Natal Brazil

Information about the city of Natal, in Brazil.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Aviation in Natal - early History

An article about the importance of Natal and river Potengi for the development of aviation in Brazil during early 20th century.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Natal losing space in international tourism

According to the last figures published by Infraero, Natal is being less and less visited by foreign travelers.
In January this year, the airport of Natal received 17,699 international visitors; the number is down from 23,770 in January of 2008.
Brazil as a whole was visited by 185,818 foreigners in January of this year, more than the 162,075 of January 2008.

In the Northeast of Brazil, where States compete for the preference of visitors looking for sun and beach, Natal also lost ground; Salvador had a bit more than 40,000 visitors, Fortaleza a bit more than 27,000 and Recife a bit more than 26,000 visitors.

Just about three years ago, when this blog started to be published, Natal was the second most visited city in the Northeast (behind giant Salvador).
It was easy to see entire families (parents, kids, babies) of Northern Europeans (easily recognizable by their aspects and their education) walking in Ponta Negra.

Where have they gone? Many charter flights which used to land in Natal now are going to Fortaleza and Recife; Natal had charter flights everyday, now has a couple a week; there is only one airline carrier (Portuguese TAP) flying into Natal (in Salvador, Fortaleza and Recife, there are, besides TAP, American carriers flying to the USA).

And why have the tourists gone away?
I had the opportunity to attend an event about tourism in Natal (which was opened for everybody) sponsored by newspaper Tribuna do Norte, the Governments of Natal and Rio Grande do Norte, and the local tourism trade (hotels, agencies, etc).
The tourist trade says that the main reason to cause the fall in visitors numbers is "lack of divulgation", or "lack of marketing" of Natal as a destination.
What they are saying, basicly, is that the Government should spend more tax-payers money in marketing, because then people would learn about Natal and then would flock to see our paradisiac beaches and our beautiful city.
The Government agrees that more money should be spend in marketing, but weighs that the private sector should make their own investments, too. However, some high staff of Government are not unhappy to take trips to Europe to participate in tourism fairs and events.

- the website of the Secretary of Tourism of Natal is in Portuguese only;
- after visitors arrive in Natal (and face the unprepared staff and the poor maintenance of the airport), information is even more scarce; most people (including hotel staff, restaurant staff and taxi drivers) still can't communicate in English; official signalization is still poor (a foreigner visiting Fort of Reis Magos still can't find any guide in English).
- Most tourists take trips to the beaches and get fascinated, but they don't want to take the trip twice; after two or three days, they need other options of what to do. In Fortaleza and Recife, multilingual leaflets published by the Government are freely distributed in hotels and restaurants, with hundreds of suggestions for visitors; in Natal, visitors depend on tips from the hotel clerk or the taxi driver;
- Natal has probably more and better hotels than any other city in the Northeast; however, prices are still higher than elsewhere; prices of real estate sky rocketed in Natal, which reflects in the prices of everything, particularly hotels. Natal has much fewer restaurants than neighbor cities; gastronomic travelers have better options in Fortaleza, Recife or even Pipa;
- Natal continues to be a city of the day; prostitution is not so blatant as some time ago, but nightlife options for families and couples are still poor (Zas-Tras was a famous regional show, but it was closed down because the theater was sold and a condo was built).

So, there are factors other than lack of marketing which explain why visitors are not coming to Natal.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Faculty of Dentistry of Natal among the best in Brazil

Every year, the federal National Institute for Education Studies and Researches (INEP) subjects students of higher learning institutions to evaluation exams; these exams are known as ENADE (National Exams of Students Performance), and the results, aggregated by institution, are made public (individual results are informed only to the students).

Not all courses are evaluated every year. Last year, only the courses of Medicine and others related to Health were evaluated.

The Faculty of Dentistry of the Federal University at Natal ranked the best in the category.
The Faculty managed to have a grade 5, the highest; only two other Faculties in Brazil (one in São Paulo and other in Paraná) received a 5.
The Faculty of Natal ranked first because the average grade of the students was 71.2 (out of 100), above the other two Faculties. Besides the students performance, the final grade takes into account also que quality of researches and the profile of professors.

A total of 3239 courses were evaluated. More than 500 were considered inapt (grades 1 and 2 for a number of years), and will be visited by auditors of the Ministry of Education, which will consider whether the courses will be closed. Only 48 courses received grade 5. The two largest Universities in Brazil, University of São Paulo and University of Campinas decided not to participate of the exams.

See report by Tribuna do Norte.


Monday, July 07, 2008

Drinking and driving

Since June 20th, Brazil has had a new law regarding drinking and driving.

Until before June 20th, it was legal to drink moderately before driving. There was a limit of alcohool in the blood before a driver was considered uncapable of driving, of 0.6 dg/l; drivers caught driving with more than that limit were fined; only those people putting other lives in danger could be charged of crimes.

The new law is: the limit is zero.
Anyone caught with a detectable level of alcohool in blood will be fined in R$ 955 (about US$ 600) and will have drivers license seized by one year.
Driving with more than 0.6 dg/l will be considered crime; the driver will be taken to the Police department and charged of crimes; it will be up to the Deputy in charge to keep the driver arrested or to determine a payment for bail out.

Because of the law, a new word is in vogue: bafômetro. This is the device where drivers have to blow to measure the levels of alcohool. There is a discussion going on about whether a person may be obliged to blow the bafômetro, and what to do when he/she refuses.

For foreign visitors, the best advice is: do not drink anything before driving.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

3G in Natal

Last week, cell phone operator Claro announced that they would start to offer 3G GSM services in Natal.
Claro is offering both phone services and data transfer (internet) services.
Users of 3G GSM cell phones should, supposedly, be able to transfer data at higher rates; claro says that even live video conferences will be possible.

To transfer data, users will have to buy a small 3G modem, connected to the USB port of notebooks (this site brings information about notebooks in Brazil, as well as businesses selling and servicing notebooks in Natal).
Claro offers several plans, with different prices, data transfer volumes and data transfer rates. If you are going to contract the service, make sure to ask about all the limitations; last I checked, Claro states, in the fine prints, that they only guarantee that the transfer rate will be 10% (ten percent) of the rate established by the contract.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Governor's son is arrested

On June 13th, the Federal Police conducted an operation which resulted in the enprisonment of 13 people, one of them being Lauro Maia, son of Governor Wilma de Farias (Lauro's father is Lavoisier Maia, currently a State Representative).
Maia is accused of leading a group which commits frauds against the Public Administration. Some companies would arrange prices among themselves before the bidding process, resulting in a much higher price to be paid by the Government; several civil servants (including Attorneys and Secretaries of State) were bribed to turn a blind eye to illegalities.

The case gained national repercussion (see a wikipedia page and a report by Folha de Sao Paulo).
In Natal, newspaper Tribuna do Norte, which is controlled by a group of opposition to the Governor, published detailed reports about the affair (see here and also this note, where Tribuna recalls that Lauro Maia had also been indicted by the Federal Police in 2005, charged of using political influence to commit frauds to evade taxes).
On the other hand, the other major newspaper in Natal, Diario de Natal, which is controlled by the group which supports Wilma, published only the barely minimum about the scandal.

The Governor said that she believes in the innocence of her son.

Update, June 25th. All the 13 people were released. Members of the Government (including the chief Attorney) are saying that there was abuse of power in the Higia Operation (i.e., people were undully arrested).
The population are starting to believe that, once again, there will be political arrangements so that nobody pays for their crimes.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Natal City Park - designed by Oscar Niemeyer

The Mayor of Natal announced yesterday (Environment Day) that the Parque da Cidade (City Park), whose official name is Parque da Cidade Dom Nivaldo Monte, will be opened later this month.

The City Park will cover an area of 64 hectares, aimed at environmental preservation and education, and will comprise eco-trails, jogging lanes, library, auditorium, orchidarium and more. The symbol of the Park should be the central tower, about 30 meter high, which will house the Memorial of the City; the Memorial should maintain exhibits about the History and Development of Natal.

The area where the Park will be located is, like most of Natal, covered by dunes. It will be the second largest Park in Natal, the biggest being Parque das Dunas. And just like Parque das Dunas, this new park will have an important role in keeping a good environment health: these parks function as a large filter, which captures rain water and cleans it before reaching the freatic sheet; they help maintain thermal balance; they shelter several species of fauna and flora; they add green space to the city.

The Park was designed by world famous architect Oscar Niemeyer, the same who designed all the important buildings in Brasilia, the seat of United Nations in New York and several other known buildings around the world.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Violence in Ponta Negra

Local newspaper Jornal de Hoje published a report about the growing violence in Avenida Roberto Freire, one of the most important in Natal (this is the long avenue which connects highway BR-101 to Ponta Negra beach).

In the on-line edition, Jornal de Hoje reported how the ATMs of Itaú bank were robbed; in the printed edition, JH reports that several people who work in shops along that Avenue complain about being robbed and being harassed by prostitutes and transvestites.
Past year, there were several cases of high profile businesses being assaulted, such as a jewelry in Natal Shopping and restaurant Tabua de Carne; people are robbed everyday by thieves in motorcycles.

The Secretary of Tourism, Fernando Bezerril, was interviewed by the newspaper.
Bezerril said that he had already contacted the Secretary of Public Security asking for measures to solve the problem in the Avenue Roberto Freire. According to Bezerril, ever since a system of surveyance cameras was installed in Ponta Negra beach, the number of occurrences dropped by 95%; a similar system was created in Altos de Ponta Negra, and violence decreased, too.
Bezerril hopes that something similar could help diminish the violence in Avenida Roberto Freire.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Natal to export ice cream to Italy

In Brazil, the popsicles (ice creams with a stick) are very popular, particularly in the beaches (see Ponta Negra beach), and particularly with tourists; popsicles are cheap, clean (when properly produced and wraped - avoid the R$ 0.50 popsicles which are sold unpacked) and help relief the heat.

In the South of Brazil, this market is dominated by big companies such as Unilever and Nestle; in the Northeast, smaller companies, which knew better the tastes of locals, managed to gain some presence thanks to a good quality and a larger variety.

One of such companies, Ster Bom, announced that a contract was signed to export popsicles to Milan, Italy; the first batch was already shipped, with 60,000 unities. All flavors were of tropical fruits: cajá, mango, mangaba, pineapple, acerola, graviola, coconut and guava.

It is interesting to see Natal exporting ice cream to Italy, a country which makes one of the best ice creams in the world. The ice cream made in Natal doesn't get even near the one made in Italy. However, when it comes to popsicles, particularly those made with tropical fruits, it is quite possibly that the Italians enjoy the products made in Natal.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Natal declares State of Emergency because of dengue

The mayor of Natal issued a decree declaring the city to be in State of Emergency; see report by Tribuna do Norte; see also report by Diario de Natal informing that more than 50 cities in the State are also under State of Emergency.
During the State (90 days), the Public Administration will be allowed to sign contracts with private companies without a price bidding process; in the lives of citizens, little changes.

The Emergency is because of the dengue.
Brazil is facing an epidemy of dengue; in Rio de Janeiro, where the situation is the worst, several dozens people have already died this year (see report by the New York Times).

Rio Grande do North is the 4th State in number of cases; so far in the year (from January till mid April), more than 5,000 cases of dengue were reported; hospitals are crowded with people looking for treatment.

Dengue is a tropical disease transmited by a mosquito. In its milder form, dengue usually causes severe headache, muscular pain, vomiting and malaise. In a percentage of cases, dengue evolves to the hemorrhagic form, which can lead to death; a few casualties have been reported in Natal this year.

There is no vaccine against dengue. The most effective way to prevent dengue is to prevent the mosquitoes to proliferate; and to do so, people must learn that mosquitoes need clean, still water (like vases and swimming pools) to incubate, and develop health habits.

But most people either don't know what to do, or just don't care (until, of course, there is an outbreak of the disease, like now).


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Tourism in Natal suffers with lack of planning

Newspaper Tribuna do Norte published today, December 30th, an article called "Lack of planning is the biggest problem of tourism in Rio Grande do Norte".

The report describes how Natal still receives many tourists, attracted by a set of features not easily found anywhere in the world: sun, beaches, peaceful people, absence of cataclisms. If there were professional management of the Tourism business in Natal, the area would be one of the most important tourist centers in the world; however, because tourism in the Goverment levels is commanded more by personal interests than professional merits, the result is a lack of planning (and actions) which brings more and more uncertainty to the future of Natal as a world tourism destination.

The text below is paraphrased from the original.

"The charter flight coming from England is 15 hours late. This is not news neither for the passengers embarking in London, nor for the staff of Infraero (airport management) which work in Natal.

But there is one thing which surprises Gina Robinson, a representative of the Secretary of Tourism of Rio Grande do Norte who arrives in the flight: a escalator which goes the wrong way. When passengers disembarked, at 5 am in the morning, there was nobody to provide assistance, and the only way to get upstairs was climbing the escalator which was rolling down. As the passengers were not used to open doors without authorization, they were surprised to see Gina calling for someone from staff to open the doors and start working with the luggage.

And there are more things in the Airport Augusto Severo that need fixing. The air conditioning, for example, has been broken for months (in a city where temperatures about 100 degrees F or 35 degrees C are common); the cost of fixing it would be R$ 200 thousand (about US$ 110 thousand), but Infraero doesn't seem to have the money (the boarding tax in Brazil, which goes entirely to Infraero, is one of the highest in the world). According to Mário Barreto, President of Via Costeira Hotels Association, the airport is a wreckage.

One of the reasons is the lack of planning. The tourism authorities are trying to raise numbers for a report about the number of tourists coming to Natal, but not even this seems easy. Once again, there are talks about a joint action between the city and the State (someone discovered that there are no bus lines between the airport to the city, which obliges passengers to pay outrageous taxi fares or pay for closed packages to tour operators); this time, talks include the help of Federal funds, as the Ministry of Tourism also seems to have found out that Tourism can be a good business for Brazil.

And, as in previous years, the lack of reliable statistics creates rumors about the actual number of guests in the hotels of Natal. Every year, hotel owners claim that business are not doing well, and ask for more Government action, support and subsides. In the beginning of 2007, the Association of Hotels forecasted "the worst year for the hotels in 21 years", but at the end of the year several hotels in Via Hosteira claimed a "very successful year". Now, again, the hotels say that "2008 won't be good; the dollar is down, the air traffic in Brazil is still a mess, more and more tourists are staying in cruising ships (rather than hotels)". But, as Tribuna says, there are more and more hotels being built, and very few have been closed down.

Hotels are again asking for more promotion: "we have to attract again the European passengers". The Secretary of Tourism says that the priority should be attract the Brazilian travelers, particularly the business travelers."
Note from Natal-Brazil: last year (2007) was quieter than the previous one (2006); and this year, so far, is quieter than last year. Natal is still sunny, beautiful, cheap and peaceful, and this downtrend can turn out to be benefic for visitors.

