Brazil's Budget Crunch Crushes Science

RIO DE JANEIRO--Brazil's scientific institutions are facing insolvency in the midst of Brazil's economic downturn. To meet the demands of the International Monetary Fund and other foreign lenders, who last week approved a $41.5 billion loan package, the Brazilian government announced last week that the science ministry will receive only $619.4 million next year--18.7% less than requested.

The spiral began in earnest on 8 September, when the treasury department cut $160 million from the science ministry's already tight 1998 budget of $747 million. A second decree, issued on 30 October, trimmed another 5%. As a result, the country's principal research funding agency, Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq), had its 1998 budget slashed from $479 million to $361 million--a 25% drop.

The agency has distributed no new money for research in 1998. And none of the 10 scientific institutes it oversees has been spared the knife. The National Observatory, for example, expects to end the year with a debt of $210,000 due to nonpayment of utility bills. The observatory lacks the money even to pay for the gasoline needed to travel by car to a local telescope. The situation is not much better in many of Brazil's universities, which cannot pay telephone and electricity bills.

Several ministers have rallied congressional support to minimize cuts in their 1999 budgets, but the science minister has not been lucky. "It's at times like this that science loses out because we have no lobby," says Otávio Velho, anthropology professor at the National Museum of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. And with next year's budget now set well below the original 1998 level, little relief is in sight.

Posted in Latin America, Policy