Over $266 million of Canadians’ public pension fund could be used to take water and sanitation out of public control in Brazil. If successful, Canadian workers’ public pension would be funded directly by Brazilians that already suffer from fragile and unequal access to clean water and sanitation.
The Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board CPPIB is in the process of acquiring a 45% stake in a Brazilian sanitation company called Igua Saneamento for $266 million. Igua Saneamento is seeking this capital to participate in the privatization and auctioning of public water services in the state of Rio de Janeiro scheduled to take place on April 30st.
PSI’s Brazilian affiliate, the National Federation of Urban workers, FNU is engaged in a fight to keep water public across Brazil, with PSI’s support. The focus of this struggle right now is the state of Rio de Janeiro.
The experiences of all of PSI’s affiliates in every region around the world maintain the same pattern. Privatization deepens already unequal access to essential life-sustaining services, leads to deterioration of the quality of services and infrastructure, introduction of new and increases to existing fees, and leads directly to increases in violations of workers’ basic rights. PSI’s local affiliate has already reported that 4000 of the 5000 workers would immediately lose their jobs if Rio de Janeiro’s public water company, CEDAE is privatized.
Organizing collective resistance to this specific privatization is urgent for several reasons:
This privatization effort is a completely illegitimate result of the 2016 political coup that ousted former President Dilma Rousseff and whose developments led directly to the election of Jair Bolsonaro to the Presidency of Brazil in 2018. The interim government that was installed after the coup organized a national program of debt renegotiation for public entities. In a totally illegitimate decision, the public water company in Rio (CEDAE) was included in this program despite maintaining a profit of over $1,2 billion Brazilian reais ($264,504,000 Canadian dollars) per year. For this reason, PSI’s local affiliate, the FNU is currently contesting CEDAE’s inclusion at the Brazilian supreme court.
A successful privatization would support the agenda of the Bolsonaro government and strengthen his position. The opposite is also true – blocking the privatization would weaken this incredibly destructive government. PSI is currently engaged in similar fights against opportunistic privatizations of essential public infrastructure in the middle of a global pandemic.
Water is an essential service absolutely necessary to survival. This fact has become even more starkly clear during the Covid-19 pandemic. More than 36,000 Brazilians have died from this disease in the city of Rio de Janeiro alone. Access to clean water and sanitation services are key indicators of what could happen when someone becomes infected with the coronavirus.
Any investment in Brazilian infrastructure is inherently risky. In the case that the Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party returns to power in the 2022 national elections, there is a substantive possibility that key infrastructure sold off during the Bolsonaro’s term will be brought back under public control.
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