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Tourists complain about Tourist Services in Natal

A report published by newspaper Tribuna do Norte shows that visitors still complain much about the quality of tourism services in Natal.

The report starts by mentioning severals cases of Brazilian tourists who say that they can't move around Natal and the neighbor beaches because of the lack of information and signalization. Several people got lost trying to reach the beaches, both in the Northern (Jenipabu and beyond) and Southern (Pirangi and Pipa) coasts; the opening of the new bridge only made matters worse. Besides, people complain (remember: Brazilian people) that there is not information available about the main places of visitation within the city; tourist guides are said to be uninformed. And the report didn't mention it, but it is well known that a place where educational levels are low, like Natal, can not provide skilled manpower to the tourism businesses.

Of course, the situation is much worse when it comes to foreign tourists. Then, to the lack of culture and lack of professionalism, one must add the lack of proficiency in other languages. If Portuguese speakers find it hard to move around the city, foreigns get lotst much easily; public signalization, when available, is in Portuguese only; as the report says, the only multi-linguals source of information are the propaganda papers distributed by private businesses.

Some phrases, quoted from the article: "Many of my fellows don't speak any English, they just string the clients along until they tire", said a tourist guide; "I don't feel any difficulty; the clients always ask the same clients", said the girl who works at the bookshop of the airport; "I don't loose any business (because of my lack of English), the customers end up getting used to it"; said the owner of a shop at the airport; "only 20% of the 350 buggy drivers are capable of speaking English", said a very optimistic Director of the buggy drivers association; "I think that the foreign visitors must learn Portuguese; when we travel abroad, nobody tries to learn Portuguese to talk to us; sorry, I don't care about them", said a staff of the airport !

And what does the Government say? The Secretary of Tourism, Fernando Bezerril, says that things are going to get better. There have been meetings, studies, conventions, etc, and now they know what to do. The same old story.
Link again:

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bridge Natal - Redinha is opened.

The new bridge Natal - Redinha was officially opened yesterday, November 20th 2007.

This is the longest and most beautiful bridge in Brazil (the bridge JK, in Brasilia, is also modern and beautiful, but the scenery in Natal is uncomparable better).

Besides being beautiful, it was planned to be useful. Before the bridge, there were two ways to get across the river Potengi: driving around the Northern bridge of Igapó or taking the ferry boat; the bridge will save about half an hour of thousands of drivers every day (the Transit Department estimates that about 25 thousand vehicles a day will use the bridge), and will hopefully bring economic progress to the Northern part of Natal.

Below, a few photos of the bridge.
Photos by Ivanízio Ramos, sponsored by the Government of Rio Grande do Norte; click the photos to view a much large image.

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November 21st is holiday in Natal.

November 21st is Day of Our Lady or Presentation (Nossa Senhora da Apresentação), Patron Saint of Natal; it's a holiday in Natal.

Every year, a pilgrimage attracts thousands of people, who follow an statue of Our Lady from the Church of Rosário to the Metropolitan Cathedral.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

October 3rd, holiday in Natal and RN

Starting this year, October 3rd is a Holiday in Natal and in the Rio Grande do Norte. Private businesses like hotels and restaurants should open as usual, but Government offices should be closed.

This Holiday sparkled a discussion in the city, as can be seen at this article by Tribuna do Norte.

Back in the 16th and 17th Centuries, Portugal and Spain merged into one single Kingdom. Portugal had friendly relationships with Holland, but Spain didn't. When the Spanish King ordered that Brazil ceased to negotiate with Holland, the Dutch invaded Brazil and occupied Olinda and Recife, from 1630 to 1654. To consolidade the domination, the Dutch attempted to expand their ruling to neighbor areas (in this process, they also took Natal and founded Fortaleza).

On July 16th 1645, the Dutch soldiers and their Indian allies attacked a church in Cunhaú and killed 69 people who were attending a mass. On October 3rd 1645, another attack, this time in Uruaçu, killed another 80 people; these people were given the chance to survive, provided they accepted to abandon Portugal and Catholicism, and became loyal to Holland and Protestantism; they refused, and were killed.

In 1989, a process started to canonize (declare Saints) those people who were killed. In 1998, the Pope declared some people (those who could be identified) Martyr. In 2000, they were beatified. The process is still going on, but there is no prevision about when they will be Saintified.

So, what's the fuss about?

First off, this is a Catholic celebration; Catholics argue that this demonstration of courage deserves to be remembered (and deserves a Holiday). But, since 1889, Brazil doesn't have an official religion (during the Brazilian Empire, from 1822 to 1889, Catholicism was official; the Empire funded the Church, and in turn had strong influence on the Bishops); Catholicism is still predominant, but Protestantism is the religious group which grows the fastest. So, critics say, there is no need to make this celebration day a Holiday for people of all religions.

Besides, there is the economic factor. Private shops will open, but employers must pay extra to staff; and if anyone needs the Government, will have to wait. Brazil is probably one of the countries with the highest number of Holidays in the World; to name just a few: Sept. 7th was a National Holiday, and so will be October 12th and November 2nd (and on top of that, everyone has 30 days of paid yearly vacations, plus 10 extra days of salary). In such a poor, low productivity country, each Holiday means less welfare in the future.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

More American tourists in Natal ?

Veja magazine (the biggest in Brazil and the fourth biggest in the World) published an interview with the American Ambassador in Brasil, Clifford Sobel.
Mr. Sobel has been in Brasil for one year; previously he had been Ambassador in Holland for four years. The interview was about the current state of affairs between Brazil and USA; President Lula and President Bush have met two times this year, and there seems to be a strong mutual interest in developing the market of ethanol (the most promising kind of bio-fuel; Brazil is the largest producer and technology leader in this field).
Veja is for subscribers only, but a copy of the interview is here.

One of the questions/answers was:

"Veja: What other projects of cooperation between Brazil and USA are in progress?

Sobel: See what incredible thing: there are barely no American tourists in the Brazilian Northeast. We intend to stimulate the tourism of our country fellows to this region. The Northeast is the region of Brazil closest to the US, features some of the most beautiful places in the country and is full of Europeans, but not of Americans. We want to work jointly with the private sector to setup new air routes between American cities and cities of the Brazilian Northeast. The tourism potential of these new routes is immense."

Mr. Sobel is a true fan of the Northeast, where he is usually seen spending holidays.

Every year, more than one million Americans visit Rio de Janeiro; this is more than the number of foreign tourists who visit Fortaleza, Natal and Recife combined. If Mr. Sobel succeeds in drawing attention to the Northeast, and new routes are created saving Americans from three or four hours flight, a big increase in visitation should occurr.

Now, this would be an excellent opportunity for the Travel Authorities of Natal to contact Mr. Sobel and beg him to offer every possible kind of help. But, telling from past experiences, this is not going to happen.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Illegal tunnel was being carved

A Spanish group which is building a hotel and a mall in Ponta Negra was carving a tunnel without any authorization.
The tunnel would pass under avenida Roberto Freire (the street which goes downhill to the Ponta Negra beach) and would connect the hotel to the beach street. It was discovered only because the workers broke a water pipe, and CAERN (the Water and Sewage Company) was called.

When CAERN reached the tunnel, it was already 3 meters high, 3 meters wide and 18 meters long (see photo). The city Government ordered immediate stop of the work. The owner of the hotel, Adolfo Sierra Calderon, went to the authorities, but didn't explain why he was building the tunnel.

Carving such a big tunnel is obviously against the law (probably a crime), and puts at risk the safety of many people; even in Brazil, this kind of act is unheard of. The Spaniards managed to burst another wave of criticisms against the foreigns who "come to Ponta Negra and do whatever they want". See comments by the readers of Tribuna do Norte here.

The name of the mall being built is Gorbea Shopping. Recommended for those who want to do business with people who don't seem to care much about respecting the law.

Update: the Public Prosecutors entered into an 'agreement' with the Spaniards. There will be no criminal suit. The Spaniards should 'donate' some equipment to be used in water sanitation or something similar; estimated cost is 'at least' R$ 20,000 (about US$ 10,000); the Prosecutors will be 'very rigorous' to guarantee that the Spaniards fulfill the agreement.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Death toll in federal highways in RN

On July 15th, newspaper Tribuna do Norte published a report about the number of people who died in transit accidents in the federal highways of Rio Grande do Norte.

The numbers don't cause any commotion among Brazilians (who are accostumed to hear such news), but they may shock visitors from other countries.

According to the Federal Highway Police (which must be called whenever there is an accident in federal highways), in the first semester of 2007 alone, 103 people died on federal highways; the number is up from 69 in the same period of last year; the number doesn't include the cases which happened in State roads, and doesn't include the cases where the victims die later on, because of the accidents.

The main cause of accidents is misbehaving of drivers. Disrespect to signalization (overspeeding, prohibited overtaking) and driving under influence of alcohol are very common.

The BR-101 (which leads to João Pessoa and Recife, in the south, and Touros, in the north) has the highest number of accidents, but the highest number of fatalities occurs at the BR-304 (which leads to Mossoró and then to Fortaleza).

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Friday, June 29, 2007

New airport in São Gonçalo: no sooner than 2010

Another schedule was announced with regards to the new airport to be built in the city of São Gonçalo, about 30 km from Natal.
When finished, it should be one of the largest airports in Brazil. More specifically, due to its position (near Europe and North America), it should be the largest cargo hub in Brazil. Natal should benefit from the increase in tourism and trading.

Several schedules have been announced so far, but little has been done. The main problem is that the airport requires a lot of money, and neither the Governments nor the private sectors are willing to take the risks.

Recently, a new planning was announced (see report in Portuguese here).

The new idea is that BNDES (Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social - National Bank for Economic and Social Development), an official bank which fomments businesses by loaning subsidized money, will provide the necessary funds.
The building of the airport will be chartered to a private company, to be chosen by a bidding process. The winner will use BNDES money to build the airport, and will be granted the rights to explore the business for a period (yet to be determined) of 20 or 30 years. This model is different from most other airports in Brazil, which are built and managed by the Federal Government (through an agency called Infraero).
Besides charging taxes from air companies and passengers, the charterer will have rights over the Special Exporting Zone which will be built around the airport.

According to officials, the fact that the Government and its bureaucracy will not be involved with the works should speed up the process.
If everything goes as planned, the new airport should be (partially) operating before the end of 2010.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Exports of Rio Grande do Norte

The Secretary for Economic Development of Rio Grande do Norte released a report about the products exported by the State of Rio Grande do Norte; the original report, in Portuguese, is here.

According to the report, in the first five months of 2007, the total volume (in dollars) exported by the State grew by 12.7% in comparison to the same period of 2006, going from US$ 129 million to US$ 145.5 million.
The report doesn't take into account the steep devaluation of the dollar against the real in the period; that means that the volumes of cargo actually shipped increased by more than 12.7%.

It is also interesting to observe that the profile of exports consists basically of primary products, reflex of the low level of industrialization in the State.

The first item of exportaion was mellon, US$ 22.5 million, followed by shrimp, US$ 16.3 million. Next came cashew nuts, US$ 15.9 million, and banana (value not informed, but banana had the highest growth rate, 68%).

Only in 5th place is there a semi-elaborated product, sugar, US$ 9.7 million exported. Other products with more than US$ 1 million exported are iron ore and carnauba wax (carnauba is a kind of palm tree which grows in the interior of the State).

It is clear that, for good and for bad, the State of Rio Grande do Norte will not industrialized in the near future.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Dollar breaks the R$2 barrier

Today, for the first time since February of 2001, the dollar fell below the R$ 2 barrier: markets closed with the course of US$1 = R$ 1.9890.

In 2002 and 2003, the dollar reached almost US$ 4, because President Lula used to defend ideas like non-payment of debts, punishment to wild capitalists, etc. However, after taking office, Lula continued (and in many cases deepened) the orthodox measures implanted by ex-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. This continuity of Economy policies, along with the excellent conditions of the international financial market, caused the dollar to fall since 2004.

This is bad news for foreign tourists, and for businesses which depend on tourism.
Many Brazilian tourists are preferring a trip to Miami or Buenos Aires rather than the Northeast, because prices in dollar are falling.
On the other hand, tourists who bring dollars to spend in Brazil are seeing their money buying less and less.
The euro has not been loosing much to the Real, so prices in euros are not going up. However, with the increase of Brazilians travelling abroad (and they must return, eventually), airline companies have less seats to sell to foreigns; this decreases availability and increases prices of tickets.

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Ponta Negra bridge is re-opened

The Ponta Negra bridge, which links Avenida Roberto Freire to BR-101, was re-opened, now with an extra lane; there used to be two lanes from BR-101 to Avenida Roberto Freire and only one the opposite way; now there are two lanes each way.

This bridge is the one near Nordestão and Hiper, in one end, and Carrefour and Natal Shopping, in the other end.
Because of the high flow of vehicles from Ponta Negra to the BR-101, this bridge was one of the main transit bottlenecks in Natal. At rush hours, traffic jams were inevitable.

This is a feature which makes Natal stand out from other major Brazilian cities: not only transit flows smootherly, but also the authorities plan in advance to prevent problems from growing too big. In recent years, important works were done to improve transit in the city, such as the Complex 4th Centenary (near Machadão stadium), the loops and bridges in the cross ways to Fortaleza and Recife and the Redinha bridge.

Despite the big recent growth in the number of vehicles, Natal still has one of the best transit systems in Brazil.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Brazil - Norway operation arrests criminals in Natal

A joint operation between the Federal Police of Brazil and Okokrim, the National Police of Norway, resulted in the prison of nine people in Natal and fifteen people in Norway.

Since March of 2006 (see archive here), there were suspicions that groups of Norwegian criminals were using Natal to launder illegal money.
The investigations by the Polices showed that the group called B-Gang was laudering money in Brazil. This is an important criminal organization in Norway, commanded by Pakistanis, charged of extortions, kidnappings and drug traffic.

The money obtained by the gang was sent to Brazil and used to build and buy luxury real estate. The gang was the owner of three real estate groups in Natal: Blue Marlim, Natal Invest and Grupo Capricórnio. Some Brazilian lawyers who helped the gang in Brazil were also arrested.

The Police were helped much by the work of two journals: Brazilian Tribuna do Norte and Norwegyan Dagens Naeringsliv.
The article in Tribuna, wich names of some of the people arrested, is here.
The article in Naeringsliv, in Norwegian, is here.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Pope in Brazil

The Pope Benedict XVI (in Portuguese, he is called Bento 16) arrived today in Brazil, and will stay here until the 14th. Brazil is THE biggest Catholic country in the world.
There are political discussions about the importance of this visit; for example, there is a draft of law in Congress about legalization of abortion in Brazil (today, abortion is legal only in very specific circumstances), and the Pope would have talked about "excomunhão" (expelling from Catholicism) of Deputies and Senators who vote for the law.

