federal government, and there is a running joke on the internet that says the Plenary approved the project just because the president Dilma Rousseff didn’t want it to happen – or rather, just to annoy her. Although I find it hard to believe that Rousseff would do take such a position, I don’t doubt that our conservative parliament would take a stance just because it’s against the president’s will. Oh, politics.

But it’s not time for celebration yet. There are still steps to be taken. Now, the project will have to be appreciated by the Senate. It’s hard to estimate the time that they will take to analyze the project, but we can always be hopeful. It probably won’t take another two years, will it? When that happens, then the Congress will finally be able to promulgate the project and Brazil will be the fifteenth member of ESO. Until then, we wait, and we press, and we lobby in favor of science and astronomy.


Featured image: artistic concept of the asteroid Chariklo, for which the discovery of a ring system had participation of a Brazilian team, using telescopes from ESO. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser/Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org)

 

Brazilian Plenary approves ESO membership