Natal Brazil

Information about the city of Natal, in Brazil.

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.