The purpose of this post, however, is to remind Catholics visiting Natal that a Pope visited the city in the past.
Pope John Paul II came to Brazil in 1991 (it was his second visit to Brazil), and the first city he visited was Natal. On October 12th, day of the Patron Saint of Brazil, Our Lady Aparecida, John Paul II celebrated a mass at the Cathedral of Natal (see his speach).

John Paul stayed one night in Natal. Instead of the hotels by the beach, the Pope chose to stay at the Centro de Treinamento, a Training Center used by the Catholic Church for meetings and events.
The Training Center is located at the end of Ponta Negra village, about one hundred meters behind the Ponta Negra church.
The Center has, besides meeting halls, some rooms used for accommodation of the people who attend the events.

Last year, I visited the center (I mean: I asked the lady who was guarding the gate to allow me a short entrance), and I was told that, during certain months of the year (from January to March), the rooms are open for other guests.
Catholics may find spiritually significant to visit the center. In the garden, there is a tree (a pau-brazil) which was planted by the Pope.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Two news: low quality education and high income concentration

Two news which are likely related.

On April 26th, the Federal Government published the results of Ideb (Index of development of Basic Education), which assess the quality of all schools (public and private) of the basic education in Brazil, which, at the time of the survey, was composed of eight years on elementary cycle (currently, it's nine) and three years of intermediary cycle.
From 1st to 4th grade, the State of Rio Grande do Norte had the worst results of all 27 States, tied with the States of Piauí and Bahia; the average grade of these States was 2.6, whereas the national average (which itself reflects the low level of Education in Brazil) was 3.9.
From 5th to 8th grade, the State was in 24th position, better than Pernambuco, Alagoas and Paraíba; the State average was 2.6, the national average was 3.3.
In the intermediary cycle, the average was also 2.6, against a national average of 3.0; the State was in 25th position.
When only the capitals are considered, Natal finished 26th in the elementary cycle and 21st in the intermediary cycle.
The city of Acari had the best score in the State, with an average of 4.7.
Newspaper Tribuna do Norte published more details about this survey on Education in Rio Grande do Norte.

On May 1st, another survey showed the other side of the coin: Rio Grande do Norte has the third worst index of income concentration in the country; only the State of Piauí and the Federal District (comprised of a rich nucleus, Brasilia, and a very poor periphery) are worse than RN.
The Gini Index, an attempt to turn income concentration into a number, is 0.578 (the higher, the worse); the average for Brazil, known for its high income concentration, is 0.552.
The 430,000 people in the poorer classes have an average income of R$ 160 per month; the 110,000 people in the richer classes have an average income of R$ 3.014 per month, nearly 19 times as much.
This same survey showed that 21.5% of the population of RN are officially illiterate, and other 32.3 are functionally illiterate (can only read and write little more than their own names).
More detailed article is here.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

São Miguel do Gostoso, a growing travel destination

According to Exame, a well regarded magazine oriented to business and finances, the city and beach of São Miguel do Gostoso, in Rio Grande do Norte, will become one of the most popular travel destinations in Brazil in the near future; São Miguel has potential to become as popular as Porto Seguro and Bonito.

Other cities appointed by Exame as future popular destinations are Belmonte (Bahia), Aquiraz (Ceará) and Cambará do Sul (Rio Grande do Sul).

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Governor is prosecuted

The Public Prosecution of the State of Rio Grande do Norte filed a public civil suit against the Governor, Mrs. Wilma Faria, and members of her staff.

According to the prosecutors, the Governor used public funds to pay for self-promotion; the prosecutors demand the defendants to refund R$ 6 million (about US$ 3 million) to the Treasury.

Last year, the Government paid R$ 6 million to television for a campaign called "Tá Melhor" (It is Better), in which the State showed their realizations, in comparison with the previous Government.
Brazilian legislation allows use of TV to publicize Government realizations, but it must be institutional, prohibited any personal reference.
Prosecutors say that, by inducing a comparison between governments (and carefully showing only evidences that hers was better), Mrs. Faria infringed the law.

More info on this page of the website of Public Prosecution of Rio Grande do Norte.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Neuroscience Symposium in Natal

Natal will host, from 23rd to 25th February, the II Neuroscience International Symposium.
The event will have 25 lecturers and 600 attendants. Some of the greatest researchers in the field will come to Natal, like Miguel Nicolelis (Brazilian, chief organizer of the event), Michael Merzenich (UCSF) and Mriganka Sur (MIT).

Miguel Nicolelis is a Brazilian physician, one of the directors of Center for Neuroengineering in the University of Duke, North Carolina. In 2004, Science and Scientific American appointed Nicolelis as one of the most influential researchers in the world.

Nicolelis is mentor and main director of the Instituto Internacional de Neurociencias de Natal. The Institute, with main office in Macaiba and campi in Macaiba and Natal, will combine research, learning and social services.
Despite being probably the most famous and capable Brazilian scientist alive, and despite being IINN a private foundation, Mr. Nicolelis is facing a tough battle to conclude the Institute, which will be a major Brazilian research center. The infrastructure (access roads, water and sewage, etc) depend much on the Governments, but these don't seem much willing to help.

Visit the website of the International Institute of Neuroscience in Natal.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Carnival in Natal - 2007

Natal is still known for not having a big carnival. Actually, it looks like the big carnivals in Brazil (Rio, Salvador and Recife) gain more and more popularity (with tourists and media) every year; there is a rumour that the cities will try to push a carnival tour, by which a tourist can spend two days in each city.

Back to Natal: there was again a police strike during carnival (last year, it was the civil police; this year, the military). Coincidence or not, the headline of Tribuna do Norte on February 21st was: "Carnaval 2007 is the most violent in recent years - 36 violent deaths from Friday to Tuesday"; notice that this number (36 deaths) is remarkable in Natal, still a safe city, and would be ordinary in other more violent cities.
Old traditions were kept in 2007, like the samba schools parade and the drag queens parade.
The city government, like in 2006, created carnaval poles around the city, like this one, to make it more accessible to the population.
Other cities in the interior of Rio Grande do Norte, like Touros, Macau, Areia Branca, maintained the tradition of happy carnavals.

The hotels in Natal were busy during the carnaval. Natal is still an excellent place for those who want to take some rest during the carnival.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Salaries of the Police

Newspapers report that the Association of Soldiers and Sargents of the Military Police are in talks with the State Government to talk about raises of salaries. According to the Association, the Government would not be honouring promises made last year, during the elections campaigns.

I think it may be interesting for foreigns to know how much Brazilian Police is paid.

There are three main Polices in Brazil: Federal, Military and Civil Police (some of the bigger cities have also a Municipal Police, but not Natal).
Federals take care of federal crimes and surveil borders, among other jobs. The Military are incumbent of keeping law and order; they wear uniforms and drive cars with police signs. The civil police are incumbent of investigating crimes (robberies, assaults, etc).

Federal Police has the highest salaries, something around R$ 8,000 (US$ 4,000).

Military and Civil Police are both paid by the States.
Right now, the Military are asking to have the same salary as the Civil. If this happens, the salary of a soldier policeman will raise from R$ 1111 to R$ 1594; the salary of a Colonel would raise from R$ 4935 yo R$ 7310.

That means that, if the Military manage to get the raise they are asking for, a Police soldier or agent in Rio Grande do Norte will be paid around US$ 800 a month.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Education in Rio Grande do Norte: some statistics

Since a few years ago, Brazil has been attempting to do what other countries have been doing for decades: measure how much students actually learn.
Most researches are conducted by the Brazilian Ministry of Education (, which has an assistant Institute to help analyse the numbers: INEP - National Institute of Educational Studies and Researches.

INEP released their most recent results.

Case 1: SAEB (National System of Basic Education): students are submitted to tests of Math and Portuguese (reading and comprehension).
Students of the 4th Year of Elementary Level of Rio Grande do Norte ranked the worst in Brazil (Brazil has 27 States and one Federal District).
Students of the 8th Year of Elementary Level of Rio Grande do Norte ranked 22nd in Portuguese and 19th in Math.
Students of the 3rd Year of Intermediary Level ranked 23rd in Portuguese and 21st in Math.

Case 2: ENEM (National Test of Intermediary Level). Students are submitted to tests in all subjects. Some Universities may accept the results of ENEM to determine who is going to enroll.
Rio Grande do Norte dropped from 12th position in 2005 to 13th position in 2006.

SAEB is compulsory; ENEM is voluntary. In both surveys, the State of Brazil with best results was Rio Grande do Sul (in the southern extreme of Brazil).

Update: To check the results of ENEM for all schools in Brazil, click here, then click on "Faça sua Consulta", then select "Rio Grande do Norte" or other UF, then the city (TODAS means ALL).
The schools in Natal with the best performances were: Centro de Educação Integrada, (final grade 63.66); Centro Federal de Educação Tecnológica, (63.39); Salesiano São José, (60.44); Colégio Marista de Natal, (59.58); Colégio Nossa Senhora das Neves, (58.54); Escola Doméstica de Natal, (59.11).

The average result for the city of Natal was 41.902; for the State of Rio Grande do Norte, 39.855; and for Brazil, 42.558.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Tourism in Rio Grande do Norte: some statistics

IBGE, the Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics, published yesterday a report with some figures about internal tourism; this is the first time that IBGE made such study.
IBGE used data of the year of 2003; the full report, in Portuguese, is here.

In 2003, the tourism sector contribution to the total value added to the Economy was only 2.2% (R$ 31 billion, or about US$ 15 billion); notice that 'value added' is something equivalent to 'profits'.
IBGE concluded also that Brazilian families spent only 1.7% of their budgets (about 17 billion) with tourism.
This only shows how tourism is still incipient in Brazil.

Regarding the State of Rio Grande do Norte:
  • In the list of States where Brazilians spent most money with tourism, Rio Grande do Norte takes the 15th position (Brazil has 27 States and one Federal District).
    To mention only the States of Northeast, which compete among themselves for tourists, Bahia was first (Brazilian tourists spent R$ 3 bn there), followed by Pernambuco (R$ 1.6 bn), Ceara (R$ 1.1 bn) and Rio Grande do Norte (R$ 492 million).

  • In 2003, there were 18,700 people employed in the tourism sector in RN; the total mass of salaries was R$ 112 million. This means that the mean annual salary was R$ 6,000, or R$ 500 per month, or, at current exchange rate, about US$ 250 per month.

    These figures are from 2003; even though inflation is at low levels in Brazil, there was a significant increase in minimum wage (it was R$ 200 in 2002, it will be R$ 380 from May 2007), which may have caused a proportional increase in the average salary of the tourism industry. However, by American and European standards, the salaries of people working in the tourism sector of RN are still very low.

  • Friday, January 19, 2007

    Salaries of teachers in Natal will be raised.

    Carlos Eduardo Alves, Mayor of Natal
    Carlos Eduardo,
    Mayor of Natal.

    Good news for anyone who likes Natal.

    The mayor Carlos Eduardo Alves announced today a raise in salaries of the teachers of the municipal schools, starting March of this year.
    The raise will be of 23.74%. This is surprising, not only because inflation rate last year was around 3%, but also because the Government and the Union of teachers had already agreed on an increase of 17.81%.

    If this raise is confirmed, the accumulated raise since January of 2001, when Mr. Alves took office as Mayor, will be of 93.1%, way above the inflation indexes, which stayed at around 55%. Besides, Mr. Alves declared that, among other actions to support education, his Government created a Career Plan to teachers, invested in new schools and started providing free uniform and learning material to students.

    With this raise, the new minimum salary of a teacher, for a shift of 20 hours per week, will be R$ 842.90, or around US$ 400 (the minimum salary for general workers will be R$ 380, for a 40 hour shift); a teacher at the top of career will earn around R$ 2,000.00, also for a 20 hour shift.
    The Mayor says that Natal will be the city in the Northeast of Brazil which pays the highest salaries to teachers.

    Our congratulations to the Mayor Carlos Eduardo Alves.

    Thursday, January 04, 2007

    Natal is behind Salvador and Fortaleza

    The States of the Northeast of Brazil (the area of the coast with latitudes between the Equatorial Line and the Tropic of Capricorn) compete fiercely for tourists, both domestic and foreigner.

    Infraero is a federal agency which controls most Brazilian airports (it is to Infraero that travelers pay the outrageously expensive Brazilian boarding tax); Infraero keeps statistics about the number and nationality of people who use the airports.

    Infraero released statistics about international visitors in the airports of the Northeast in the period January-2006 to October-2006.
    According to Infraero, the airport Luis Eduardo Magalhães, in Salvador had the highest number of foreign visitors, with 308.507 passengers; airport Pinto Martins, in Fortaleza, came second, with 218.491 passengers; airport Augusto Severo, in Natal, had 203.477 passengers; airport Gilberto Freire, in Recife, had 140.353 passengers; Maceió was next, with 21.024 passengers.

    Friday, December 29, 2006

    Foreign investments: some statistics

    Newspaper Jornal de Hoje published a report on Wednesday, December 27th, about foreign investments in the Northeast of Brazil.

    The source of the information, according to the report, was the Central Bank of Brazil, Bacen; the market of foreign currency in Brazil is fully regulated by Bacen, which monitors each dollar which moves in and out of the country.

    According to Bacen, Rio Grande do Norte is the State in the Northeast of Brazil which most received investments of foreign individuals in 2005; the article doesn't say so, but probably most of these investments were towards the acquisition of real estate. Notice that the statistics refer only to individuals, and do not include the investments made by corporations.

    A total of US$ 127 million were invested in all the States of Northeast combined. Rio Grande do Norte was the one which, by far, received the most: US$ 61 million; Bahia came in second, with U$ 33 million; Pernambuco received US$ 1.5 million; Paraiba received only US$ 154 thousand. The report doesn't mention any other State, but it is very likely that Ceará had received the biggest part of the remaining US$ 31 million (check out this post about investments in the northeast of Brazil).

    The report also says, withouth mentioning specific figures, that Bahia is the State in Northeast where the highest number of permanent visas is granted; Rio Grande do Norte is the second State in the Northeast, and tenth in Brazil, to grant permanent visas.

    Monday, December 25, 2006

    A reminding to all: Natal is a city in a Third World country

    I lived in London for a few months.
    Only once did I have the chance to see a British policeman lose his temper: a driver had stopped his car in a forbidden place (middle of street), for a brief time, just to pick up a packet in a shop; the policeman *yelled* at him, not as much because of the infraction, but more so because he was blocking several other cars which were after him; the infractor moved on, right away.
    This showed me how much repulse the British in particular, and socially developed countries in general, have for people who act in an anti-social way: knowing they are doing something wrong, but doing it anyway. Civilized people don't need laws to know what is right and wrong, and act accordingly.

    Well, it's 2:45 am in Natal, December 25th.
    Someone is throwing a party, and the sound is so loud that the entire neighbourhood (in Capim Macio, near Ponta Negra) is obliged to listen to it. Something which would be unthinkable in Western Europe.

    In London, Stockholm, Helsinki, Barcelona, Lisbon (btw, all cities that I had the pleasure to visit), the police would take less than ten minutes to shut down the party.
    In Natal, the Police number is 190. They say that they won't do anything, though; one must call the environment protection agency, or something similar. The police is kind enough to pass the phone number, but guess what: nobody answers the phone there.

    This post is a ranting and a reminding.
    This entire site is an attempt to show that Natal is an excellent place to visit.
    However, people coming from North America and Europe may be shocked to learn in practice that Natal is a city in the Third World, and that some basic rules of civility taken for granted at their home country simply do not apply here.

    Saturday, December 16, 2006

    Christmas in Natal

    Natal is the Portuguese word for "Christmas".
    So, Christmas is an even more special occasion in Natal than in the rest of Brazil.

    Brazilians celebrate Christmas like most Western countries.
    Natal prepares special events to celebrate Christmas.
    Click here to read more about Christmas in Brazil and Natal.

    Monday, December 04, 2006

    Carnatal 2006

    carnatal 2006Carnatal 2006 finished yesterday.

    The event attracts more and more people every year.
    It is a private event, organized by professionals. Every year, mistakes made the previous year are fixed.
    Many people who came the previous year return the following years. Most of the bands and artists are also becoming old timers, more and more integrated with Carnatal.

    Carnatal 2006 was, like all other editions, very orderly and peaceful.
    We attended Carnatal and took some photos. Read about Carnatal 2006.
    To read general information about Carnatal, click here.

    Tuesday, November 28, 2006

    America is promoted to First Division

    America NatalYesterday, America FC, one of the football teams in Natal, managed to qualify to play in the first division of Brazilian football in 2007.
    America finished the Second Division in 4th place, and will be one of the 4 teams promoted to the First Division (the other ones are Atletico Mineiro, from Minas Gerais, and Sport Recife and Nautico, both from nearby State of Pernambuco).

    This means that, in 2007, the major Brazilian football teams, such as São Paulo, Flamengo, Corinthians and others will play in Natal; it will be a good chance to go Machadao and watch some famous Brazilian players.

    Since 1998, when America was demoted to 2nd Division, there had not been a team of the State in the First Division.
    The other major team of Natal, ABC, is struggling to move from Third Division to Second Division (but is unlikely to succeed).
    ABC is, still, the most popular team in Rio Grande do Norte (measured by number of fans). However, after several very bad seasons of ABC, some say that America is closing the gap, and may soon become the most popular.

    Thursday, November 09, 2006

    Brazilian airports become a chaos

    On September 29th, a tragedy occurred in Brazil: a Boeing 737 and a Legacy jet collided on air; the Boeing crashed, killing 155; the Legacy managed to land. Read what BBC wrote about the airplane collision in Brasil. Until today, the investigations about the causes of the accident are still in progress.

    One of the possible causes is a failure in the Brazilian flight control; the failure can be human, of procedures or of equipments.
    Since the accident, the flight control personnel, both military and civilian, has been declaring that they work in very stressful conditions; according to them, because there are too few flight controllers, each one of them is obliged to work long hours, and to control more flights at the same time than the recommended safe limit.

    Since the last week of October, the flight controllers adopted a radical measure: they would follow ALL security rules. For example, they would work only the recommended number of hours; they would control only the recommended number of simultaneous flights; they would allow an aircraft to take off only thirty minutes after the previous one.

    Result: the major Brazilian airports (Brasilia, São Paulo and Rio Janeiro) became a chaos. Some flights had delays of up to 24 hours; many flights were cancelled; the airport waiting rooms were overcrowded.

    Natal was not in the center of the problem, but suffered the consequences. Most flights which arrive in Natal come from the major airports; when a plane delayed there, all the flights along the chain were also delayed.

    The Brazilian authorities are trying to take measures to sort the situation, but any solution involves the training of new controllers, and it takes time.
    Nobody can guarantee when the situation will return to normality.

    Friday, November 03, 2006

    Daylight Saving WILL NOT be adopted in Natal

    At 00:00 am of November 5th, several States of Brazil, including Brasília, will adopt daylight saving time; clocks shall be setup to 01:00am. This will last until 00:00 am of February 25th 2007; then, in the States which adopted the saving time, clocks should be setup to 11:00 pm.

    The States in the Northeast of Brazil (including Rio Grande do Norte) do not adopt the daylight saving time.
    This means that, during that period, time in Natal will be one hour less than in Brasilia (when it is 8pm in Brasilia, it will be 7pm in Natal).
    This difference may affect some activities, like watching Brazilian TV channels, or taking a long distance flight.

    The intention of the daylight saving is, like everywhere in the world, to save energy.
    In the Northeast, where sun rises sooner and sets later, it makes even more sense to adopt the new saving time. Actually, it doesn't make any sense to adopt the scheme in the South of Brazil and not to adopt it in the North.
    It used to be the case that all States in the Northeast adopted the saving time. However, a few years ago, large States in the region like Bahia and Pernambuco refused to adopt it, alleging that, because people would have to leave home earlier, when the Sun wouldn't as high, there could be an increase in criminality.
    Ever since, the entire Northeast is outside the daylight savings zone.

    The maps below show the difference in time between Brazilian States.

    Normal time in Brazil

    Times during the daylight saving period

    Thursday, November 02, 2006

    A little more about the elections

    Some people may find this interesting.

    The elections finished at 5 pm, October 29th.

    Before 9 pm of the same day, the new Governor was announced by the Electoral Court.

    It took less than four hours to count all votes.
    And despite the very tight difference in the number of votes (particulary in the first round), there was not any questioning by the any of the candidates. Nobody mentioned recounting, nobody doubts that the elections were free and fair.

    For more than ten years, Brazil has been using electronic ballots.
    After a ballot is closed, someone just picks up a diskette and takes it to the Electoral Court, where all diskettes are processed.
    In this aspect, Brazil is a developed country.

    Monday, October 30, 2006

    Wilma de Faria is re-elected Governor of Rio Grande do Norte

    Wilma Maria de Faria was re-elected, in a second round, Governor of Rio Grande do Norte; Mrs. Wilma will finish her first term on December 31st, and will be empowered for a second term, from January 1st 2007 to December 31st 2010.
    In this second round, final results were: Mrs. Wilma de Faria: 52.38% of valid votes (blank votes or votes made null by the voter are not considered); Mr. Garibaldi Alves Filho: 47.62%.

    In the first round, on October 1st, the final result was: Mrs. Wilma de Faria: 49.57% of total valid votes (if she had one vote more than 50% of total votes, there would not even be a second round); Mr. Garibaldi Alves Filho: 48.60%; other candidates combined (Sandro de Oliveira Pimentel, José Geraldo Forte dos Santos, Humberto Mauricio da Silva, Antonio Jose Bezerra and Marco Antonio do Nascimento): less than 2%.

    According to surveys conducted three months ago, Mr. Garibaldi was favorite. During the campaign, Mrs. Wilma knew how to use the support by President Lula to gain votes among the poorer sectors of the population.

    The State of Rio Grande do Norte and the city of Natal will remain governed, as it has been for the past decades, by an oligarchy. Names like Alves, Maia, Faria, Rosado, Mello, Bezerra and very few others dominate the political scenario. The State of Rio Grande do Norte is the one in Brazil where oligarchies are strongest.

    Mrs. Wilma de Faria will be Governor, Carlos Eduardo Alves will be Mayor until 2008; the three Senators of the State will be: José Agripino Maia (until 2010); Garibaldi Alves Filho (until 2010); and Rosalba Ciarlini (elected in 2006, for a term until 2014).

    Mrs. Wilma de Faria is affiliated with PSB (Brazilian Socialist Party), a leftist Party. As a curiosity, the PSB, a small to medium sized Party, won elections for Governor in only three States, all in the Northeast of Brazil: Rio Grande do Norte, Pernambuco and Ceará.

    For more information about elections 2006 in Brazil, visit the site of the Superior Electoral Court.

    Sunday, October 01, 2006

    Gastronomic Festival in Pipa

    Pipa Gastronomic FestivalFrom 6th to 15th of October 2006, Pipa will see the Third Gastronomic Festival.
    This is a kind of contest among the restaurants of Pipa (participation is voluntary). Each restaurant should prepare a new plate especially for the Festival, using mostly regional products (which include fish and seafood); price is limited to R$ 15. Juries composed by gourmets and customers will elect the best recipes.

    Pipa is one of the places in the Northeast of Brazil with the best selection of restaurants. This is an excellent opportunity to taste delicious food for reasonable prices.

    Read more about restaurants in Pipa, and read more about the Pipa Food Festival.

    Friday, September 29, 2006

    Windsurfing from Fernando de Noronha to Natal

    Two Brazilian windsurfers, Diogo Guerreiro and Flavio Jardim, windsurfed all the way from the island of Fernando de Noronha to Natal, a distance of 370 km (about 230 miles). The journey started on September 26th and finished on the 27th; the surfers were not accompanied by any boat.
    Diogo and Flavio applied for an entry to the Guiness Book.

    The event had the support of the Tourism Secretary of Natal, and showed that Natal is one of the best places in the world for practices of windsurf and its more radical version, kitesurf.

    Actually, at present, the beach in the State of Rio Grande do Norte where these sports are more popular is São Miguel do Gostoso, about 120 km North of Natal.
    In the neighbour State of Ceará, a beach called Cumbuco has been known for a few years already as being one of the main places in the world for practice of kitesurf.

    Thursday, September 28, 2006

    Population revolted against new condo in Ponta Negra

    There is a project under progress to build three vertical condos very near the Morro do Careca, in Ponta Negra beach, main landmark of Natal. The project was approved by the Secretaries of Urbanization and of Environment.

    Tribuna do Norte reports today that the population of Ponta Negra is fiercily against the construction of the buildings. A group led by journalist Yuno Silva is making a call for lawyers, engineers, architects and authorities to better discuss the problem.
    The dwellers of Ponta Negra say that the three buildings will cover the view of Morro do Careca, one of the most beautiful and famous views in Natal. Besides, the aglomeration of another 200 families in a small space will create further problems to the area, such as increase in transit of vehicles and difficulties with sewage infrastructure. Many people recall also that, very recently, the Secretary of Environment obtained a judicial order to stop the building of a hotel in Via Costeira (read here), and wouldn't have taken the necessary precautions to issue a license now.

    The full article by Tribuna do Norte is here.
    It is interesting to read the comments posted by readers. There is a nearly unanymous feeling that the city government should be more concerned with the excessive growth of Ponta Negra; that beach was the favorite of natalenses just a few years ago, and today every square meter of it is being taken by foreigners.

    Update: today, 29th, the Mayor of Natal said that the licenses would be revised. Mr. Carlos Eduardo Alves said that, even though the Secretary of Environment had issued the licenses, he would ask the Juridical Advising sector of the government to have a second, more thorough, looking at the whole process.
    By the tone of his speech, it looks like the Mayor want the licenses to be revoked. This is clearly a response to the action of the population. The voice of the people was heard.

    Wednesday, September 27, 2006

    Spanish newspaper writes about sex tourism in Natal

    Important Spanish newspaper Elmundo published on September 17th 2006 an article describing the troubles that some Spanish tourists faced in Natal when they engaged in paid sexual encounters.
    The article was mentioned by newspapers in Natal and had repercussion among authorities and population in the city; the full original text in Spanish is here.

    The article tells how three Spanish citizens arranged to have a sexual encounter with five prostitutes they picket in Ponta Negra beach; it turned out that three of the prostitutes were shemales, and some of them were underage. The clientes were blackmailed (they suspect that the taxi drivers and hotel owners may have been part of the scheme) and had to pay a hefty amount to avoid facing the Police. Elmundo goes on to say that Natal is the most selected euro-bordel in Brazil.

    The report sounds a bit biased. Below, some facts of interest.
  • The legislation: prostitution is not illegal in Brazil; it is not fully regulated, as it is in Holland or Germany, but it is not illegal. Prostitutes are not criminals, so they don't have to hide from the police, nor do they need pimps (pimping is a crime; running a place for prostitution purposes is a crime; incitement to prostitution is a crime; profiting from prostitution is a crime).
  • Because there is much poverty in Natal, and because many people are willing to pay for sex, many women resort to prostitution. Tourism grew quickly in Natal, and attracted many sex workers, including many from other States. Public prostitution in Natal concentrates in a short stretch of Ponta Negra beach, which gives high visibility to the prostitutes.
  • Despite prostitution not being a crime, there is in Brazil an specific Statute for Children and Adolescents; according to this Statute, acts like offering alcohol to minors, bringing them to places not appropriate for minors (sex hotels), enticing them into some activities, etc are considered crimes, and are very severely watched and punished (the age of consenting sex in Brazil is 14 y.o.; having an affair with people under 18 y.o. is not, per se, a crime; crime is configured only when there is some enticement to prostitution)
  • The city of Natal does not endorse sexual tourism. Natal was the first city in Brazil to formally create a committee to combat this kind of visitors. The reach of this committee, though, is limited, because prostitution is not illegal. A few months ago, city and State conducted raids aiming to specifically shut down places favoring prostitution.

    Many foreign visitors come to Natal and, besides enjoying the city, have sexual encounters with professionals. Just like it happens, with much higher frequency, in Barcelona, Amsterdam and Hamburg, to name a few European sex hubs.
    The absolute majority of these encounters are just an agreement between two consenting adults acting within the boundaries of law.

    A few foreigns, probably relying on the proverbial leniency of Brazilian laws, Police and Justice, take the risk to get involved in acts which are clearly known to be illegal. That's the case, for instance, of people looking for sex with minors, or people looking to buy illegal drugs.
    In these cases, there is a much higher probability of having to deal with dishonest people. Cases of blackmailing or robbering are much more common. The bandits and victims know that everyone are acting in an out of the law manner, and are less prone to look for Police help.

    It looks like this was the case with the three Spanish tourists interviewed by Elmundo. The Spaniards knew what they were doing. Spotting an underage is not difficult, and spotting an transsexual is even less. In case of doubts about age, everyone is alerted to ask for IDs, that every Brazilian must carry.
    Instead of asking for Police help, the Spanish resorted to Elmundo. And it looks like Elmundo wrote their article without checking all facts thoroughly.

  • Wednesday, September 20, 2006

    Secretary of Tourism to help the Natal Convention Center

    The Secretary of Tourism of Rio Grande do Norte announced a financial assistance of R$ 60 thousand (about US$ 30,000) to the Natal Convention Center. The intention is to help the NCC attract new events, by visiting potential candidates and by bringing them to visit Natal.
    The Secretary of Tourism has also helped the NCC (a private institution) in other ways. For example, the Secretary paid for a promotional folder, is preparing a show case, has been paying managers to visit other similar Centers and helped attract events.

    For more information, visit the website: Natal Convention Center

    Tuesday, August 29, 2006

    Elections in Brazil

    On Sunday, October 1st 2006, there will be general elections in Brazil. Voters are called to vote for President of the Republic, Senators, Federal Deputies, Governor of State and State Deputies (elections for Mayor and City Councils happened in 2004, and will happen again in 2008).
    In case none of the candidates of President or Governor receives the absolute majority of votes (half of total votes plus one), there will be a second round on October 15th.
    The event will cause some changes very noticeable in the routine of Natal.

    All Brazilian channels which broadcast open signals (i.e., which are not exclusive to cable TVs) are obliged to display political propaganda. This started around mid-August and will last until the Friday before the elections; if there is a need for a second round, so there will be a second round of propaganda. Candidates will appear at prime time, from 1 pm to 1:45 pm and from 8:30 pm to 9:15 pm.
    The total time will be shared among all candidates, in proportion to the representativity of their parties. Candidates do not pay for the television time (TVs can deduct the costs from their income taxes). This is intended to be a means to give equal chances to all candidates.
    It is common talk in Natal and Brazil to downplay this political propaganda (much because it appears at all channels, and postpones the display of the "novelas" - soapboxes -, most important program of Brazilian families). However, it is an excellent chance to get to know the people who will command the State and the country.

    Besides using the TV presence, candidates try to employ other means to gain visibility.
    Candidates seem to have reasons to believe that the following actions improve their chances of being elected: distributing small folders with photos to drivers stopped in traffic lights; paying people to hold banners with photos along busy streets; promoting "carreatas" (convoys of cars) which drive along the main streets, slowing transit down; hiring sound cars with loudy speakers to shout their names around.

    All these actions seem to somehow disturb people. None of these acts try to widespread the ideas or principles of candidates.

    However, candidates seem to believe (and they probably have reasons to do it) that they increase their chances of being elected by acting so.

    Wednesday, August 09, 2006

    Marina of Natal to be completed in 2008

    The Mayor of Natal met yesterday with representatives of Spanish group BCM Ingenieros S.L.
    BCM presented the project of the Marina of Natal, which will be analysed by the Secretaries of Infrastructure and Tourism of Natal.
    If the project is approved, the marina should be ready to open in July of 2008. This marina will take an area of 50 hectares, being 25 hectares of wet space and 25 hectares of dry space. The marina will have a capacity of 500 boats; in the dry area, there will be apartments for the staff, a park, a museum and a nautical school.

    According to the Mayor, the marina should increase the number of visitors to Natal; currently, the nearest marina is located in located in Salvador, Bahia.
    The marina of Natal will be built around the Iate Clube de Natal, about 500 meters into the Potengi river, about 500 meters distant from the Fort of Wise Kings.

    Saturday, August 05, 2006

    Social debts with black communities

    The State of Rio Grande do Norte is not amongst the Brazilian States with big presence of black culture. The black slaves were brought to Brazil mostly to work on the sugar canes farms and in the gold mines; Rio Grande do Norte was only partially taken by the sugar cane, and has no traces of gold (see History of Rio Grande do Norte).

    However, a few black communities were formed in the States. Mostly, these communities were formed by slaves who escaped from farms, and created clandestine clusters called Quilombos; the Quilombo dos Palmares, in the State of Alagoas, was the biggest and most famous. Smaller quilombos were called quilombolas, and some of these still remain until today. Thanks to the isolation, the quilombolas preserved the culture of the ancient blacks, but their members didn't benefit of social progress.

    The quilombolas in Rio Grande do Norte are now being officially recognized.
    The Fundação Cultural Palmares, body of the Ministry of Culture, recognized the community Negros do Riacho (Blacks of the Creek), in the municipality of Currais Novos, as descendants of the quilombolas; as such, the community will be legally entitled to a number of social benefits, like: regularization of their land (this is a serious problem; in the South of the State, near Pipa, a quilombola community was destroyed by judicial order, because a Judge considered that living in the place for hundreds of years didn't give the community any rights; read more here), building of brick houses, construction of schools.

    According to official studies, there are 72 quilombolas in the State of Rio Grande do Norte; only 33 of them requested to be officially recognized, and 5 of them were already recognized.

    Friday, July 28, 2006

    Transit laws to become more lenient !

    From 1990 to 2000, more than 300,000 people died in Brazil because of problems related to transit (see here). In 1997, a new Code of Transit was passed; this Code is comparable to those in developed countries.

    According to the original Code, over speeding was severely punished.
    Driving at a speed up to 20% faster than the limit was considered serious infraction, and the fine was R$ 191; from 20% to 50%, the infraction was considered very serious, and the fine was R$ 573 (for comparison, the minimum wage in Brazil is R$ 360 monthly); driving above 50% the limit caused immediate losing of driving license.
    Even with this tough legislation, Brazilian drivers were careless (because of lack of policing by the authorities and lack of education of drivers).

    Yesterday, instead of tightening the legislation, the Federal government decided to loosen it.
    Driving up to 20% faster than limit is now considered medium infraction, fine of R$ 85; up to 50% faster is serious, fine of R$ 191.

    If you visited Brazil and found the transit chaotic, expect to find it worse next time.

    Thursday, July 27, 2006

    Judicial order to prevent dengue in Natal

    Dengue is a tropical disease transmitted by mosquitoes which exists in several States of Brazil, including Rio Grande do Norte.

    For a few years now, the Government has maintained a programme to combat dengue. The intent is to kill the larvae of the mosquitoes, which need still water to incubate (like the water of abandoned swimming pools, flower vases, abandoned tires); the rainy season (April - August) is the best period to do it.
    During this period, there are smoke-trucks going around the city (the smoke, harmless to humans, creates a layer on top of still water, killing larvae) and there are health crews visiting each house in Natal.
    Thanks to this action, the number of cases of dengue is becoming fewer and fewer (a few people died in past years, though).

    Strange as it may seem, one of the problems faced by the government is the lack of collaboration from the population. Several houses are locked, preventing access from the crews, and there are also several families who, for several reasons (all related to ignorance), do not want to give access to the crews.

    Yesterday, Judge Odlanir Sakel Maia Guedes authorized the Health Secretary to enter 227 houses in Natal, using police force if necessary.

    Good to see that the health authorities are doing their jobs.

    Wednesday, July 19, 2006

    Ronaldo to visit Natal

    Ronaldo, the football player of Real Madrid, is coming to Natal this Sunday, July 23rd.
    Ronaldo maintains a foundation, the R9, which fosters social programmes in Brazil (Ronaldo is also a UNICEF Ambassador). Ronaldo learned about the social programmes being developed by the Government of Rio Grande do Norte and partners, and accepted an invitation to visit the city and join the programmes.
    Officials say that the presence of Ronaldo and R9 will help the programmes gain visibility and credibility.

    Monday, July 17, 2006

    Each day, 184 drivers are fined in Natal

    On July 16th, Tribuna published statistics about the transit in Natal.
    Full article is here.
    According to STTU, the official Transit Authority in Natal, in the year of 2005, a total of 67,200 transit fines were imposed; this accounts to 184 fines/day, or a fine every eight minutes.

    The main infractions were: passing red lights; over speeding; parking in forbidden places; driving while talking to a cell phone; forbidden conversions.

    Interesting to notice the reaction of the readers.
    Most people who posted a reply considered that there is an excessive number of fines; several people accuse police and transit wardens of corruption; many complain that the transit equipment is obsolete or ill maintained, and others complain that there is not enough space to park.
    The Brazilian middle class is not accostumed to obeying the law.

    But anyone who looks around the transit in Natal can see that this amount of fines is too low, not too high. For each driver who is fined for crossing a red light, there are other ten drivers who are not noticed; the same happens for all the other infractions. If all infractors in Natal were caught, the number of fines would be much higher.

    Wednesday, July 12, 2006

    Tourism in Natal lower than expected

    July is considered a high season month for the tourism sector in Natal. Children take a winter break, and many people travel to the Northeast of Brazil escaping from the cold weather of the South.

    However, Tribuna do Norte published an article today where hotel owners inform that the sector is facing a crisis, and about 30% of the work force (6,000 people) have been laid off recently. The original article is here.

    A few factors are known to have caused a decrease in the tourism flow: the World Cup (many people stayed home to watch the Cup, and many others preferred to buy a plasma TV instead of travelling); the crisis of Varig, the largest Brazilian air liner, which is facing an eminent bankruptcy; the strong Real (the dollar rate is about US$1=R$2.20, and at this rate it may be cheaper to go from São Paulo to Miami or Buenos Aires than to come to Natal); the bad weather.

    Hotel owners say that the State Government is to blame; the Syndicate of Hotels say that there has not been enough marketing of the city in other States and other countries; they also notice that there have been four Secretaries of Tourism over the past four years, showing a lack of consistency in the politics.

    However, it is interesting to notice what the readers of the papers have to say (at the bottom of the article, readers may post their opinions).
    Most of the posters, both from Natal and other Brazilian States, say that the hotels in Natal are expensive, the prices in restaurants are high, the staff is not prepared, there is lack of signalization and information.

    Monday, June 19, 2006

    Lobsters are becoming rare in Rio Grande do Norte

    Tribuna do Norte published an article on June 18th about the quick diminishing of lobster production in Rio Grande do Norte.

    The peak of the production was in 1990, when the State captured 992,543 kg of lobster; in 2004, the production was 273,900 kg.
    This year, the situation is even worse. Tribuna interviewed a few lobster boat owners; most lobster is captured at high-sea; the boat owners hire fishermen, who spend from a few days to several weeks in the sea, setting up lobster traps called manzuás.
    According to some boat owners, the production of May of this year is up to 80% lower than last year. Some say that they can't even recover the costs of sending the boats out.

    The fishing of lobster used to be one of the main economic activity in the coast of Rio Grande do Norte and Ceará. To attend the demand (mostly for exportation), the local people were practicing predatory fishing.
    A few years ago, a law determined that lobster fishing was prohibited from January to May, when the lobsters are reproducing; financial assistance is given to fishermen during the period. Also, there are limits about the minimum size of the lobsters.
    Some specialists say that these measures were not enough. They defend the idea of a prohibition for at least one year.

    Lobsters are becoming less common in the restaurants of Natal. Camarões used to serve lobster a few years ago, but not any more. I just called Samô, another restaurant specialized in seafood, and they are not servind lobster either. One of the few places serving lobster is Barraca do Caranguejo, in Ponta Negra, which also serves a rodizio de camarões (all you can eat shrimps).

    Tuesday, June 06, 2006

    Natal changes routine to follow the World Cup

    As everywhere else in Brazil, Natal is going to change the routine to follow the Brazilian team in the Germany World Cup.
    In the first stage of the Cup, Ronaldinho and his peers will play on the 13th, 18th and 22nd, against Croatia, Australia and Japan. Then, if Brazil reaches the finals, there will be another 4 matches until the July 9th.

    What's going to change?
    Most public offices will be closed at the times Brazil is playing. When Brazil plays at 4pm (see schedule here), offices will close early; when Brazil plays at noon or 1pm, there will be an extended lunch time (but you'd better not count on them opening after the match).
    Banks have officially announced that they will also be closed during Brazil matches.

    Shops and restaurants which remain open will probably install a TV set. The shopping centers will probably install several TVs and possibly a large projection screen.

    Transit will be busy right before the matches, when people will be driving home.
    After the matches, if Brazil wins, expect celebrations on streets and meeting points (bars, restaurants, etc).

    Tuesday, May 23, 2006

    French tourist stabbed in Ponta Negra

    A couple of French tourists who was staying in a small Pousada by the beach in Ponta Negra had their room invaded by a thief; the man reacted, and was stabbed with a knife in the belly; he was taken to a hospital, where he is under intensive care (see report here).
    The thief was arrested, and was visibly under influence of drugs.

    I have just watched the manager of the hotel, mr. Arsênio José Santos, giving a corageous interview to RN TV, the most popular mid-day news program in Rio Grande do Norte.
    According to him, his hotel and others in his neighborhood were assaulted several times. This is the third time that the assaulter is arrested, and turned to the Police. Mr. Santos says that, in the previous occasions, the assaulters were free in just a few days.
    Mr. Santos added that he constantly sees acts of violence and vandalism in Ponta Negra, but doesn't see much Police action. He thinks that the Police is working with a wrong focus, by arresting tourists who don't carry their passports, and letting criminals free. He finished with an invitation to the Secretary of Public Security to visit Ponta Negra by night and knowing the real situation.

    The Pousada in question is one of the smallest in Ponta Negra (a two-storey house turned into a small hotel), thus more exposed to burglars.
    Why would a manager put his business at risk by declaring that he his hotel is constantly "visited" by assaulters? It looks like the manager is in desperate need of Police forces help.
    The name of the hotel was mentioned on TV, but not on the Tribuna report. We won't mention the name either, to avoid stigmatization.

    Sunday, May 21, 2006

    Natal will be part of Route 33

    The governments of four touristic cities in Northeast of Brazil have joined forces to create the Route 33; the idea is investing in marketing to stimulate travellers to visit all four cities along the route, like Americans do with the Route 66.
    The name Route 33 comes from the proximity of the road with Meridian 33.

    The cities are Natal (in the State of Rio Grande do Norte), João Pessoa (in Paraíba), Recife (in Pernambuco) and Maceió (in Alagoas).
    The approximated distances from Natal are: João Pessoa, 200 km; Recife, 300 km; Maceió, 580 km.

    Friday, May 19, 2006

    Bus ticket to raise

    Natal busFrom May 27th, the ticket of public buses in Natal will raise from R$ 1.45 to R$ 1.60, or, at current exchange rates, from US$ 0.66 to US$ 0.73, or, in euros, E 0.52 to E 0.58.

    Bus owners were not happy. They wanted R$ 1.90. The R$ 1.60 is the average price of all capitals in the Northeast of Brazil.

    Passengers are even less happy. Getting to work and back to home will cost at least R$ 3.20 (for those who take only one bus and don't live in the cities outside Natal, such as Parnamirim or Extremoz). Working 20 days a month, the cost of transportation will be R$ 64. This is nearly 20% of the current Brazilian minimum wage, R$ 350.

    People with a formal job (big shops, factories, etc) receive, by law, on top of salaries, tickets to pay for the transportation. The most affected by the increase will be those who don't have a formal job, who are a significant part (possibly the majority) of the working class of Natal.

    Thursday, May 18, 2006

    Highways in Rio Grande do Norte are improved

    Every year, Quatro Rodas (Four Wheels), the most important vehicles magazine in Brazil, surveys the federal highways in Brazil to assess their quality.
    In the 2005 survey, 102 km of highways were considered Precarious (meaning: lack of signalization, too many holes, stretches where drivers could not go faster than 60 km/hour).
    In 2006, all the 102 km were refurbished, and there is no report of precarious federal highway in Rio Grande do Norte.

    A big project is in progress: the BR-101, which connects Natal to João Pessoa and on to Recife, will be entirely "duplicated". Today, in most of the BR-101, there is only one lane each way; after the duplication, there will be at least two lanes each way; this will increase the safety of drivers, and should cut down the time to travel between these major cities.

    Tuesday, May 16, 2006

    Bridge Redinha - Fortress is named "Newton Navarro"

    Redinha bridge
    The bridge under construction
    Photo: Ivanizio Ramos
    After hearing opinions from members of the society, Governor Wilma de Faria signed a decree giving the name "Ponte de Todos - Newton Navarro" (Bridge of All - Newton Navarro) to the bridge Redinha - Fortress, under construction, which will link the beach of Fortress to the Redinha beach.

    Newton Navarro (1928 - 1992) was an eminent artist, born and deceased in Natal. He was a painter, writer, poet, novelist; one of the most complete potiguar artists. His works were focused on his homeland, particularly the Potengi river.

    At the time of this writing, the bridge was 60% concluded.
    When finished, the bridge will be 1,800 meters long and 21 meters wide. It will connect two avenues: Café Filho, in the Southern bank, and João Medeiros, in the northern bank.
    The structure frame is based on concrete columns and steel cables. The ships will pass under the bridge. The main platform will have rolling lanes, security lanes and pedestrian lanes.
    There is a project for construction of a panoramic restaurant, hanging from the central point of the bridge.

    Despite several delays in the original schedule, the bridge should be ready until the end of 2006.

    Sunday, May 14, 2006

    Violence in Natal x Violence in Brazil

    Two related news.

    Tribuna do Norte published in the cover page today (May 14th): "In 3 months, 130 homicides. Fear surrounds Natal". See link here. The figures were provided by ITEP (Institute Technical-Scientific of Police), the official institution in charge of collecting data about, among others, crime and death in Rio Grande do Norte.
    If the average is maintained, there will be 520 homicides until the end of the year. Tribuna says that this is the most violent year ever in the History of the city. The newspaper interviewed some people who were victims of assaults recently, all of which living in the area of Rocas (the district along the Potengi River between the Fortress of Wise Kings and the Port of Natal).
    By comparison, there were 1,662 murderers in New York City from 2003 to 2005 (average of 534 per year); see graph here.

    Meanwhile, in São Paulo, gangs of criminals are promoting concerted rebellions across the State. More than 50 people were killed this weekend alone. Read more at the BBC website.

    Natal is still an island of peace in Brazil.

    Friday, May 12, 2006

    Murderers are arrested

    Tribuna do Norte published today that the murderers of Alex Fernando de Santana were arrested; read here.

    The criminals were arrested near the small city of Solânea, in the State of Paraíba. They were coming back to Natal in a van (for public transportation), which was stopped by a Police blitz; the Police found it suspicious that one man was carrying a gun. The Police apprehended the cellular phone of the suspects and made a phone call; that phone belonged to Alex, and the call was to his parents, who contacted the Police in Natal.

    This is the profile of the murderers: Marcos, aged 20, musician (he pulled the trigger); Bruno, 21, student; Emerson, 33, sells artcraft in Pipa beach.
    Police found out that they had been to Solânea last Sunday, and arranged with a buyer the selling of a car which was still to be robbed; back to Natal, they walked around Neópolis until finding a car they needed (Alex's car).
    Marcos said that this was his first assault, he was too nervous; he shot because he thought that Alex could react.

    Thursday, May 11, 2006

    Violence in Natal: a reality check

    Alex SantanaAn official survey conducted in 2006 concluded that Natal is the safest capital city in Brazil; there are no reasons to believe that this situation had changed.

    However, there are still occurrences that shock the Natalenses, and much more so the foreigners who ever become aware of them.

    Today, Tribuna do Norte reports two cases.
    1) Three men were loitering around a small store in Neópolis, the first District in Natal that visitors see when entering Natal (the Three Wise Kings statue is located in Neópolis). One of the men enters the store, pretends to buy cigarettes, draws a gun and robs whatever money there is in the cashier (the owner said he was assaulted three times already). Meanwhile, the other two men try to rob a car; as the car owner hesitates ("stop kidding", he says), one man draws and shoots. The owner, Alex Fernando de Santana Brito, father of two kids aged 3 and 8, died before reaching the hospital. Read more here.
    2) Two men try to invade a Bingo at 3 am (the bingo is open 24 hours) in the central area of Natal. A surveillance guard (staff of the bingo; many businesses have been hiring private security for years) notices the invaders. There is a shoot out; a bandit was shot and died; his partner shot back and ran away; the guard was hit in the leg, but is doing well.

    Such cases are not common, but are not rare either.
    In Natal, they still cause profound indignation, and gain the headlines. In other cities, like Rio, they became routine.
    In Natal, crimes are committed by individuals. In Rio, the violence is much scarier because there is a professional organization behind the crimes.

    This note is in solidarity to the family of Alex Fernando de Santana Brito.

    Wednesday, May 10, 2006

    The New York Times writes about forró

    On May 7th, the electronic edition of the New York Times published a two-page article about Forró in Brazil.

    The NYTimes reporter visited the cities of Recife, Caruaru (in the State of Pernambuco), Campina Grande (in Paraíba) and Natal and São João do Mipibu (in Rio Grande do Norte).
    Recife and Natal are capital of States. Caruaru and Campina Grande are known in Brazil as "capitals of forró". The reporter explainew how forró has been distorted, so as to be easierly accepted by the masses in the large cities. However, in smaller cities (like Caruaru and Campina Grande), it is possible to appreciate the genuine forró, called "forró pé-de-serra" (forro foot-of-mountain).
    The music of forró pé-de-serra is played with three instruments: triangle, accordion and zabumba; forró is played in barnyards, bars and houses; to dance forró, passion is more important than talent. In the big cities (particularly in the South of Brazil), forró is played by big bands, with techno instruments, in large discos (Calcinha Preta, one of the most famous Brazilian bands nowadays, is mentioned as example of anti-forró).

    The simplicity of forró pé-de-serra attracted the NY Times reporter to São José do Mipibu, about 40 km south of Natal.
    There, once a month, in the Saturday closest to full moon, happens the Forró da Lua (Forró of Moon). The event happens in a ranch, and tries to be as simple as possible (illumination is provided by the moon and a big bonfire).
    Forró da Lua has become a success among Natalenses who enjoy forró. About 2,000 people attend each event; entrance is R$ 15.

    Read the article of New York Times about forró (membership may be required).

    Tuesday, May 09, 2006

    Clodoaldo Silva, an athlete from Natal

    Clodoaldo Silva is not only a Paralympic Swimming Athlete; he is the best one in Brazil and one of the best in the World.

    This past weekend (5th - 7th May), Clodoaldo participated of the Paralympic World Cup, which happened in Manchester, UK.
    Not only did he win the 100 m freestyle, but he also set a new world record. Earlier, in the qualifying for the 50 m, he had also lowered the world record, but this was lowered again by Sweden’s Anders Olsson in the finals.
    Read more about the Manchester Paralympic World Cup.

    Breaking records is becoming a routine for Clodoaldo; in the last Paralympic Games, in Athens, 2004, he won six gold medals and set four world records.
    Read more about Clodoaldo Silva.

    Thursday, May 04, 2006

    Festival of independent music in Natal

    From May 4th to May 6th, Natal will host a music festival called MADA - Música, Alimento Da Alma - Music, Food of the Soul.
    This is the 8th edition of Mada. Over these years, MADA has become one of the most important Brazilian events for independent bands, drawing attention from the bands, public and media.
    Each night, about ten bands perform; one or two are somewhat famous (this year, main attractions are Rapa, Cachorro Grande, Nando Reis and Bikini Cavadão), the others are anonymous.
    Tickets cost R$ 30 per night, students pay half price; the package for three nights costs R$ 40. The festival happens inside the Imirá Plaza Hotel, in Via Costeira.
    Check the official website:

    Tuesday, May 02, 2006

    Dam attracts visitors

    It has been raining as expected in Natal, and more than the average in the interior of Rio Grande do Norte.
    So much rain in the interior is filling up the "açudes" (rustic reservoirs of beaten clay used by the poorer peasants to accumulate water) and the "represas" (large reservoir with a dam); in the case of Açu, the largest water reservoir in the interior of Rio Grande do Norte, the valves of the dam had to be opened to release the water (otherwise, the water would overflow).

    This fact (opening of dams because of excessive water) is called in Portuguese "sangria" (bleeding).
    Most people who live in the interior know that water is essential for their lives, and that water can never be taken for granted. When the dam bleeds, they know that they will be able to cultivate their small plantations and feed their families (until next year, when raining is, again, just a possibility).

    They call the "sangria" the "show of waters". For most, indeed, watching the water coming through the dam is like a show, in the sense that they see something that makes them happy.
    Tribuna do Norte reports that people come from far away, walk the last three kilometers to reach the dam, and yet say that they are fascinated by looking at the water.
    These people really know the value of water.

    Thursday, April 27, 2006

    Rio Grande do Norte talks to Austrian investors

    Austria ambassador
    Austria Ambassador visits the
    Governor of Rio Grande do Norte
    Photo: Jaime Paulino

    Rio Grande do Norte will send representatives to the Summit of Latin American, Caribbean and European Union countries which will happen in Vienna, capital of Austria, from 11th to 13th of May.
    Along with the Summit, there will be a workshop called "Going to Brazil", where Austrian investors will be informed about how, where and in what invest in Brazil.
    Rio Grande do Norte will send the Secretary of Tourism, Renato Garcia, who will show the potential and opportunities of the State, particulartly in the sectors of tourism and real estate.

    The invitation to participate of the event came from the Austrian Ambassador to Brazil, Werner Brandstetter, who paid a courtesy visit to Governor Wilma de Faria.

    Wednesday, April 26, 2006

    Scandal in Government of Rio Grande do Norte

    Fundação José Augusto is a foundation mantained by the State of Rio Grande do Norte with the purpose of supporting cultural events in the State. The support includes providing space for presentations (the Foundation has a mid-sized, comfortable theater in the district of Tirol), passing knowledge and expertize to smaller towns and, of course, providing financial assistance.

    Last February, members of the Public Prosecution found strange the existance of many contracts (all public contracts must be published on the Public Gazette), without bidding, which supposedly should hire singers and bands for presentations in small cities of the State during Carnival.
    Upon investigation, it was found out that most of the shows were not realized; some singers and bands were contacted, and denied to even know anything about the contracts.

    Investigations revealed that an illegal scheme was being operated inside the Government. Shows and contracts were forged, but the funds were released; the documentation which should demonstrate that the shows were realized were also forged.
    Latest report indicated that a total of R$ 1.2 million (nearly US$ 600,000) were stolen. The money was paid to a man called Fabiano César, who, supposedly, was the manager of all the singers; the Prosecutors are now investigating with whom Fabiano shared the money.

    The more the invesgations continue, the higher in the State hierarchy they move.
    The first version was that some middle-level managers of Fundação José Augusto would have forged the documents. A few days later, however, the signature of the President of the Foundation was found in official documents authorizing the contracts; the President resigned.
    Later, it was revealed that Italo Gurge, Chief of Staff of the Governor Wilma de Farias, would be the mentor of the scheme; Italo would have used his powers to release the funds to FJA.
    A few days ago, it was demonstrated that Governor Wilma de Farias signed herself papers authorizing the releasing of funds for FJA. Mrs. Farias alleges that she routinely signs authorizations for several other Secretaries (the law says that, above a certain level, all contracting must be allowed by the Governor), but can't thoroughly check out all of them.

    Investigations will tell who is involved.

    Free service bus within University to cease

    For nearly ten years now, there has been a bus service (known as "Circular") which runs around the main campus of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, for free. Students take the bus to move inside the campus, or to get to the external boundaries and take another bus.

    Passengers don't pay because the service is fully subsidized. Now, the Secretary of Transportation is considering to stop the service. The idea is to include all the paid lines which cross the campus (and possibly add other lines) into the system of Transfer Stations; by this system, passengers can take several buses with only one ticket (as long as they change buses inside the Transfer Stations).

    Of course, students are against the measure; public manifestations are expected. Students say that, by obliging them to pay for transportation, the Government is against Education.

    It is estimated that nearly 50% of passengers of buses in Natal has some kind of subsidy. For example, by force of law, people over 60 years old are exempted from paying. Students, both from public and private schools, pay half fare. Certain categories like police and mailmen also travel for free.
    The consequence is that the cost of transportation must be paid by those who don't have subsidies; this includes the majority of the working class.
    With the low salaries paid in Brazil (minimum wage is R$ 350), the cost of transportation (a bus ride costs R$ 1.45, with an increase due soon) may be a significant share of the income.

    Sunday, April 23, 2006

    Making a living on the beach

    Tribuna do Norte published a report today about people who make a living by selling stuff on the beach.
    working on the beaches
    The newspaper interviewed several workers, and found out that most live in the outskirts of Natal, have little or no education, and resort to working on beaches for lack of other options.
    Tribuna talked to authorities, and found out that there is no planning to change the situation by giving more assistance to the workers.

    A few example of people working on beaches:
    Wilson Dias, aged 60, came from Martins, a small city in the interior of Rio Grande do Norte, to make a treatment of stroke in Natal; after the treatment, he and his family decided to stay in the capital. He complements his retiring benefits by selling peanuts and cashew nuts in Ponta Negra; according to him, competition is growing, selling is harder and harder.
    Anderson Felipe, aged 18, quit school when taking the first year in highschool. He sells coconuts in Ponta Negra, to help his mother and two younger sisters. His words: "It's been two years I've worked here. I arrive in the morning, go home at evening; I've been assaulted several times on my way back home. I push the cart about 20 km, covering Ponta Negra five times. Business is better during the high season and the weekends, but currently I've been making about R$ 10 a day."

    Tribuna also mention cases of people who succeeded working on beaches.
    Josefina Lima, aged 47, has been selling bikinis and beachware for 15 years; she says she built a small house and educated her kids.
    In Redinha, Antônio Cruz, aged 30, sold sunglasses for ten years; now, he purchased a kiosk on the Mercado da Redinha (the public market space), and is proud to be an entrepreneur.

    Read the original article by Tribuna do Norte (check out the link to photos gallery at the bottom of page).

    Read more about things to buy on Ponta Negra beach.

    Saturday, April 22, 2006

    April 21st: Brazil National Holiday

    April 21st is one of Brazil National Holidays.
    This date, Brazilians remember Tiradentes, the Martyr of Independence.
    In 1792, when Brazil was still a colony of Portugal, a group of rebels organized an Independence movement in Minas Gerais. The group had participation of State staff, entrepreneurs, intelectuals; Tiradentes was the poorest of all, but he assumed responsibility, and was the only one sentenced to death (by hanging).
    Tiradentes means "tooth puller" and is the nickname of Joaquim José da Silva Xavier; he is one of the few Brazilian heroes.
    Read more about Tiradentes.

    In National Holidays, the public service stops, corporations also take a break, most shops open late. Many Brazilians take short trips; it's common to find people from Recife and Fortaleza in hotels and restaurants, as well as in the major touristic spots (particularly the buggy rides).

    Monday, April 17, 2006

    Weather report

    As predicted by the weather forecast institutions, April is being a wet month.
    March was much drier than anticipated, with only a few rainy days.
    Since the second week of April, there have been showers nearly every day. The forecast until the end of the month is of frequent raining.
    Rains in Natal follow certain patterns. First: rains almost always come from the sea towards the continent. Rains are short lasting (the time it takes for the cloud to travel across the city); sometimes, it rains in Ponta Negra, but it doesn't in Praia do Meio (and vice-versa). Rains come in bursts: instead of a continuous rain, there are a few short rains with dry intervals.

    Temperature is still pleasant. Tourists still wear t-shirts, shorts and slippers, no need to wear coats.

    Monday, April 10, 2006

    Football : Baraúnas is Rio Grande do Norte champion

    The State of Rio Grande do Norte doesn't have much presence in Brazilian football. The two main teams are America and ABC, both from Natal; the former is disputing the second division of the Brazilian championship, and the latter is in the third division.

    Now, the teams in Natal are losing even the predominance within the State.
    Yesterday, the teams of Baraúnas and Potiguar, both from Mossoró, played the final match. For the first time ever, Baraúnas was State champion (Potiguar was champion in 2004, beating America in the finals). Baraúnas is now entitled to play the third division of Brazilian championship, and also to participate of Copa do Brasil, the same tournament which brought Flamengo to play against ABC a few weeks ago (see note on this blog).

    There are positive and negative points in the State having a small role in Brazilian football.
    Negative: it is very unlikely that Natal will see Ronaldinho or any other Brazilian star playing here.
    Positive: football in Natal is for fun; in other Brazilian States (e.g., Pernambuco), the rivalry between fans sometimes turns into violence. Going to Machadão or to recently opened Frasqueirão may be a good option for tourists.

    Read more about football in Natal.

    Saturday, April 08, 2006

    Be careful with your bank cards.

    Tribuna do Norte reported today that two men were arrested for attempt of stealing money using bank cards.

    The men acted like that: they spotted foreigners having trouble using bank cards in the ATMs (Automatic Telling Machines) of busy Shopping Centers (in this case, the Praia Shopping, in Ponta Negra); they offer help; one of the men pretends to clean the card by, for example, rubbing it with a handkerchief; the other man distracts the victim; the man holding the card uses a small device to get a copy of the information registered in the magnetic band of the card; later on, they use this information to generate another card, and use the card to make purchases.

    Never let anyone take your card.

    The ATMs which operate international credit cards normally display messages in Portuguese and English.
    A common problem, however, is that the card reader can't recognize the magnetic information on the card; in such cases, a message is shown in Portuguese only: "Problemas na Leitura do Cartão. Tente novamente.", which means "Problems in reading the card. Try again". This is usually caused because the card is old or damaged. To make it worse, the card must be used twice: once to start the transaction, and once to complete it; after three attempts, the machine aborts the transaction.

    Most times, the best action is: clean the card; remove the card carefully from the reader; don't pull it neither too fast nor too slow; don't apply lateral or vertical forces on the card as you pull it.
    If there is one, ask assistance to the bank employee (they wear uniforms and have a badge).
    It may be a good idea to ask a new card to your bank, before coming to Brazil.

    Thursday, April 06, 2006

    It's jabuticaba season in Natal.

    Jabuticaba (scientific name Myrciaria cauliflora) is said to be a fruit which exists only in Brazil. It is originary from the Atlantic Forest, in Brazil; as it is fragile, it is unlike it will be exported. If you want to taste a fruit you won't find in any other country, try jabuticaba.

    It is more commonly found in the Southern States, but I saw some people selling them in the street cross between Hiper and Nordestão, in Ponta Negra. By the way, these guys who sell fruits on streets are one of the best options to buy fruits in Natal: first, because they sell cheaper than supermarkets (they don't pay taxes, rent, advertising, etc); besides, to sell cheaper, they have to sell the fruits which are at harvest time, and this usually means the fruits which are sweeter and of better quality.

    Back to jabuticaba: it is one of the sweetest fruits I've ever tasted; each jabuticaba looks like a grape, but with a thicker skin.
    To eat a jabuticaba, put it between your front teeth, bite it and let the pulp splash into your mouth (seeds are small); throw the skin out.

    See some photos of a jabuticaba tree.

    Below, a photo of a jabuticaba (fork and knife only to give an idea of size). Price: starting price for a bag with about 500 g was R$ 2; final price was R$ 5 for 3 bags; it could have been lower, but those guys are usually honest hard workers, no need to exploit them.

    Wednesday, April 05, 2006

    Price of essential food in Natal

    In Brazil, there is something called "cesta básica" (essential basket), which is a theoretical basket containing all the essential food that a typical family (parents and two kids) needs to live during one month.
    The contents of the basket are defined by DIEESE, an institution in São Paulo which studies prices, employment and other macro-economic variables; DIEESE surveys the variation of the cost of an essential basket as a means to assess inflation.

    The complete list of essential food is here. Translation: beef (6 kg), milk (7.5 liters), beans (4.5 kg), rice (3 kg), flour (1.5 kg), potato (6 kg), tomato (9 kg), bread (6 kg), coffee (600 g), banana (7.5 dozens), sugar (3 kg), cooking oil (900 ml), butter (750 g). And just that!

    DIEESE published the results of the April survey; check here.
    In Natal, in April 2006, the price of the basket was R$ 132.26; at the current course of US$ 1 = R$ 2.20 or 1 Euro = R$ 2.70, the basket costs 60 dollars or 49 euros.
    The most expensive basket among the capital cities in Brazil is in São Paulo, R$ 177.28; next come Brasilia (R$ 173.29) and Rio de Janeiro (R$ 168.68). The cheapest basket is in Fortaleza (R$ 125.03), next comes Natal.

    Notice that this basket includes only food. DIEESE also calculates every month what the minimum salary should be to satisfy the essential needs of a typical family, including food, health, clothes, transportation, leisure, education and so on.
    For April, DIEESE said that the minimum salary should be R$ 1,489.33. The actual minimum salary was, until March, R$ 300; in April, there will be an adjustment to R$ 350.

    Read more about cost of living in Brazil.

    Sunday, April 02, 2006

    Fortress of Wise Kings is refurbished

    The Government of Rio Grande do Norte invested R$ 650,000 (about US$ 300,000) to refurbish the Fortress of the Wise Kings (Forte dos Reis Magos).

    The hydraulic and electric systems were renewed; the tiles of the roof were changed; the fortress was painted; the walkway which gives access to the fort was rebuilt; special access for people with disabilites is now available.
    Also, in the outside, the parking loot was expanded; the handicrafters, who had to expose their work on rustic tables, now will have kioskes to sell their production.

    The most serious problem with the Fortress, however, was the lack of information; last time we visited it, the few signs were in Portuguese only, and guides spoke only Portuguese and basic Spanish. We will pay another visit soon.

    Read more about the Fort of Wise Kings.

    Saturday, April 01, 2006

    Federal Police raids nightclub in Ponta Negra

    Around 2 am of this April 1st, Federal agents started a blitz in the nightclub Hollywood, in Ponta Negra beach.
    There were 110 foreigners without their passports; they were all taken to the Federal Police office. According to the Federal Police, all foreigners must carry their passports all the time while in Brazil; the foreigners taken to the Police who could ask someone to bring their passports were only fined in R$ 166.55 (about US$ 80); those who could not produce the passport were given three days to do it, under risk of deportation.
    There were more than 200 girls in the nightclub (all over 18 years of age); as prostitut*on is not a crime in Brazil, they were all released.

    According to the Police, these raids (there was another one a few weeks ago in Pipa) will be more and more frequent. They intent to combat sexual tourism and commerce of drugs.

    Friday, March 31, 2006

    Natal: a city preoccupied with visual quality

    Natalenses know they live in one of the most beautiful cities in Brazil, and have a preoccupation to keep it like that.
    Streets are reasonably clean, gardens are well kept. The law prevents a high concentration of high buildings. There are attractives to new industries, but they must be built in the outskirts, in accordance with development plans. IDEMA is the official body in charge of, at once, Enviroment and Economic Development.

    A few months ago, the enviroment protection agencies noticed that some businesses (restaurants and car rentals) were illegaly taking space in one of the margins of Av. Roberto Freire. Construction there is prohibited because it would prevent people in the avenue from having the view in the photo below.
    enviroment in Natal
    There is a discussion in Justice to decide whether or not the businesses should be simply demolished.

    Now, another evidence that Natal is concerned with the visual quality of life.
    A new hotel is being built; estimated cost is R$ 50 mil (about US$ 20 mil); when ready, it should be the biggest of all hotels in Via Costeira.
    The problem is that the hotel is being built in disaccordance with the project approved by the city. The actual area is almost the double of the projected; there is even one extra floor (maximum height of building in Via Costeira is 15 meters, which feet seven floors; the new hotel had eight floors).
    SEMURB, the Secretary of Urbanization, ordered the building to be stopped. The company appealed to SEMURB and in Justice, but its main argument is that their investment will create more business and jobs.
    SEMURB maintained the interdition.

    Thursday, March 30, 2006

    Rio Grande do Norte to use Wind Energy

    wind energy
    Photo: Marcelo Barroso
    Today, these first fifteen large fans which turn wind energy into electricity start live testing. The fans are installed in Rio do Fogo, about 70 km North of Natal, and were constructed by Enerbrasil, the branch of Spanish giant Iberdrola which operates renewable sources of energy.
    Commercial operation is scheduled to start in the first half of June. When the 32 fans of this first stage are all operating, the combined power will be about 49 MW.

    The privileged position of Rio Grande do Norte, almost right on the Equatorial line, and in the eastern extreme of the country, permits the generation of this large amount of energy in an absolutely clean way.
    Brazil doesn't use much nuclear energy - only three plants are working, in Rio de Janeiro; the main source of energy is hydroelectricity, which usually requires the creation of dams, which may have severe impacts on environment.

    There are other sources of clean energy being constructed in Rio Grande do Norte. Wind fans are being built in Guamaré, in the west coast; combined with Rio do Fogo, the wind power will reach 140 MW. Besides, a thermal plant is being built in Açu, about 200 km west of Natal; this plant will have a power of 345 MW.

    When all these projects are done, Rio Grande do Norte will be not only the largest user of clean energy in Brazil, but will also be a State self-suficient in energy.

    Shops of Natal in a joint clearance sale

    From March 29th to April 9th, more than 2,000 shops in Natal will be promoting a big clearance sale, with discounts from 10% up to 70% (so they say); the name of the promotion is "Liquida Natal".
    This is the fifth year in a row that the Câmara de Dirigentes Lojistas de Natal (the Syndicate of Shop Owners) promotes a period of ten days in which many businesses (of goods and services) offer discounts.
    This promotion usually happens in the second semester of the year (September/October), the low season for shoppers ; this year, it was anticipated to the first semester to take advantage of the World Cup, which is also an incentive for purchase in Brazil.
    Several entities colaborate for the promotion: the Government of Rio Grande do Norte postpones tax payments; the city of Natal pays media advertising; SEBRAE, an official agency for fomenting of small business, provides training to the staff; Banco do Brasil opens credit lines; and, of course, shops are supposed to cut their profit margins.
    So, this is really a good opportunity to look for bargains. Shops are not obliged to adhere; if they do adhere, it is up to them to determine discount rates. Shops participating of the promotion will show the logo Liquida Natal.

    Sunday, March 26, 2006

    Total eclipse of the Sun

    On March 29th 2006, there will happen a total eclipse of the Sun, a rare event in which Earth, Moon and Sun become aligned; the shadow of the Moon will be projected on Earth, and the Sun will be temporarily invisible.
    Natal will be one of the places on Earth where the eclipse will be total (the Sun will be entirely covered); there will be other places with total eclipse, such as Nigeria, Libia, Egypt, Turkey, Russia and Mongolia, but Natal is one of the largest urban areas to see the event.
    total eclipse of the Sun in NatalThis animated figure, by NASA, shows the path of the shadow on Earth. Read what NASA wrote about the eclipse; see digital images of the eclipse.

    On the 29th, the Sun will raise already partially covered; the peak of the eclipse will be around 5h30 am.
    To watch the eclipse safely, special eyes protection is required (sunglasses won't do); read more here.
    We will try to follow the phenomenon and put more info later on.

    Updated March 29th: see some photos of the total eclipse of the Sun in Natal.

    Udated March 30th: report by the Washington Post on the eclipse (check out the photos gallery).

    Friday, March 24, 2006

    Penitentiary is demolished

    Yesterday, the Penitentiary João Chaves was demolished; the inmates were transferred to other prisional units. Soon, the State Government will start the construction of a Cultural Center, which will be the biggest in Rio Grande do Norte.

    The penitentiary started to be built in 1953, but was finished only in 1968. At the time, the Avenida João Medeiros Filho was inhabited only by the militaries who guarded the prison; nowadays, the avenue is one of the busiest in the North Zone of Natal.
    During the 1970s, years of dictatorship in Brazil, the prison was occupied by political prisoners. In the 1980s and 1990s, the most dangerous criminals were sent there; several rebelions occurred; many violent prisoners used the rebelions to kill their enemies. Because of this, the prison was called Cauldron of Devil (Caldeirão do Diabo) by the population.

    In another action to bring more progress to the Northern Zone of Natal (the southern zone, where Ponta Negra, Forte dos Reis Magos, Historic city are located, is still the richest area of Natal), the Government will create a cultural space, which will include theaters, cinemas and a shopping center. The place is already baptized as Cauldron of Culture.

    Thursday, March 23, 2006

    Flamengo played a match in Natal

    Flamengo won ABC yesterday by 1 x 0, playing in the new ABC's stadium, Frasqueirão.

    Flamengo is simply the most popular football team in Brazil. Flamengo was Brazilian champion in five occasions. All recent surveys show that Flamengo is the team with most fans in Brazil; this happens because, in the States where there is not a team capable of winning national titles, the fans adopt another team to root for - and usually this team is Flamengo.

    The main teams of Rio Grande do Norte (América and ABC) are playing in the Second and Third Divisions of the national championship; so, it is not very common to see the biggest teams playing in Natal. However, there is another championship, called Copa do Brasil, in which all teams, small or big, stand a chance; this is the opportunity that América, ABC and other teams (from the interior of the State) have to, at least, dispute a match with important clubs.

    Because these matches are rare, they draw a lot of attention. The stadium gets crowded. If all you want is to see Brazilian football, it's better to go to a match between local teams.

    Wednesday, March 22, 2006

    Short stretch of highway concentrates high percentage of accidents in Natal

    The Highway Federal Police in Rio Grande do Norte is responsible for overseeing 1,345 km of federal highways in the State.
    Statistics released today show that a short stretch of only 15 km concentrates more than 35% of the total number of accidents. This is the stretch of the BR-101 which is located in the urban area of Natal, between the Complex 4th Centenary (the bridges and loops near the Machadão stadium) and the newly opened Parnamirim Complex, near the airport (bridges and loops which split the traffic between Parnamirim, Natal and Mossoró).
    The Federal Police says that an average of 3.2 accidents happen daily along this stretch; the number of fatalities, however, is very low (only one person died in the first two months of 2006). According to the Police, this happens because of the high flow of vehicles which enter and leave the highway, causing lateral and back bumpings (frontal shocks, which cause more fatalities, are rare).

    Another dangerous spot, which responds for about 15% of the accidents, is the stretch between Km 170 and 176 of BR-406, right after the Igapó bridge (BR-406 is the highway which connects the Northern Zone of Natal to the beaches of the northern coast of Rio Grande do Norte).
    Another bit of information was about the total number of cars in the State: there were 460,000 in January of last year, and 473,000 January of this year.

    Tuesday, March 21, 2006

    Natal is being used to launder Norwegian money

    Norwegian moneyThe Norwegian newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv published an article this last weekend informing that Norwegian citizens are making investments in Natal as a means to launder illegal money.
    The newspaper sent reporters to Natal to investigate the situation. According to their sources (which include Interpol people), there is money derived from traffic of drugs being used to buy real estate in Natal; another practice is of people who declared bankruptcy in Norway, but have large amounts of money to invest in Brazil.
    The Federal Police of Brazil said that they are accompanying these cases of misconducts by foreigner investors.
    The article in Tribuna do Norte is here:

    Monday, March 20, 2006

    It's raining in Natal

    Yesterday, March 19th, Natal saw mild showers; today the rain is somewhat heavier.

    March 19th is the Day of Saint Joseph (in Portuguese, São José). This is the Saint who, according to catholic religion, patronizes the good crops.
    Many peasants and small farmers in hinterland Brazil still believe more in Saints than in Science. For them, raining on March 19th is a herald of a year with good rains, and hence good crops.
    Meteorologists say that the rainy season this year will be a little drier than last year. The wet season usually lasts from March through July. See graph of rains and temperature in Natal.

    Sunday, March 19, 2006

    Phreatic sheet in Natal is contaminated

    Tribuna do Norte published an article about the contamination of the phreatic sheet in Natal. Phreatic sheet (in Portuguese, "lençol freático") is the name given to the water which naturally accumulates in the subsoil; the rain water penetrates the soil and flows downwards until reaching a rocky layer, where it accumulates.

    According to geologists from the Federal University and from CAERN, the water and sewage company, most of the water which comes from wells (that is, from the phreatic) contaminated with nitrates; nitrates are associated to the presence of fecal coliforms. CAERN is having more and more difficulties to find areas to dig wells where waters is healthy.

    Only 33% of residences in Natal are served by sewage system; of this sewage collected, only 14% is treated. Raw sewage is thrown into the phreatic.
    Natal is a privileged city, because the dunes help filter the water; twenty years ago, the sewage was already thrown in the phreatic, but there was time for a natural depuration. Between 1980 and 2001, though, the population grew from approx. 416,000 to 712,000 (these are official; from 2001 to date, there are no official data, but it is easy to see that the growth happened at even higher rates), and the water has no time to recycle any more; besides the growth of population, there has been also the impermeabilization of the soil, for construction of new residences (the rain water, which used to filter down the soil, now flows to rivers and the sea).
    The Secretary of Planning says that the government will make investments to improve the infrastructure for collecting and treating sewage; he says that within three years all the city will be served by sewage systems, but the works have not started yet.

    How dangerous is this?
    CAERN says that all water provided by the company is within international healthy levels. This is because not all water comes from wells. In the Northern Zone of Natal, 80% of the water comes from natural reservoirs (mostly, the Lagoon of Extremoz); in the Southern Zone (the touristic area), 80% comes from wells, and 20% from reservoirs (Lagoon of Jiqui). CAERN says that a combination of pre-treatment and dilution guarantees the quality of the water.
    The main problem is in residences and businesses which have dug their own wells. Even though drilling a well requires permission, CAERN estimates that there are more than 2000 wells in Natal which are not registered or accompanied by the authorities (CAERN operates less than 200 wells).

    The original article, in Portuguese, is here:

    Wednesday, March 15, 2006

    Authorities to act against prostitution in Natal

    In the past two years, with the explosion of tourism, Natal has been facing a growing problem: prostitution.
    The problem had been known for some time, but the authorities were turning a blind eye. Last week, TV Globo, the major Brazilian television, let the cat out of the bag; Globo broadcasted some reports about tourism and prostitution in Natal and Fortaleza.
    Prostitution is not illegal in Brazil. Like all major cities in Brazil, Natal have a number of poor and uneducated people who resort to prostitution; now, with the influx of foreigners, women willing to engage in sex commerce come from all over the country to Natal.

    Yesterday, the Secretary of Tourism of Natal conducted a hearing to discuss the problem.
    A hotel owner, ex-Secretary of Tourism, suggested that Natal should screen the tourists coming into the city. However, he didn't explain (at least the newspapers didn't publish the explanations) which criteria to use to screen, and what to do to prevent anyone from entering the city.
    The Secretary of Tourism of Natal said that the government is concerned with the problem, and organized discussion groups which meet every fifteen days. He said that, according to DETRAN (the Department of Transit), monitoring cameras will be installed in the main touristic corridors withing 60 days; again, he didn't explain how this measure can have practical effects.

    A professor from the Federal University came up with a more effective idea: changing the way that the city promotes itself abroad. According to this professor, in a recent trip to Spain, he saw promotional material which exhibited images of a beautiful woman on the foreground, with the natural beauties of Natal in the background. According to him, this material passed the idea that the women are an attractive by themselves.

    Thursday, March 09, 2006

    Natal celebrates International Women's Day

    women in NatalWith the presence of Governor Wilma de Faria, Natal celebrated the March 8th, International Women's Day.
    The Governor participated of a parade (photo) in downtown. In the Teatro Alberto Maranhão, she handed awards to women with a relevant role in the State in the past year.
    Out of the 27 Brazilian States, two are governed by women: Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Norte.
    Rio Grande do Norte was the first Brazilian State to concede rights for women to vote and be voted, back in 1928. The first two Brazilian women to enroll for voting were Julia Barbosa de Natal and Celina Vianna, both from Mossoró, in 1928; also, the same year, the first woman to be elected Mayor was Alzira Teixeira Soriano, in the city of Lages, about 120 km West of Natal.

    The following article (in Portuguese) brings interesting information about women rights.
    The first country where women could vote was New Zealand, in 1893. Australia came next, in 1902. In Europe, the first country was Finland, in 1906.
    Brazil could have been the pioneer. In the Constitution of 1891, the first after Brazil became a Republic, there was a provision for women's vote; however, some influential Senators managed to exclude the provision from the final text, alleging that "we don't want to drag into the turmoil of political passions the sweet and angelical side of the human genders" !!.

    Wednesday, March 08, 2006

    Bus terminal in Natal is the worst in Brazil

    Tribuna do Norte published today an article about the main Bus Terminal in Natal.
    Natal has two bus terminals. The older one in Ribeira, near Teatro Alberto Maranhão, is today used by some local buses; there is not much that a tourist should be doing there.
    In comparison, the new bus terminal, in the Cidade da Esperança, looks much better. This terminal is hub for all interstate buses and buses to cities in the interior of Rio Grande do Norte, including the beaches.

    The new Bus Terminal was built 25 years ago, and never saw a refurbishing. Users complain about the lack of information and signalization and about the bad conditions of the toillets.
    According to a survey conducted by the Brazilian Association of Bus Companies in 2003, the terminal of Natal was the worst in Brazil; the survey comprehended 39 terminals in 25 of 27 Brazilian States.

    The administrators, when informed about the complaints, said that there is a plan to overhaul the terminal, but there is no prediction on when it will be executed.

    Friday, March 03, 2006

    Erosion affects beaches in Rio Grande do Norte

    It is a well known fact that the ecological agressions that men inflict to Nature are changing weather in many parts of the world.
    Another consequence of the agressions is the advance of the tides; every year, the sea water goes further into the continent, and the beaches become narrower.
    In Rio Grande do Norte, the situation is most serious around the beach of Pititinga, about 70 km North of Natal, near Maracajaú and Rio do Fogo.
    Newspapers today say that houses built by the sea were wrecked last weekend; of course, when the houses were built, their owners supposed they were at a safe distance from the sea. Many other houses have been abandoned. Local dwellers said that the phenomenon started years ago, and is getting worse by the day.
    Local papers also say that the change in tides may cause troubles to Morro do Careca, in Natal. We will try to take a look.

    Wednesday, March 01, 2006

    More charter flights to Natal

    The Tourism Board of Rio Grande do Norte announced today that Reinatour, a Czech tour operator, will operate weekly charter flights to Natal; in a first stage, there will be flights from November 2006 through April 2007.
    The fact is relevant not only because of the tourists, but also because Natal consolidates its image of important tourist destination among Europeans.

    Another news which has been in the newspapers the past days is the possibility of changing the law to make it easier for Americans to visit Brazil.
    Currently, the Brazilian legislation demands that there is a reciprocity in the treatment to grant visas; Brazilians not only need a Visa to enter USA, but they must pay fees in excess of US$ 100, and wait many hours in lines; thus, American citizens must have a Visa, and must pay US$ 100 for it (the bureaucracy should be smaller, though).
    The Minister of Tourism is attempting to change the law and exempt Americans from applying to a visa. If this happens, he says, the number of American tourists in Brazil should triple.
    The Minister of Foreign Relations is against the changes in the reciprocity legislation, though.

    Tuesday, February 28, 2006

    Carnival in Natal 2006

    carnival in NatalCarnival in Natal is not big.
    However, in 2006 Natal is making heavy investments to improve carnival in the city; the reason lies partly because carnival is a lucrative business, and partly because many people in Natal enjoy carnival.
    So, we went about to see the carnival of Natal in 2006, and we liked it very much.
    Carnival in Natal is still very far from the grandness of the largest Brazilian carnivals, like Recife, Rio or Salvador. However, in Natal, you can take your family to the carnival, feel safe, and have fun.
    Read more about carnival in Natal 2006.

    Thursday, February 23, 2006

    Pre-carnival in Natal

    Officially, carnival goes from Saturday through Tuesday. In the days before carnival, there are some events called pre-carnival, which are a preparation for the real feast; in Rio, the pre-carnival starts a few days earlier; in Bahia, it starts a few weeks earlier.
    Carnival in Natal is not very popular; I read somewhere that a few years ago there was a major incident involving a bus, which killed tens of people during carnival in the late 1980s, and that incident would have been the main reason for the weakening of carnival in the city (I will try to post more about this later).
    However, like everywhere else in Brazil, there are people who enjoy and love carnival. These people try to maintain the traditions of old days and maintain carnival alive.
    Tribuna published an article today about pre-carnival in Natal. Carnival lovers will meet in Petrópolis, in front of Confeitaria Ateneu, for a ball of masks. The event is free, not moved by $$$, but by true carnival lovers. Other events happen in the Petrópolis area, all organized by genuine carnival partiers. This is a traditional event, likely to happen again in 2007 and years to come.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2006

    Federal Police raids nightclub in Pipa, searching for drugs.

    Pipa is known to be a cosmopolitan place, visited by young people from many countries. Pipa has one of the busiest nightlifes in Brazilian northeast.
    Yesterday, the Federal Police raided a nightclub in Pipa (attention: the name of the nightclub is Calangos; DO NOT go to the website at www.pipa.c* ; it looks like this site tries to install a virus or other malware).
    According to the Federal Police officials, there were denounces that the use of drugs was being tolerated in that place. During the raid, five Brazilians and 29 foreigners were caught with small portions of marijuana and cocaine; following Brazilian legislation, the Brazilians and the foreigners who were holding their papers were filed and will respond in freedom (use of drugs is a contravention, not a crime, in Brazil; maximum penalty for this contravention is 2 years, and, in such cases, the offender may respond in freedom; traffic of drugs, OTOH, is an non-bailable crime); foreigners who didn't have papers may be deported.

    The Federal Police said that one of the intentions of these raids is to prevent the spreading of rumors that Pipa is a free zone for drug users. Officials said that these raids will be repeated during carnival, both in Pipa and in Ponta Negra, the busiest beaches of Rio Grande do Norte.

    Teachers of Natal to strike

    Teachers who are employed by the municipality of Natal are at a strike.
    They started the strike last Monday, Feb. 13th, when children were supposed to start the 2006 school year.
    These teachers work with children of the elementary level (children aged 6 to 15 y.o.), which in Brazil comprises now 9 years (before a law was passed last year, the elementary level in Brazil had only 8 years).
    According to this report by Tribuna do Norte, there are 800 teachers at strike, and about 58,000 students are being affected.
    Teachers are asking for a raise in salary of 33%. According to the Teachers Union, a teacher with Doctorate who works for the Municipality is paid R$ 681,00 monthly (at current exchange rates, this is about US$ 300 monthly); still according to the Union, this is the same salary which is paid by the State of Rio Grande do Norte to a teacher without Doctorate.

    Unfortunately, this only shows how little value Brazilians give to their teachers and to education in general. It is difficult to believe that these low salaries will attract motivated teachers, who in turn should stimulate children to study. Most middle class families (including mine) prefer to send their children to private schools, and stop caring about the quality of public education. A good private elementary school in Natal costs about R$ 300 monthly for tuition only; in Rio and São Paulo, it can easily reach R$ 1,000 monthly.

    On the other hand, the main headline of Tribuna do Norte today reads: "Court of Justice to dismiss relatives". Until last year, Judges could appoint anyone (including relatives) to public offices called "trusting positions" (for example, many wives were appointed Secretaries by the respective husbands, under the argument that "I trust my wife, and she is a capable secretary"). Salaries for such positions were typically between R$ 2,000 and R$ 5,0000 (and higher at Federal level); the wife of a Judge gets paid 5 times more than a teacher.
    It was necessary a decision by the National Council of Justice to prohibit this practice. Even so, many Judges appealed from the decision to the Supreme Court, arguing it was unconstitutional. Last week, the Supreme Court declared the decision was to be obeyed.
    Tribuna do Norte says that 115 people will be dismissed today. Many Judges say that they are being treated with injustice!!

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